The California State Athletic Commission, by a 4-1 vote on Monday, upheld the one-year suspension it gave to former light heavyweight world champion Antonio Tarver in June after he tested positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone.
Tarver tested positive for the banned substance following a Showtime-televised cruiserweight main event against Lateef Kayode on June 2 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
The fight was initially ruled a draw, but in addition to upholding Tarver’s suspension, the commission also overturned the outcome of the bout. Instead of a draw, it is officially a no decision, meaning the fighters’ records will revert to what they were before the bout — Tarver being 29-6 with 20 knockouts and Kayode 18-0 with 14 knockouts.
“The Commission heard both sides of the issue and upheld Mr. Tarver’s suspension,” wrote Kathi Burns, the interim executive officer of the commission, to ESPN.com in an email. “I think the commission’s actions speak for itself. It’s well known that the commission has among the toughest anti-doping standards in the world, and that we have zero tolerance for doping.”
After Tarver was initially suspended and also fined $2,500 of a $1.1 million purse, he appealed to have the suspension reduced to six moths and hoped to fight again before the end of the year.
However, following Monday’s ruling Tarver is not eligible to fight anywhere in the United States until at least June 2013, although he could seek a license overseas where his American suspension would not necessarily be recognized.
“I really am surprised they didn’t shorten the suspension,” Tarver told ESPN.com. “I can’t explain why it was in my system because I don’t know why it was in my system. But I know I’ve never taken any steroids. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Given that Tarver, who testified at the hearing, is 43 and has been quite inactive — he fought only once per year from 2009 to 2012 — his career could be over.
“I’ve been through a lot and this has been a very tough time,” Tarver said. “This is the lowest point of my boxing career. But I have never used steroids and I am holding onto that and holding onto my innocence.
“I am not mad at the commission. I was hoping they would reduce my suspension but they got a job to do, which is to protect the sport the way they know how. So I’m not angry at anyone. But I can’t prove how it got in my system. I know I didn’t intentionally or knowingly take something but I got to prove that fact. The burden of proof is on me and I accept that.”
Tarver said he had injuries heading into the fight with Kayode, including a left ankle that was so bad that he resorted to swimming instead of running to get in his cardio workout. He said the positive test could have been a result of medication he took for the injury but also said he did not use illegal substances to help him deal with the injuries.
“My doctor knows how I feel about taking shortcuts, so we never did any of that,” Tarver said. “I will take my suspension like a man. But I looked the commission in their eyes and told them I was innocent and they voted 4-1 to uphold it. So I’m out a year. Maybe I should go ahead and retire. I was in a transition period anyway. I wanted one or two more fights and then ride off into the sunset because I know there ain’t no turning back the hands of time. But this is a very dark cloud over me and my career and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”
The positive test cost Tarver more than the suspension and slap-on-the-wrist fine. It also cost him dearly in his second burgeoning career as a broadcaster. Tarver had earned rave reviews as an analyst for Showtime and was hired to work as a studio analyst on NBC’s London Olympic boxing coverage.
After the positive test, Showtime suspended him indefinitely and NBC dropped him and instead gave the role to cruiserweight contender B.J. Flores.
“I had the Olympic commentating position locked down and was enjoying my role with Showtime,” said Tarver, a 1996 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist and one of America’s most decorated amateurs.
“Now everything is all up in the air. It’s what (Showtime) decides to do. They haven’t told me anything. The network is bigger than me. I can’t control the network. But I’ve never been told I’ve been fired.
“Showtime supports me and they want to see me get through this, but I don’t know if that means I will ever be back on the air. They have to make a decision based on the interest of the network. But I miss it, I really do. I miss boxing period. I’m ready to get back but maybe it’s retirement.”
Nobody from Showtime could be reached for comment on Tarver’s status.
Tarver, who starred opposite Sylvester Stallone in the film “Rocky Balboa,” said he might try to work more on his acting career. Whatever he does, he said he will stay in shape.
“I started training just in case we had some good news (Monday),” said Tarver, whose biggest wins were his two defeats of Roy Jones Jr., including a second-round knockout to win the light heavyweight championship in May 2004 in the second bout of their trilogy. “I’m going to train just so I can be in the best shape I can be in even if I am not training for a fight. So there is a possibility I could come back. I try to look at this positively, like it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. I got to look at all the options out there.
“I can’t get licensed in America but I don’t think it would be a problem anywhere else. I got to sit down and talk to (adviser) Al (Haymon) about that and see if that’s something we want to do. Right now, it’s right after the (commission) meeting and I’m filled with emotions and I just don’t know.”
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