In late May an anonymous source sent me a recorded phone conversation of Max Boxing writer Gabriel Montoya crowing about his status as a secret PEDs testing consultant for the Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute bout in Canada and other materials related to his relationship with certain individuals in the PED testing arena.
Obviously, a journalist serving as secret consultant for a promoter while simultaneously commenting on his own work as if he had nothing to do with it, is serious misconduct. It’s the type of shadiness that could actually kill the cause of PEDs reform by damaging the credibility of the media reporting on it.
I began using this info for purposes of a larger investigation, refusing to go public with something that was sent by an anonymous source without first finding out more about the info given to me and whether it was even valid.
All of my momentum came to a screeching halt last Thursday afternoon when RingTV writer and one-time recipient of a Gabe Montoya slap in Vegas, Mark Ortega, intimated via Twitter that he knew the truth about Montoya and his consultant role. It also became clear that Ortega had been sent the same material I had when he began quoting phrases from the recording before heading off to lunch.
Montoya, as expected, went ballistic and after lashing out at Ortega and demanding to know more about this recorded phone call, came back about an hour later with a tell-all article to share:
— Gabriel Montoya™ (@Gabriel_Montoya) July 18, 2013
The article, written by Brent Brookhouse, writer/editor at the MMA site Bloodyelbow.com and occasional contributor at Badlefthook.com, was titled “Exclusive: Gabriel Montoya speaks about previously undisclosed role as anti-doping consultant for title bouts.“ In it, Brookhouse goes over the history of the deal between Bute promoter InterBox and Montoya while offering both parties plenty of space to explain and justify the dubious ethical decisions made. And although Brookhouse does voice his concern with the ethics of the whole situation, the piece comes off more like bartered damage control for Montoya than investigative exposé. Montoya is conveniently allowed to paint himself out of a corner and Brookhouse, perhaps unintentionally, wraps up the mess with a pretty pink bow, writing:
“Montoya does seem to truly believe that what he is doing is in the best interest of the sport and a cause that he deeply cares about.”
and closing out the article with a pious Montoya quote:
They wanted me there for some sort of legitimacy because I’m very outspoken on this subject. In some ways people think I’ve crossed the line from a reporter to an anti-doping advocate. Maybe somebody should be. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.
My take? I think Montoya did to Brookhouse what promoters/managers/publicists have been doing to the major boxing sites for ages– he bartered exclusive access to a story for the right to use the author and his site for his own benefit. In this case, the benefit being pre-damage control about a story that could’ve hit so much harder had a more critically-minded, veteran scribe gotten a hold of it. For the record, Brookhouse, who claims to have known about this consulting deal since late June, told me in a personal, but clearly on the record conversation that he had given Montoya a hard date of July 22 to make a public statement or see the story published anyway. However, he did concede that Ortega’s badgering on Twitter may have forced Montoya’s hand.
Ultimately, Montoya got what he wanted and defused a potential bomb by being proactive with his “confession.” By stepping forward before being outed, he got to paint the picture of his actions like he wanted it painted. To hear him tell it, post-revelation– He had not actually kept anything secret, had always been transparent (if you were observant enough), and was, really, the martyr in all of this:
I don’t do this “for the exposure.” I don’t do on-camer interviews, claim to be omniscient (after the fact) or have a catchphrase. #boxing
— Gabriel Montoya™ (@Gabriel_Montoya) July 18, 2013
— Gabriel Montoya™ (@Gabriel_Montoya) July 18, 2013
Montoya could’ve done things ethically by disclosing his full role and then removing himself from covering the issue. But he didn’t do that. When push came to shove, he chose to mislead his readers and would’ve kept doing so had he not been outed.
While he claims that to reveal his role may have somehow put the testing “in danger,” the reality may be that he kept things secret so he could use his leverage as a writer to bring acclaim to his own non-writing work. Without his writing platform, Montoya is just a guy with a bunch of PEDs factoids. As a writer and as the “PEDs Guy,” however, he can create credibility for his work and praise the holy hell out of the promotion for having the good sense to work with, well, him. Except, nobody knew he was actually congratulating himself.
Montoya would shovel praise on the testing protocol in place for Bute-Pascal prior to its cancellation. And then do similarly for the Adonis Stevenson-Chad Dawson bout, which used the same protocol, writing that Canada had added “to its already rich boxing history” and that Stevenson-Dawson “marked the first time such stringent tests were performed on a Canadian boxing match both for the fight and training camp.” All along, of course, failing to admit that he had been involved with InterBox as a consultant.
Could it have been InterBox’s goal all along to ensure positive press and, essentially, a free pass by ingratiating itself with the most vocal PEDs watchdog? Who knows? Maybe they were indeed sincere and trying to guarantee a level playing field for their fighters. There was zero transparency in all of this and a nondisclosure agreement among all parties. So, Montoya, really, was the only one free to talk and the only one with any info about any of this. Yet, he was deeply, deeply compromised.
And therein lies the problem with this whole deal.
What if Top Rank, Golden Boy, or some other entity looking to get a pass on testing, decides to bring Montoya aboard just for the sake of acquiring that public seal of approval from a writer who will doggedly campaign for the awesomeness of everything he touches? In the secret world of promoter-funded testing, the public knows nothing about anything and the closest we ever get to real information is through the media.
At some point, as in the Bute-Pascal situation, a nondisclosure agreement is signed and Montoya would be out of the loop. Then, regardless of whether or not Montoya did an honest, good job in his “consulting,” it would just be guess and conjecture as to the honesty of the parties in question when following through. But with everybody in the dark and Montoya fighting publicly to ensure them a cloak of credibility, they’d be free to do whatever they damn well wanted.
This would be similar to when HBO bought the silence of Thomas Hauser, author of many insider exposés about the inner workings of the network, by hiring him as a non-decision-making “consultant.” It’s easy to see promoters and sanctioning organizations doing the same to Montoya.
Maybe this has already been done. Maybe not. Nobody knows and nobody will ever know.
From this day forward it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Montoya could be a secret consultant for any anti-doping agency, fighter, or commission he endorses. And, conversely, a critic of those who don’t choose to bring him aboard. We simply won’t know. Montoya was only forthcoming with his InterBox arrangement out of necessity and, from reading what he has written since then, doesn’t really see the problem in any of this.
Montoya claims to not have been paid by InterBox for his service and, to confirm, InterBox also says that they didn’t pay him. But we all know that in boxing there are ways to be paid without being handed money. And whether Montoya was doing this for favors of some sort, ego-gratification, or a legitimate interest in doing good, payment was never the issue.
Those of us who write about ethics and integrity in the business aren’t just doing so to be pious and sanctimonious. There’s a real reason why journalists have certain standards and refrain from crossing certain lines.
The issue was always Montoya secretly working with a promoter and then using his own credibility as a writer to sell his efforts without ever revealing that he had a hand in all of it. He consciously chose to play all angles of this– news maker, news source, and reporter– while apparently considering himself beyond reproach and accountable to only his own whims. A journalist capable of this is dangerous to the already-shaky integrity of the boxing media for many, many reasons.
And speaking of the media…
The response from the media about this has been, at best, some of the weakest tea imaginable. The couple of writers who have cared to report on this seem almost apologetic in approaching it, perhaps afraid of getting mean Tweets or being shunned by whichever fraternal order or advisory panel they belong to.
I can’t believe that in the most cynical of all sports, the media entrusted to report also appears to be the most naive and doe-eyed. Even after acknowledging the huge conflict of interest in what Montoya did, the prevailing thought seems to be, “I’m sure he meant well.”
Well, sorry, but in this medium men are judged by their actions. Nobody in the boxing business, on any level, deserves the benefit of the doubt.
And, frankly, Montoya has done nothing in the public arena to be considered a fair-minded, level-headed individual deserving of the benefit of the doubt. And he certainly hasn’t made a case for himself or his integrity as a journalist in this particular fiasco.
The man who wants to establish and/or influence policy for one of the most delicate, but necessary reforms in the sport has done nothing but spend the last few years acting like someone clearly not mature or stable enough to handle such a responsibility. From floating rumors of covered up PEDs use to attacking other writers who dare to cover HIS issue without his consent to juvenile social media and message board flame wars— Montoya, in my estimation, has certainly not earned a free pass to full trustworthiness. He may have done his research on the technical side of the PEDs issue, but he has definitely shown himself to be lacking in some serious areas of personal development.
In any case, the PEDs testing issue is not just about technology or even logistics; it’s about regulation. PEDs testing without significant reform in the basic structure of how the sport is regulated is virtually useless. And it’s even more useless when promoters, who have the most to lose by thorough, accurate testing, are left with the responsibility– which is what happens in the sport’s current power vacuum. On its current path, voluntary PEDs testing is an empty cause that produces little more than the occasional feel good moment and leaves all of the problems to be solved by those with the most to lose should actual reform take place. In the face of dire necessity, it has become the perfect vacuous boxing cause. And even then, as we can clearly see, it’s full of opportunities for exploitation.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Montoya will plug on, unscathed by any of this. Fans are growing weary of PEDs talk and care even less about media matters. But, unfortunately, when the sport’s own media takes liberties with the sport’s integrity and/or refuses to hold its own members responsible for wrongdoing, the fans can never expect to have any guarantee of truth on any level. And that’s at the core of every one of boxing’s ills.
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You can email Paul at email@example.com or simply call him names on Twitter. Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.