Victor Conte, the one-time head of the infamous BALCO lab that supplied performance-enhancing drugs to Barry Bonds, Shane Mosley, Marion Jones, Jason Giambi, and other star athletes, has started making himself a new home in a new sport: Boxing.
Conte, who now runs a company called Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning, has been working with such notable fighters as Andre Ward, Andre Berto, Zab Judah, and Nonito Donaire. On Tuesday, Donaire was part of the Cotto vs Margarito press conference in New York, announcing and promoting his own fight at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden on October 22. Donaire, the world's top bantamweight and considered one of the best in the world, pound-for-pound, will be facing top super flyweight Omar Narvaez of Argentina.
While the fighter himself offered a Robert De Niro impression ("You talkin' to me?" from Taxi Driver) and noted he was honored to fight in the historic Madison Square Garden (well, kinda), Donaire was a little short on words.
But Conte, a relative newcomer to the fight game and part of an ever-expanding awareness in the sport of what top nutritionists and strength and conditioning coaches can do for a fighter, had a lot to say, and was surprisingly insightful all things considered.
"I'm basically here in the capacity of being a member of Nonito's support team. I'm new to the game of boxing, relatively new, and what I've learned in a short period of time is whether you win or lose your fight basically has to do with the gifts and talents of the boxer and the head trainer," said Conte.
"And if they get it right, then the rest of the team gets the opportunity to make a contribution. But I've seen where people like myself and others involved as a part of a support team have been involved with fights where the fighter and head trainer didn't get it right, and regardless of how we do our job, you don't end up with the right outcome."
Skeptics have met Conte in the boxing world, including this very site. But he's also back working with Major League Baseball players such as Marlon Byrd, too, and Byrd and the fighters say they'll gladly stand behind Conte, indicating they trust that he's on the up-and-up here.
Of course, Conte and BALCO were always ahead of the testing systems they were up against, and the normal testing routines for boxers are criticized as very beatable by those who would know what they're doing.
Many Conte clients have openly invited testing. But it's easy to invite what you know won't happen. That's a could-be bluff that isn't going to be called.
For his part, Conte is just now starting to talk more to the boxing media, having mostly stayed quiet and in the background up to this point. Prior to Andre Berto's September 3 win over Jan Zaveck, Conte discussed with media Berto's changes in conditioning and training habits, as well as discovering that the fighter had anemia. And now, he's taking part in press conferences, speaking for Team Donaire, and paying the fighter great compliments. He doesn't appear to want to stay out of the spotlight.
"I'm very pleased to be working with Nonito, he's a very gifted guy, not only in terms of his boxing skills but as a person, his belief system is tremendous," said Conte.
"He dances, he sings, he's got talent in his toes. So I've got tremendous confidence that he will be in great shape and that he'll enjoy this opportunity on the big stage, and Robert Garcia will put together a great game plan, and Nonito will put on a great performance on October 22nd."
Conte will not escape the skeptics any time soon -- maybe he never will. He was at the forefront of the biggest sports scandal of the 2000s, and is seen by many sports fans as a disgraced man who gleefully allowed athletes to cheat the system, cheat the record books, and cheat the fans.
But Victor Conte is here, and he's getting bolder about stepping back in front of the cameras. And he's getting about as fair a shake as can be expected for someone with his past.