For better or worse, Conor Benn is cleared to fight this weekend.
You’re probably tired by now of hearing that phrase from promoter Eddie Hearn, who has mentioned it multiple times in nearly every interview he’s conducted on the subject in recent days. An explanation was required when England’s Benn appeared as a very late addition to the DAZN show this Saturday at Caribe Royale Orlando in Orlando, Florida.
The past several days have sparked debate as to whether Benn should be permitted in a boxing ring. His scheduled ten-round bout versus Guadalajara’s Rodolfo Orozco is the first for unbeaten contender since a second-round knockout of Chris van Heerden last April 16 at AO Arena in Manchester, England.
A planned all second-generation clash with Chris Eubank Jr. was to have served as his second and final fight of 2022, as the two were due to meet last October 8 at The O2 in London.
The drama which still surrounds his career was born from this promotion, as it was learned that Benn (21-0, 14KOs) tested positive for the banned substance Clomiphene through Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA)-contracted testing. The adverse finding wasn’t learned until fight week, when it was leaked to a UK media outlet. Even more troubling was the fact that the positive test was produced one month prior, which called into question the lack of transparency that comes with drug testing in boxing.
The event was canceled two days prior to fight night, at which time it was learned that Benn produced a similarly adverse finding earlier last summer.
Benn would spend the next several months attempting to clear his name of any wrongdoing. All four sanctioning bodies dropped him from their welterweight rankings, though the WBC was the first to come around upon review of a 270-page document provided by Benn in his best effort to prove his innocence.
At present day, he is not ranked by any of the alphabet organizations. However, his absence—particularly from the WBC—is due more to his lengthy inactive period more so than any wrongdoing, which in part justifies the decision to resume his career by any means seen fit.
That led to his first fight on this side of the pond since November 2017, when he was less than two years into his pro career and still trying to prove he was more than a novelty act.
The harder fight now is to prove that he’s not a cheater.
A ruling by the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) on July 28 determined that a provisional suspension previously imposed by United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) had been lifted, which Benn chose to interpret as full clearance. "Today marks the end of a grueling 10 month process, during which the WBC had already decided that I was innocent of any wrongdoing," Benn posted on social media the morning of the ruling. “After a hearing with the National Anti-Doping Panel and UKAD, I have now been vindicated for the second time.
“Hopefully the public and various Members of the media can now understand why I have maintained my innocence so strongly all the way through. The UKAD process has now formally ended, and I remain free to fight. Naturally I am pleased that I can now put this behind me once and for all."
The same opinion wasn’t entirely shared by UKAD or the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
UKAD confirmed at the time that Benn was no longer provisionally suspended under its rules. However, it came with the cavaet that the agency had 21 days to appeal NADP’s decision, which it did in August.
The BBBofC has also joined in on the appeal process, as Benn remains unlicensed in his home country.
His effort to fight in Florida this weekend required an act of compliance with the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), who previously suspended Benn from boxing anywhere in the U.S. He is licensed in Texas—despite having never fought there—and now in Florida as well. Permission to fight this weekend came with the strict condition that he provided proof of a clean drug-testing sample per WADA-accredited out-of-competition standards.
As much was submitted by Benn, who was subsequently greenlit to proceed with his DAZN co-feature this weekend.
His placement on the show came with the blessing of ABC president Mike Mazzuli, who lifted the suspension and even questioned the transparency of the BBBofC during an interview with BoxingScene.com’s Sean Nam.
But is it enough?
Those who support Benn’s right to fight will argue that the 19 months he has spent out of the ring has outlasted actual suspensions under similar circumstances.
Alberto Puello was only issued a six-month suspension after he tested positive for the same banned substance this past April ahead of a canceled May 15 WBA junior welterweight title defense versus Rolando Romero in Las Vegas. He wasn’t even fined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, since there was no fight and therefore no purse from which to extract any funds.
The only fallout suffered by the unbeaten Dominican—other than losing out on the fight—was being relieved of his title reign. That said, he is free and clear to resume his career anytime after October.
Michel Rivera was also issued a six-month suspension by the Nevada commission, after testing positive for two banned substances surrounding his lopsided loss to Frank Martin last December 17 in Las Vegas. The punishment also carried a $10,000 fine—ten-percent of his reported $100,000 purse from that evening.
Both suspensions also come with the stipulation that boxers have to commit to a drug testing program as assigned and approved by the commission before they are cleared to return.
Benn and Matchroom will argue that he has done the same, even without having actually been suspended. To date, there is no verified proof of any extensive drug testing over the past twelve months.
That would fall miserably short of the standards required of the sport’s biggest star.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol less than three months ahead of his scheduled May 2018 rematch versus Gennadiy Golovkin.
The review process saw Alvarez submit evidence of contamination through ingested meat—an ongoing issue in his native Mexico—and agreed to hair follicle testing, which the Nevada commission confirmed to come back negative.
He was still suspended for six months—just long enough to kill the original plans for the rematch but short enough to where it was rescheduled for later that September. Alvarez won by majority decision, though he still carried the stain of the earlier positive tests despite having submitted to year-round VADA testing.
To date, Alvarez remains the most tested fighter in the sport. It is the standard to which the sport’s biggest stars should be held, although it should apply to any boxer attached to positive drug tests.
There is an easy argument that—absent proof the contrary—Benn has fallen well short of that mark.
It remains to be seen if any of the steps taken in the lead-up to this week will impact his standing in the UK, if and when he chooses to once again fight in his home country. BBBofC general secretary Robert Smith acknowledged that he would have to accept whatever ruling ultimately comes at the end of its current appeal, though he stopped short of confirming whether or not Benn would be granted a license should he reapply at that time.
Whether he has sufficiently served his time is a debate that will linger on far beyond this Saturday evening. That discussion is as much about a global problem in relation to boxing’s ongoing drug testing dilemma as it is of one man’s right to resume his career.
As it relates to the standards set before him, Conor Benn has met the requirements—minimal or otherwise—to be in the ring this weekend.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox