Heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin has tested positive for the banned substance meldonium, putting his mandatory shot at world titleholder Deontay Wilder in jeopardy.
Russia's Povetkin, who is supposed to challenge Wilder in a much-anticipated bout on May 21 at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow, tested positive for the substance in a urine test conducted by the Las Vegas-based Voluntary Anti-Doping Association on April 27, according to the agency's report, which was issued Friday and first obtained by ESPN.com.
VADA president Dr. Margaret Goodman sent a letter Friday informing both camps as well as the WBC, whose title Wilder holds, of the positive test.
"This letter is to advise you that the 'A' sample urine specimen number 3969608 collected from Alexander Povetkin on April 27, 2016 in Chekhov, Russia through his participation in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) program has been analyzed for anabolic agents, diuretics, beta-2 agonists, stimulants and drugs of abuse," Goodman wrote. "The results of the analysis are as follows: Adverse. Urine specimen contains meldonium."
The report also included a copy of the laboratory report.
"Mr. Povetkin has the right to promptly request analysis of the 'B' sample at his expense," Goodman wrote. "Please be aware that VADA does not adjudicate results nor determine whether sanctions are appropriate. As with all results, adverse findings are reported to the relevant commission(s) who may make such determinations."
Meldonium, the same drug for which tennis star Maria Sharapova recently tested positive, was approved to be added to the banned substance list by the World Anti-Doping Agency in September and the ban went into effect Jan. 1. Meldonium is used because it is said to increase blood flow and allow more oxygen to be carried to the muscles and, therefore, enhance stamina, a trait boxers would want in a long fight.
Povetkin's levels were said to be very low, but it remains to be seen if the fight will be canceled.
"Traces of extremely low concentration of meldonium have been found in his blood. He consumed it in September last year," Povetkin promoter Andrey Ryabinsky of World of Boxing said, according to the Russian TASS news agency. "He has not taken it since Jan. 1. The situation is ambiguous. The blood sample was taken in April this year. We have been in contact with the World Boxing Council, which is to decide if Povetkin's boxing bout against Deontay Wilder will take place or not."
Promoter Lou DiBella, representing Wilder, told ESPN that he and the Wilder team were still gathering information on the situation.
"We literally have received this in the last hour and have not even had a chance to discuss this with our team," DiBella said. "We're in the process of doing this right now. But it's extremely upsetting and disappointing and while I am angry, I am certainly not shocked. We'll make a more detailed statement and figure things out when we discuss this among ourselves and with the WBC. We haven't had enough time to digest this. We'll have more to say later."
The fight nearly fell apart because of Ryabinsky insisted on delaying the beginning of the drug testing protocol. DiBella groused about it and threatened to pull Wilder out of the fight if testing did not begin. It only began when the WBC guaranteed that VADA would be paid for the testing.
So instead of beginning about 10 weeks before the fight, which was what was agreed to, testing began about seven weeks ahead of the fight.
WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman issued a statement after learning of Povetkin's positive test.
"The WBC's priority is and will always be safety, fair play and justice," Sulaiman said. "In order to continue to strive for the absolute safety of the boxers and for a just and fair outcome for all parties involved, the WBC is conducting an in-depth investigation of this matter. The WBC will make a public announcement in the very near future concerning the results of its investigation and any appropriate steps that it will take."
Earlier this week on a media teleconference to discuss the fight, DiBella was asked about the testing.
"Deontay's always said, a million times, he's never been hesitant to get involved in testing," DiBella said. "And we wanted testing to begin, frankly, before it did. But it began with what we believe is plenty of time to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. There's been already a number of random tests of both athletes that have turned out negative. So we're not concerned about that as an issue. And the testing is being done by VADA and they've been very buttoned up and everything's been handled appropriately.
"In a perfect world, we might have liked it to start a little bit earlier, but that's not an issue. ... It's in the hands of VADA, and we're very comfortable with it in the hands of VADA."
VADA has tested for several major fights and caught several fighters doping. Most recently, heavyweight titlist Lucas Browne tested positive for clenbuterol after his 10th-round knockout win to claim a secondary world title against Ruslan Chagaev on March 5 in Grozny, Russia. Browne's A and B samples were both positive, and on Thursday he was stripped of the title, suspended and had the result changed to a no contest. The title was returned to Chagaev.
Wilder-Povetkin is one of the most significant fights in the division because many view Povetkin (30-1, 22 KOs), 36 -- a 2004 Russian Olympic gold medalist and former secondary titleholder -- as by far the toughest test of Wilder's career, especially with the fight taking place in Moscow.
Wilder (36-0, 35 KOs), 30 -- a 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has made three title defenses -- was expected to face Povetkin on May 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, but when the camps could not make a deal, the fight was put up for a purse bid, which Ryabinsky won with an offer of $7.15 million. That beat DiBella's offer of $5.1 million.
If the fight is canceled, it will cost Wilder the biggest purse of his career. Under the purse bid, he is due $4,504,500 to Povetkin's $1,930,500. Ten percent of the winning bid, $715,000, is supposed to go into escrow and go to the winner of the fight.
Wilder, who is in Europe already trying to acclimate to the time change before he is scheduled to go to Russia this weekend, expressed enthusiasm about going to Russia earlier this week on the media conference call.
"I'm going to tell you right now I am super-excited about going to Moscow, Russia, defending my title," Wilder said. "You know it seems like every time I turn around -- when I have the big stage and the cameras -- it's always a moment for me. And this moment right here's putting me down in history as the first American ever to defend his title in Russia. And I'm looking to do it in great fashion and to represent my country."
That is, of course, is the fight doesn't get canceled.