Heavyweight James Toney last month became only the third professional boxer known to have failed a steroid test. But another prominent heavyweight, Chris Byrd, said he believes steroid use in the sport goes far deeper than that.
"I know there's a lot of guys who are doing it," Byrd said in an interview this week. "You can tell by the way they look from fight to fight."
Byrd, the International Boxing Federation champion, also called for random testing in boxing to bring the sport in line with the Olympics. State boxing commissions test for banned drugs only immediately before or after fights.
"There are certain guys I know who know how to beat the system," he said. "If you had random testing, it might not totally eliminate the problem, but you would cut down on it. You'd see a difference in the appearance of certain guys in the sport."
Byrd's comments came after it was announced Wednesday that Toney tested positive for a steroid after his April 30 victory over World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz at New York's Madison Square Garden. Toney tested positive for nandrolone, said his attorney, Nicholas Kahn.
Citing a violation of its illegal substance policy, the New York State Athletic Commission fined Toney $10,000, suspended him for 90 days pending the results of a retest and declared a no-decision in his fight against Ruiz. Toney is effectively banned from fighting in the United States until he successfully passes the retest, commission chairman Ron Scott Stevens said.
Toney also could face a two-year ban by the WBA, whose rules require that the title be returned to Ruiz.
Mark Ratner, chairman of Nevada's athletic commission, said it wouldn't surprise him if more boxers were using steroids than had been caught.
"I've had a few mixed martial artists test positive for steroids here in [Las Vegas,] but when you look at the amount of pre- and post-fight tests we've done in this state, there have been a minuscule amount of positive tests," he said.
"But I think there will always be a culture of people who will do everything they can to beat the system, and the system will always be one step behind, whether it be in track and field, football, baseball or in boxing."
Byrd said random testing for boxers might come about only if a uniform national governing body were established for the sport. With action taken in the Senate on Monday, that could happen sooner than later.
The Senate voted to establish a federal commission that would impose standardized rules for the sport in the United States. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, still must be approved by the House.
Toney, 36, has denied that he used steroids, saying his positive test might have been the result of medical treatment.
He is not the first heavyweight champion forced to abandon his title because of a positive steroid test.
South Africa's Frans Botha tested positive after his December 1995 bout against Germany's Axel Schulz and was subsequently forced to forfeit the IBF crown he won over Schulz by split decision.
Also testing positive for a steroid was junior middleweight Fernando Vargas in the aftermath of his 11th-round knockout loss to Oscar De La Hoya in September 2002.
During a probe investigating steroid use among athletes from October through December of 2003, ex-champion Shane Mosley was among the series of performers - ranging from baseball star Barry Bonds to Olympic sprinter Marion Jones - who appeared before a grand jury in San Francisco.
Mosley admitted purchasing supplements and vitamins from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), but he denied using steroids.
Byrd, one of boxing's smallest heavyweights at around 215 pounds, said a trainer once encouraged him to use steroids.
"The chance to grow bigger, stronger and faster in a short amount of time - for a guy my size, I have to admit it was tempting at first," he said.
"He asked me when I had drug tests for my fight, and I told him right before the fight and right after the fight. Then he told me, `Man, I can get you huge - get it in your system and completely out of it before you even have the drug test.'
"I'm like, `Wow. If I could do that, I could really compete at a much higher level and be a major power puncher and retain my quickness.'"
In his last fight, a decision over 270-pound Jameel McCline in November, Byrd gave up 56 pounds to his rival.
"It was easy to be tempted - with all the money on the line," Byrd said. "But I was like, `Nah.' The Lord brought me too far to start messing up now. Plus, I'd be cheating."