Dream turns sour
One moment, Lucas Browne was on top of the world as Australia’s first-ever world heavyweight champion, with huge fights on the horizon. The next moment, Big Daddy Browne found himself at the centre of boxing’s latest drugs controversy. In the blink of an eye, seemingly, Browne went from hero of a heart-warming underdog triumph over Ruslan Chagaev to a fighter defending his good name.
The feel-good story soured a matter of hours after Browne spoke to Boxing Monthly on 21 March, just over two weeks after his title win in Russia.
The instant reaction on social media one of surprise, with comments such as “surely not” and “Lucas Browne has been stitched up”.
The drug in question, clenbuterol, is commonly used by bodybuilders to reduce fat and weight, whilst retaining muscle mass. Had Browne been competing in any other weight division, there would have been grounds for understanding why he may have allegedly taken the drug, but in a division with no upper limit, it made less sense. Couple this with the fact that Browne had undergone a long, arduous training camp for the Chagaev fight, it would seemingly appear that he got into shape using natural methods.
Many on Twitter expressed suspicions that Browne’s time in Grozny, where the Chagaev fight took place, might have been to blame, with sabotage among the theories being investigated. (Tyson Fury took precautions in Germany, refusing to drink anything he hadn’t brought with him or had verified by his team as safe, when he boxed Wladimir Klitschko.)
Browne’s team fear his food may have been contaminated, as they were not allowed to leave their armed-guard accommodation whilst in Grozny.
Browne and his promoter, Hatton Promotions, released a statement soon after the news broke: “My team and I were well aware of the many risks involved in going to a place like Chechnya to fight a reigning champion, and believed we had taken sufficient precautions,” Browne’s statement reads.
“In addition, it was at our insistence that VADA [Voluntary Anti Doping Association] testing was implemented for this fight.”
Browne has an interesting back story. “Basically, just before I turned 30, my ex-wife and I broke up and she moved across the country from Sydney to Perth, with my kids,” Browne told BM before the drugs allegation arose. “I had a lot of time on my hands.
“I’d always wanted to be the heavyweight champion of the world, watching the likes of Mike Tyson when I was growing up, and with time on my hands decide to give it a go. I started with MMA first [won six, lost two] and realised very quickly after fighting [former Olympic wrestler and current UFC light-heavyweight champion] Daniel Cormier that I got dominated quite badly with regards to the wrestling. When I realised I wasn’t a kicker or a wrestler, I thought it was best to make a proper go of the boxing.”
Friends and family strongly recommended he found another vocation in life. “Everyone thought I was quite stupid to get into the fighting game, when I first started,” he said. However, being faced with guns, knives and every other form of weapon available on the streets of Kings Cross, Sydney, Browne saw boxing as the more prudent step forward and certainly less dangerous.
By the time he faced Chagaev in Chechnya on 5 March, Browne’s record stood at an impressive 23-0 (20 KOs). He’d undergone his most productive training camp, very aware that he’d perhaps not been in the best shape for previous fights.
“In terms of this training camp, basically, it was the complete opposite to every other fight I’ve been in,” Browne said. “It wasn’t an untrue statement with regards to me being flatfooted, overweight, and all that stuff. It was quite true, to be honest. The best time for me to get my arse into gear was [when challenging] for the title.
“I came in at 113 [kg, slightly over 250lbs], which is the lightest I’d ever been, and had better head movement and agility. Everything had to come together for this fight. This was my opportunity to shine and make a difference in my life. I did, and it all come together quite well.”
Browne was on the brink of defeat in the sixth round after a heavy overhand caught him flush on the mouth. A strong engine and a motivational speech from his trainer, Rodney Williams, got him back into the fight.
“Luckily I wasn’t gassed,” Browne said. “Fitness wise, I was well prepared. When I walked back to the corner, Rodney said, ‘Are you all right?’ and I said ‘yeah’. He grabbed my left arm and said: ‘This is Isaac,’ then grabbed my right arm and said: ‘This is Billy,’ referring to my two sons. He was basically trying to shock me into waking up and regaining focus.”
Told he had only three rounds left, Browne recalls telling his trainer: “Cool” before the start of the 10th round. He decided, he said, to step it up a bit.
“My right hand throws itself to be honest,” Browne said. “When I knocked him down, I knew I had to jump on him. He didn’t take the opportunity when I was hurt - perhaps that’s because I didn’t let him - but when I knocked him down, I looked at my corner and they said, ‘Jump on him.’ I said to myself, ‘Oh yes – I’m going to!’ The punch might not have been the most technical, but all that matters was that it landed on his head.”
It was the stuff dreams are made of – you could really say that. Browne had gone from nightclub bouncer to WBA (regular) heavyweight champion of the world in the space of seven years. His name was instantly being mentioned among future opponents for the likes of Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, David Haye, Charles Martin and Anthony Joshua.
“I got paid a lot more for this fight, which was sensational,” Browne said. “But I haven’t splashed out. I’ve bought a car, but haven’t bought a house. I’m still the same person I was before I became champion, but I’m heading in the right direction in terms of money. At the moment, financially, boxing hasn’t changed my life yet.” His life had though.
“I’m walking around and people are shaking my hand and congratulating me, which I love,” he said. “The media have also really got on board and having interviews like this are sensational, but at the same time, it hasn’t hit home. Number one, I don’t have the [WBA] belt yet, so in the meantime I’m living on hopes and dreams, waiting for the DHL (delivery service) guy to rock up with it!”
Unfortunately, the fairytale was about to turn into a sort of nightmare. Not receiving the WBA belt was the least of Browne’s worries.
The key to Browne’s innocence may well lie with Las Vegas-based VADA to test Browne’s B sample. If it proves negative, it would seem everyone has jumped the gun – and it wouldn’t be the first time.
Both Mariusz Wach and Olanrewaju Durodola failed drug tests administered by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), after their fights on 5 November 2015. However, after independent testing by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the pair were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ricky Hatton added further support to his champion by adding, “We believe Lucas Browne to be a clean athlete who arrived in Chechnya a clean athlete. We are therefore conducting our own further investigations and cannot comment further at this time.” Browne himself, understandably enough, was not immediately giving any further interviews
In 16 days, Browne had gone from being on top of the world to being the latest fighter in a depressingly long list to be tainted by a drug-test result.
His outlook had been one of unbounded optimism before the drug allegation: “I’ve only touched the surface,” he said. “Yes, I’m only 36 years old, but I’m very young in regards to boxing. I learn very, very quickly, and judging by the last fight in particular, that shows a lot of things are coming together the way they should. I’ve finally got the right trainer, right nutrition, right training routine. I had 12 weeks with Rodney Williams. Imagine what a year could do.
“Keep a very close eye on me. I have the power to knock anyone out. I have my abilities as a boxer, whatever they may be, but my knockout power is there for the full 12 rounds. That’s a scary thought for any heavyweight on the planet.”
Since this article was published in the May edition of Boxing Monthly, Lucas Browne has been stripped of his WBA title and has been suspended for six months after his B sample on a doping test returned positive.