Boxing is so strange. When you think that something isn’t broken so no one is going to try to fix it, along comes someone with a wrench to repair part of the sport that has worked perfectly fine for countless years. The recent suggestion that the Olympic committee might allow professional boxers to compete has everyone’s faces frozen in confusion; who on earth would think such a thing was a good idea?
Well, someone does. Because there are reports coming in that this is set to become confirmed in time for Rio 2016, news which has already interested the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Manny Pacquiao, as well as a spate of pros who have styles that more suit the amateur game than the pro ranks.
Currently, the Olympics sit at the very top of the amateur code, the pinnacle of the unpaid ranks and are the litmus test for those fighters who want to go on to make a statement as a professional. They have been the ultimate opportunity for most promising amateur boxers to showcase their abilities in front of a wider audience, and more importantly, grabbing the attention of promoters who are on the lookout for new talent. Some of the world’s most successful fighters have gone down this route, from Muhammad Ali through to Sugar Ray Leonard, to Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.
The recent batch of gold medalists are beginning to make their mark as pros; Vasyl Lomachenko (perhaps the greatest amateur ever) won two golds at the Games and a world title in his 3rd pro fight. Anthony Joshua has his first title shot lined up for April, and Zou Shiming (also a two time Olympic champion) challenged for a world belt last year. The medalists from the previous Olympics (class of 2008) are faring just as well. James DeGale, who won gold in the middleweight category, is now a pro champion at super middleweight. Rakhim Chakkhiev (winner of heavyweight gold) lost his first title attempt, but was victorious in his second, claiming the IBO cruiser belt for a short time. Bronze medalists that year, Vyacheslav Glazkov and Deontay Wilder have both found success at heavyweight, the latter now a WBC champion.
All a long time ago now. Yet under new rules, these men could be thrown back into contention. Whilst the deciding Congress members wait for the moment to cast their vote on June 1st, it is up to the rest of us to muse what that could mean for the sport long term, and it is hard to see how it can be of any benefit to either code. Firstly, throwing Pacquiao or Klitschko in the ring with a typically younger and definitely less experienced boxer (some of whom are teenagers at the time of competing) simply stinks of unfairness, an obvious mismatch and one that no one could support with any degree of actual sportsmanship.
Moreover, another issue arises. We could have the strange situation of fighters defending both a world title and a gold medal at the same time, which although not completely ridiculous, simply doesn’t feel quite right. Can you imagine a situation where a boxer loses to another boxer in a world title fight, but then gains revenge against the same boxer in an Olympic final? Who can rightly claim the number one spot?
Also, what happens when pros begin training for the Olympics? Are they given the grace of hiatus by the governing bodies of whatever belts they hold? Are they made champions-in-recess, like Guillermo Rigondeaux was? Given the fact that the styles are so different between the codes, could they even be allowed (heaven forbid) to have a couple of amateur bouts as tune ups for the Games?
Thankfully, there are plenty of naysayers. The WBC have come forward and dismissed any doubts that people may have had on where they stand on the issue, by saying that any of their champions or top contenders who compete in the Olympics will be stripped of their belt and suspended. “It is not possible to imagine, much less accept a fight between professional boxers, who already have a physical development and more advanced technical skills, [and] young fighters that are just starting this process”, reads the statement. Barry McGuigan is equally unimpressed, labeling the whole fiasco a “publicity stunt”, while David Haye brands the move “insane… all it’s going to take is one 17-year-old kid from Sweden fighting an American 30-year-old current world champion, who puts the poor kid into a coma and then everyone will ask: ‘why on earth did you let that happen?’”
He makes an excellent point. The scale of strength, conditioning and ability could potentially be vast. What would be the outcome should Gennady Golovin decide to go back to the Olympics? Or Sergey Kovalev? What happens if Roman Gonzalez fancies a shot at Olympic gold, or if Amir Khan wants to try and improve on his silver medal? These guys are bullying most top professionals. We surely cannot support their involvement in fights so heavily swayed in their favor, unless we want to see more fights like Danny Garcia vs Rod Salka.