Junior lightweight world titleholder Francisco Vargas has tested positive for the banned steroid clenbuterol, which puts his title and first defense in jeopardy.
Vargas is due to face former titleholder and Mexican countryman Orlando Salido on June 4 in a highly anticipated fight scheduled to headline an HBO-televised doubleheader at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
However, the results of an April 21 test conducted by the Las Vegas-based Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, the testing agency Vargas requested handle the bout, came back positive for clenbuterol, a steroid that boosts metabolism and burns fat, in his "A" sample.
Golden Boy Promotions, Vargas' promoter, issued a statement Thursday admitting to the positive test but proclaiming Vargas innocent of knowingly taking the substance.
"As part of a voluntary testing program that Francisco Vargas requested ahead of his June 4 fight, he tested positive for clenbuterol," the statement said. "Francisco believes he tested positive due to ingesting contaminated meat in Mexico, where clenbuterol is commonly used by ranchers in livestock feed.
"Francisco has, is and will always be a clean fighter. That is why he insisted on this voluntary testing program ahead of the first defense of his WBC championship. He previously tested clean as part of this same voluntary testing regiment and in all of his previous fights."
Golden Boy cited a recent Associated Press report in which Mexico's national sports commission said coaches of the national teams are paying close attention to the meat the athletes eat to make sure they don't ingest clenbuterol ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer.
In 2011, five players on the Mexican national soccer team tested positive for clenbuterol and were banned from a major tournament. In 2012, Mexican legend Erik Morales failed multiple pre-fight tests for clenbuterol but was allowed to fight Danny Garcia in a junior welterweight world title bout in New York. He got knocked out in the fourth round of what turned out to be his final fight.
Golden Boy said Vargas will leave his training camp in Mexico and finish camp in the United States "to avoid any possible repeat of this situation, and [Vargas] is fully cooperating with the California State Athletic Commission to submit to all required testing ahead of his June 4 title defense."
On Friday, the promoters, fighter camps, commission members and a VADA representative will take part in a teleconference to discuss the situation before any decision is made on whether the fight will go forward, though it likely will.
Because the positive test was conducted by a third-party agency and not the California commission, the panel could ignore the result. However, Andy Foster, the executive officer of the commission, said the commission is taking it seriously.
"It came from an outside agency, but we won't bury our heads in the sand," Foster told ESPN.com. "We are going to talk with everyone on Friday, but I think what could happen is that we will grant him a license after he completes a random testing plan on a probationary basis. But should anything else happen with Mr. Vargas leading up to the fight or postfight or any time in the whole course of the year of licensure, he would face disciplinary action from the full commission."
Although athletes who fail VADA tests are removed from its testing program, Dr. Margaret Goodman, president and chairwoman of the VADA board, told ESPN.com the agency is "willing to continue testing for the CSAC if they request until they make a determination of whether a doping violation has occurred. I should also note that a fighter can be reinstated into the VADA program, if the athlete has served a suspension or if a determination has been made that no doping violation occurred."
This is the second high-profile positive VADA test for clenbuterol in the past two months. Last month, Australia's Lucas Browne tested positive after his 10th-round knockout of Ruslan Chagaev to win a secondary heavyweight world title on March 5 in Grozny, Russia. That case has not yet been resolved, though Browne could be stripped of the title and the result overturned.
Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs), 31, a 2008 Mexican Olympian, won his 130-pound world title in dramatic comeback fashion in November, when he rallied from a knockdown and badly swollen eye to stop Japan's Takashi Miura in the ninth round on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto undercard in Las Vegas. Vargas-Miura was named the 2015 fight of the year by multiple outlets, including ESPN.com.
Salido (43-13-3, 30 KOs), 35, has his own drug testing history. In 2006, he challenged then featherweight titleholder Robert Guerrero in Las Vegas and won a unanimous decision. However, Salido tested positive for a steroid after the fight. The result was changed to a no-decision, and Salido was fined and suspended.