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Jury rules Alexander Povetkin took banned substance meldonium

(Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant/Getty Images)
Russian heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin used the substance meldonium after it was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Jan. 1, 2016, a jury ruled Monday in U.S. federal court in New York.

The jury took just 32 minutes to reach a verdict finding that Povetkin used the performance-enhancing drug during the leadup to what was supposed to be a mandatory fight against heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder last May 21 in Moscow.

The fight was canceled nine days before the fight when a Voluntary Anti-Doping Association-conducted test found that Povetkin had meldonium in his system.

After the fight was canceled, Wilder and promoter Lou DiBella sued Povetkin and Russian promoter Andrey Ryabinsky of World of Boxing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for breach of contract and at least $5 million in damages.

Ten days later, Ryabinsky countersued them in the same court for breach of contract and defamation, claiming they unilaterally canceled the fight before the WBC, whose belt Wilder holds, decided what to do.

Ryabinsky also claimed that Wilder began a smear campaign against him and Povetkin. They were seeking at least $34.5 million in the suit.

The trial, which Wilder and Povetkin both attended, lasted for three days last week before going to the nine-person jury, which consisted of six men and three women -- including one chemist.

The jury took no time at all to find Povetkin used meldonium after it was added to the WADA list of banned substances.

Povetkin admitted that he used meldonium but said it was before it was banned. His argument was that whatever meldonium was in his system was left over from when he used it in August and September 2015, when it was still legal under WADA code.

But the jury accepted Wilder's argument that Povetkin must have used meldonium after it was added to the banned list because he tested negative in random VADA doping tests conducted on April 7, April 8 and April 11 before an April 27 sample tested positive.

"We won the case, and this is an important precedent in cases of this nature when a fight is canceled for PED use," DiBella told ESPN. "The other participant in the fight has gone through all the work. Deontay was ready to fight, and this got canceled right before the fight. This ruling is a further disincentive for any fighter to attempt to get an unfair advantage. Our attorneys, Judd Burstein and Peter Schalk, did a tremendous job because this is somewhat complicated and scientific.

"Basically, it's a great thing about our justice system that where the facts are on your side and you're telling the truth, you win."

DiBella said he was confident the defamation case would soon be dropped.

"I also think it's a good bet that I don't have much to worry about with their defamation claim, which was based on my saying Povetkin is a cheater," DiBella said. "The jury said he is a cheater. I think it's very telling that the jury only deliberated for slightly longer than 30 minutes."

Ryabinsky could not be reached for comment but did write on social media, "Jurors in the trial were against us."

Burstein said the case should never have been brought by Ryabinsky and Povetkin in the first place.

"I'm in shock that they wasted the court's time and their money fighting over something that was as plain as day," Burstein told ESPN. "I don't know if they were arrogant or just stupid, but whatever happened was inexplicable to me that they went forward with this case when the evidence was so overwhelming. [Povetkin] tried to argue this was the residual effects of taking meldonium in August and September of 2015. But it was a laughable defense."

Burstein said he expects Ryabinsky's attorney to "make a motion to overturn the verdict, which will be frivolous and has as much chance as I do of winning a gold medal in the Olympics."

"Once that's done, I will make a motion for summary judgment to get the money and seek other damages," Burstein said. "I will also serve a motion seeking sanctions unless they drop the defamation case."

Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs), 31, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was due to earn approximately $4.5 million to fight Povetkin. That money remains in an escrow account from before the fight, as does an additional $715,000 from Ryabinsky's winning purse bid that is with the WBC and was meant as a bonus for the winner of the fight.

Burstein said he expects the judge to release the money, which will be split between Wilder and DiBella, who is out considerable expenses thanks to the cancellation of the fight and legal fees.

"They could have settled this case and kept some of the money and done enough clean testing that Deontay would have fought him, but they were so arrogant and they wouldn't do it," Burstein said.

Wilder is training for a defense against Gerald Washington on Feb. 25 in Birmingham, Alabama, but took time out of his camp to attend the trial last week.

Washington, ironically, was a late replacement because his original opponent, Poland's Andrzej Wawrzyk, was removed from the fight when he tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol in two random urine tests conducted by VADA on Jan. 15 and Jan. 16.

Eight months after Povetkin tested positive for meldonium, he again tested positive in a random VADA test for a banned substance in December, this time for ostarine, which is supposed to increase stamina and recovery ability and has been on the WADA banned list since 2008.

That test result came to light only about 20 hours before Povetkin was to fight Bermane Stiverne for the WBC's vacant interim heavyweight title on Dec. 17 in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

When the WBC withdrew its sanction of the fight because of the positive test, Stiverne opted out of the bout and Povetkin instead faced late replacement Johann Duhaupas, whom he brutally knocked out in the sixth round when Russian regulators allowed Povetkin to fight despite the positive drug test.

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