Friday, March 2, 2007

Drugs scandal threatening to knock down Holyfield

By Owen Slot

A new drugs scandal in the United States is believed to be so potentially damaging that it has been dubbed “The East Coast Balco” and yesterday the first global name was implicated: Evander Holyfield, the four-time heavyweight boxing champion.

Holyfield issued an immediate denial, but evidence has emerged from raids on a number of pharmacies on the East Coast that raises serious questions about his connections with pharmaceutical companies.

Holyfield, 44, started his professional career as a cruiserweight more than 20 years ago. He always traded on his moniker, “The Real Deal”, and was long viewed as one of the more admirable figures in the sport. However, that reputation has taken a considerable hammering in recent years as he has ignored all the evidence of his advancing years and refused to retire from the ring.

Holyfield has won only four of his past ten bouts, yet it was only on Tuesday that he was fuelling the media at a Manhattan press conference with predictions about his achievements at his next bout, which is only 15 days away. The contest is in Corpus Christi, Texas, against Vinny Maddalone, a 33-year-old brawler with an unremarkable record who, Holyfield attested, would be just another statistic on his march to becoming undisputed world heavyweight champion again.

But even as he spoke, investigators were beginning to analyse their findings from two drugs raids in Florida earlier that day. They were carried out by federal and state agents, one on a clinic in Orlando called the Signature Pharmacy, the other on the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center in Jupiter. The former is a client of the latter, apparently to the tune of some £10 million.

It is the size of the business that has attracted the interest of investigators. The fact that their work has thrown up the names of some notable athletes is, to them, something of a sideshow.

The first name to appear in newspaper reports on Wednesday was Richard Rydze, a team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers American football franchise, who is alleged to have used his credit card to buy $150,000 worth of human growth hormone from the Signature Pharmacy.

Yesterday, however, a report from was alleging that the client lists had led investigators to Holyfield, too. Holyfield was not named in person but the name “Evan Fields”, caught their attention. “Fields”, it allegedly turned out, shares the same birth date as Holyfield — October 19, 1962 — and his address in Fairfield, Georgia, was similar. On telephoning the number on the documents, the call was answered by Holyfield himself, investigators allege.

According to reports, “Evan Fields” did not receive prescriptions directly through the mail but picked them up through a Georgia physician, whose offices were also raided. The drugs allegedly came from Applied Pharmacy, in Mobile, Alabama, which itself was raided by investigators last autumn.

Two other names have been linked through the Applied Pharmacy client lists, one associated with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball franchise and José Canseco, a retired baseball slugger, whose openness about his drugs history is such that he has made a considerable amount of money from selling a book about it.

Investigators are looking into documents which apparently allege that “Fields” picked up supplies of syringes plus three vials of testosterone and two vials of Glukor, a drug used to treat male impotency but also believed to be used by body-builders before and after steroid cycles; five vials of Saizen, a brand of human growth hormone, and other related supplies. It is claimed that he returned for further treatment for hypogonadism, a form of male impotency.

Holyfield’s statement yesterday said: “I do not use steroids. I have never used steroids. I resent that my name has been linked to known steroid users by sources who refuse to be identified in order to generate publicity for their investigation.”

Rise and fall of The Real Deal
1984 Wins bronze medal at Los Angeles Olympics
1986 Beats Dwight Qawi to win WBA cruiserweight title
1990 Knocks out James “Buster” Douglas for world heavyweight title
1992 Loses title to Riddick Bowe on points
1993 Regains title from Bowe in bout halted by “fan man”
1993 Loses title to Michael Moorer
1996 Regains title in huge upset against Mike Tyson
1997 Has part of ear bitten off in rematch with Tyson
1999 Controversial draw against Lennox Lewis in New York; loses rematch
2000 Wins vacant WBA title against John Ruiz
2004 Banned in New York on medical grounds
2006 Relicensed in Texas, wins two bouts

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