Oscar Valdez tested positive for the banned substance phentermine last month, but his WBC junior lightweight title defense against Robson Conceicao in Tucson, Arizona, will go on after a ruling made by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Athletic Commission on Thursday. The WBC further stated it will not strip Valdez of his title.
In an interview with ESPN’s Mark Kriegel this weekend, Valdez insisted he didn’t knowingly take any illegal substances and disputed phentermine would give him any advantage over Conceicao.
“I’m not a cheater. Never have been. Never needed it,” Valdez said. “There’s no easy way out for me, this is just hard work in the gym. Hours and hours of training. Lots of sacrifice. That’s it. You come here, you train, you win fights in the gym. You go to a fight, you give it your best. That’s the way I am. And there goes a lot of people saying, ‘You’re a cheater. You’re using steroids. You came back positive.’ It’s just, it’s heartbreaking for me.”
Kriegel spoke to Valdez at length about the circumstances surrounding Friday’s title fight and how he’s trying to move forward with his career knowing that many believe he’s no longer a clean boxer.
Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Mark Kriegel: Oscar, you tested positive for phentermine, a stimulant prohibited by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA). You don’t have a prescription, do you?
Oscar Valdez: No, I don’t have a prescription.
How did it happen?
What I can say is that I’m a 100% clean fighter. I don’t know how that got into my body. I know every fighter is responsible for whatever they consume, but on behalf of myself, I have no clear answer on how that got into my body. I’ve always considered myself — I will always be a clean fighter. I’ve always been and I will always be a clean fighter. So, I don’t know how that got into my body.
Did you take phentermine?
No. To take phentermine, you need a prescription. I don’t even know what phentermine is. I didn’t take phentermine.
You do now. You tested negative on July 22, positive on Aug. 13 and then negative again on Aug. 30. What happened between the first and second testing that you turned up positive?
We’ve literally never done anything different as far as taking other supplements. You know, very simple supplements — vitamin C, vitamin B12 and all those normal vitamins that everybody should take. The only difference is that I’ve taken herbal tea. That’s the reason why I would think that could possibly be, but I’m still not 100% how that got into my body.
So, you took herbal tea between the first and the second testing?
Yes. I was taking several types of teas. I gave up coffee a while back and I started taking more herbal teas. And just trying different types of teas was the only difference that I’ve done in this training camp, and that’s one of the reasons why I think that’s possibly it.
Did you continue the herbal teas between Aug. 13 and the final test on Aug. 30?
No, I did not continue taking the herbal tea because I stopped taking everything as far as any supplement, any type of protein that I was taking. I literally stopped my whole diet because I didn’t know where it was coming from. Maybe it was a contaminated jar of vitamins. I don’t know. So, what I did was I just completely stopped everything because I don’t know where it came from. It could be one of these things that was contaminated.
You have insisted on VADA testing for quite some time. Beginning when?
We started insisting it after, I believe it was my first world title fight — 2016. And the reason why was because a lot of fighters were coming out positive. So, us being concerned, we want a fair fight. We want it to be a clean sport and fair fight. We want no fighter to have any advantages in the fight. And that’s why we started putting it in our contract, that we want the VADA testing for all of us.
So, since you won the title against Mathias Rueda?
Since the fight with Mathias Rueda. That’s without counting all the other times I was tested before the world title fights. And without counting my amateur days, which was a long five years of every time testing — random testing through VADA. So, I’ve been pretty much tested from VADA ever since I was 17 years old and never came out positive.
Your opponent, Conceicao, what do you think he’s thinking right now?
I don’t know what my rival is 100% thinking, but if I was in his position, I’d be pretty mad. Who wouldn’t? But they’re not in my shoes. They don’t know — nobody knows exactly what I’ve been doing as far as training hard, waking up early every day. Leaving my family behind, sacrificing every day.
It gets me mad to think that people really believe that I’m trying to cheat in this sport when there’s no easy way out. There’s no shortcuts to this. I’ve never taken no shortcuts. But I can easily see my rival being upset, being mad, but then again, the substance that I came out positive doesn’t really give me any advantages.
Well, it helps you lose weight.
It helps me lose weight, but when it came out positive, it would be pretty dumb for any fighter to lose weight earlier in training camp.
We’ve seen people deny using performance-enhancing substances for decades now. People we thought we could trust, they turned out to be liars. Should Conceicao be fighting you? If you were him, would you fight you?
If I was him I would 100% fight me, because this is a chance to win a world title, and if I’m being more honest, I would think, ‘What is he taking? Oh, he’s taking this substance to lose weight? Oh, well that’s a pretty dumb move because he’s losing weight way too early from the fight. So it means he might be drained or overtraining, I don’t know.’
But as far as there’s no performing-enhancing drugs, or as far as steroids or anabolics or growth hormones, those type of drugs that I believe that would make a difference, that could hurt somebody — it could actually kill somebody which that I wouldn’t believe it should be even stripping the belt or cancel the fight, I think someone who uses those type of drugs should go to jail. I would never do that. I wouldn’t even take this substance that came out in my system. I will never intentionally take it.
Still, there’s a reason that VADA, the organization that you wanted, prohibited it. You met earlier last week with the WBC. What did you tell them?
I told them the truth, the same truth I’m saying right here. I’ve said this before and maybe many people even start laughing, you know, the only difference that I’ve taken as far as all my supplements, was an herbal tea. People who know me, who’ve seen me in the gym, truly do believe that I didn’t intentionally take anything illegal.
Oscar Valdez knocks out Miguel Berchelt at the end of Round 10 to become the new WBC junior lightweight world champion.
But there were rules broken and people are calling you a cheater. How does that make you feel?
I’ve never been as hurt as this before. Being discredited is one of the worst feelings. I just came out of a great victory. And I realize how many people, you know, immediately jump to conclusions. But at the same time they’re right, because the rules were broken, like you say. But a couple of months ago, everybody loved me. A couple of months ago, they were calling me a champ. ‘Hey, what’s up champ? Hey, campeón.’ Now, everybody’s calling me a cheater. ‘Mr. Steroid. Mr. Anabolics. Mr. Performance-Enhancing Drug Taker.’
And at the same time it’s kind of funny because, you know, the guys loved me back then. And now you’re calling me a cheater when you guys don’t really know the real facts. Is this substance really helping me the way people think it is? Is it going to make me hit harder? Is it gonna make me faster? Is it gonna make me last longer? No it’s not, so how should that be illegal?
I always worked hard in my life. I’ve had a hard fight inside the ring and outside the ring. I’ve always been a very disciplined fighter. And I’ve always loved the fact that all my trainers and all the people who know me will point me out and use me as an example. ‘Look how he’s training, look at Oscar, look at Oscar Valdez. Look at what he’s doing, look at it and if you do 20 pushups, he’s going to do 30 pushups. If you do 10 rounds of sparring, he’s going to do 12 rounds of sparring.’ And I’ve always liked that. And I’ve always been proud of that. And I’ve always been proud of being a clean fighter.
Every victory that I’ve had has been through hard work. From amateur to professional. And for right now, over one mistake, people are forgetting about everything that I’ve done in my career. And they’re calling me a cheater. That really, really hurts.
OK. You once told me that what kept you fighting with a badly broken jaw against Scott Quigg was you didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of your family and in front of your father. Does this make you feel embarrassed?
This is very embarrassing, it’s humiliating. Being accused of something that you know, deep inside I did nothing wrong. Why should I be worried? There’s nothing to hide. And for people to point me out and call me, you know, this cheater, it really does hurt. It really, it’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating. I try to keep my head straight up.
But it just drags me down. I’ve always been the type of person that says, ‘I don’t care what no one thinks.’ And I’m starting to realize that it’s completely the opposite right here because to discredit something that I’ve worked so hard on, ever since I was a little kid.
My question is why would you cheat? If you’re willing to fight with a broken jaw, why would you cheat on this?
It doesn’t make no sense. For anybody to believe that I would ever cheat — I’ve fought through harder fights. I didn’t have to cheat, why would I cheat right now at this stage of my career? When I’ve just come back from a great fight with a great knockout.
And you know, I’ve proved everybody wrong as a clean fighter. Why would I try to do the same thing by cheating? You know, it doesn’t, it doesn’t make no sense for me.
But we’ve heard for decades now. Big stars say the same thing that you’ve said. And it turned out they were lying. So there’s this narrative out there about you. There’s this perception. Can you change it and how?
I don’t think I will ever, a hundred percent be able to change it because a lot of people out there are showing their true colors. I thought they were friends and people who knew me and still been out there on social media, saying that, believing that, that I did take this performance-enhancing drug.
Who do you think has betrayed you?
Oh, I’ve seen fighters. I’ve seen a couple of fighters. They’re not my friends but you know, I’ve seen fighters out there. Like, I’ve seen managers like Lou DiBella. Or I’ve seen Devin Haney. Then I’ve seen, even Andre Ward who believes that, you know, that we are cheating … in this game.
Your stablemate, Canelo Álvarez, tested positive a couple of years ago for clenbuterol. He has maintained his innocence. What has he shared with you about this experience?
We didn’t talk much, just that same day, everybody saw my face when they told me I came back positive. Everybody felt that you know. And I immediately, we immediately stopped training and everybody saw my disappointment. I was in shock. He just walks up to me and tells me, you know, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright, the truth is gonna come out. You know, don’t worry. We all know the way you work, the way you train, we all know that you’re a clean fighter.’
But the rest of the gym, the rest of the world thinks the gym is bad.
Which is unfair, it’s unfair for everybody. For everybody in the gym. It’s very unfair for someone like Andy Ruiz. Very unfair for somebody like Ryan Garcia. My name will never be a hundred percent clear because a lot of people out there will always use that against me. Maybe because they don’t like me or maybe because they truly do believe that I’m trying to cheat. Or whatever the reasons are. They’re always gonna say, ‘Yeah, he cheated.’
And people will always look at just the last fight or the last result. And they’ll only see the positive test. And when they see positive, they immediately assume there’s a steroid or there’s a growth hormone, or performance-enhancing drugs. Without knowing that all my other fights have been tested and came back negative, with the same VADA testing.
I think it sounds particularly difficult for you, because you want to be seen as a particular kind of champion.
I’ve always wanted to be considered a warrior. I’ve said that before in multiple interviews and seeing my idols when I was a kid, like I said before, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. You know, they never cheated. Why would I cheat? I was close to getting up there. I was climbing a couple of steps up there. People were calling me a campeón. They were calling me a guerrero, a warrior.
Did they make the right call in keeping the fight on?
I think they made the right call.
If you were reading the news and you read, oh, here’s this guy, a champion, he tested positive. Now the fight’s still going on. You’re reading the news. What are you thinking most likely?
So one thing for sure as, I’m not a hypocrite, and there was a time years back where a good friend of mine — Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. — came back positive. I don’t know if it was a first time when he came back positive for a diuretic, and it was 24 hours prior to making weight. And everybody was making a big deal about it, because he came back positive, but didn’t say what it was.
And I did my research. I said, what he come back positive was it a performance-enhancing drug? Was it marijuana? Was it other type of drugs? I don’t know what it was. So, it showed that it was a diuretic, the same thing as I’m doing — I came back positive.
And I told myself, I told everybody, ‘Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. And I explained, ‘Oh, they just help you to make weight.’ I said, ‘Making weight is not going to help him hit harder in the fight. It’s not going to help him perform better.’
So, I said, ‘The fight should go on. That’s the same thing that’s going on with me. Way more.
Aren’t you concerned about not repeating the same mistake?
I’m pretty scared because I don’t know how that got into my body. Like I said before, all the supplements that we take are all approved and there’s nothing in there that should be illegal. So, once it came out positive, I told myself something has to be wrong. It has to be a mistake because I will bet my entire life that I’m a clean fighter. So, I am worried about how this is going to turn out.
I know we’ve been through this before, but going into this fight, and considering how people are, and the reality of the situation, that you broke the rules. What do you want to say to your fans? What do you want them to really know?
I want the fans to know that every fighter out there is responsible for what they take. I am responsible for what I should have been taking. But I don’t know how that got into my system. If there’s anyone out there who doubts it, well, I’m sorry. But I could truly say, nothing intentional was done. I’m not a cheater. Never have been, never will be. There’s a reason why I put these tests on my contracts. It wouldn’t make no sense for me to put it in the contracts so I can get caught.
So, all I can say is, I’m not a cheater. Hopefully you guys can believe me. I’m still going to work hard, and I’m going to prove it. People like to see me train, and I’m going to keep on showing that we train clean.
I want to believe you. Do I believe you’re a cheater in my heart? No. But the rules were broken. And I don’t know how to reconcile those two things.
I don’t think I will ever 100% convince everybody that I’m not a cheater, that I didn’t cheat the sport. You know? I hope for maybe the results to come back to show that maybe it is herbal tea. I’m hoping it comes out that’s where it came from, so I can probably show the whole world, ‘Look, it was a clear mistake. Now if you don’t believe after these results, then I don’t know. I truly 100% do not know where this comes from.’
Anything you’re going to do differently in the future? Like as far as screening your stuff.
I said it before, I’m a very disciplined fighter, and I’ve got a very disciplined team. We always check the labels, it has to be approved. And we always put in everything on the WADA sheet, what we’re taking. There’s no hiding anything. So we’re not going to do anything different.