Toney Is Knocked Out by Positive Drug Test

Times Staff Writer

Eleven days after he won the World Boxing Assn. heavyweight title on a unanimous decision over John Ruiz, James Toney saw that decision taken away by the New York State Athletic Commission because he tested positive for an illegal substance. Toney was suspended Wednesday for 90 days and fined $10,000 after the anabolic steroid nandrolone was found in his urine sample.

Toney, in a statement, denied that he took the drug. Dan Goossen, Toney’s promoter, said his fighter took a legal form of cortisone that “metabolized” into nandrolone.

But Robert Voy, a former director of sports medicine for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said a claim of such a chemical transformation was “rather dubious.”

After analyzing Toney’s test results, which came back Monday, Ron Scott Stevens, chairman of the New York commission, changed the result of the April 30 fight, which was held in New York’s Madison Square Garden, to a no-decision.

Under WBA rules, if a challenger wins a championship but fails a drug test, the champion, if he is found free of illegal substances, is given his title back. Toney would not be permitted to fight for the WBA title for two years, and only then if he presents evidence that there are no illegal drugs in his system, under the sanctioning body’s rules.


Toney can request a hearing before the New York commission.

“No performance-enhancing drugs were used in this fight,” Goossen said from his San Fernando Valley office. “The best proof is to look at James’ body. You do not have a body like James Toney if you use performance-enhancing drugs. End of story.”

The 36-year-old Toney, fighting as a heavyweight for the third time in a career that began in the middleweight division, weighed a career-high 233 pounds against Ruiz.

Goossen said Toney was taking pregnenolone, a cortisone-based steroid, to speed up the healing process following surgery in September for a torn left biceps. Goossen said Toney stopped taking that drug, which is not banned, in the middle of January.

“James Toney does not cheat. Combined with exercise and dehydration, the pregnenolone metabolized into nandrolone,” Goossen said.

“I would seriously doubt that could happen,” said Voy, a private physician in Las Vegas. “Nandrolone is one of the oldest of the anabolic steroids but also one of the most effective. It does enhance performance.

“It would not be my choice to use [nandrolone] if I did not want to be detected. [Toney] is either naive or he got bad information from his drug guru.”

Said Goossen: “If you’re doing something you don’t want to be tested for, you find a way not to be tested.”

In his statement, Toney said, “Being accused of taking performance-enhancing substances is an insult to me. I don’t do drugs, period. I’ve never used any illegal substances to prepare myself for a fight.”

Tony Daly, Toney’s Los Angeles surgeon who performed the operation on the fighter’s biceps, said he didn’t prescribe pregnenolone or nandrolone for the fighter.

“I’m not surprised to learn that he tested positive,” Daly said, “but I am disappointed. I’m not surprised because of the big weight gain. And he looked pretty darn muscular to me.”

Norm Stone, Ruiz’s trainer, said he wasn’t surprised by the test results either.

“I couldn’t believe Toney was still standing up in the later rounds of the fight,” Stone said by phone from Boston. “Johnny had him on the ropes, blasting him. There was no reason he was still standing up. I leaned over to [some people] in my corner and said, ‘This kid is on something.’

“Johnny doesn’t even take an aspirin, but everybody in the media said he was the worst thing for boxing [because of his style]. Well what about this guy? He’s getting what he deserves.”

Ruiz was unavailable for comment after undergoing surgery for a broken nose and perforated eardrum, injuries sustained in the Toney fight.

After learning he had lost, Ruiz announced his retirement before leaving Madison Square Garden. He reversed his decision three days ago, saying he wanted to remain in boxing. Stone denied that his fighter’s change of heart was because of inside information that Toney might be stripped of the title.

Toney is the second high-profile fighter to test positive for steroids. In 2002, Fernando Vargas was suspended for nine months and fined $100,000 for a positive test following his match against Oscar De La Hoya.