SAN DIEGO, June 3, 2016 – The International Boxing Association (AIBA), the governing body over amateur boxing, officially ruled this week to allow professional boxers to enter the Olympic Games alongside amateur fighters. Eighty-four of the 88 member nations voted in favor of this proposal.
The decision didn’t come as any surprise. The idea has been floated for months despite a mostly negative reaction from the boxing community as a whole. Now that it’s a legal reality, most professional boxers and knowledgeable observers have reacted with horror over the idea. Not only is the idea of forcing young aspiring athletes to fight seasoned professionals unfair, it’s potentially life threatening.
Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Julio Caesar Chavez Jr., Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton, Carl Frampton, Gennady Golovkin, and Oscar De La Hoya are among the more vocal critics of the idea.
Ringside Seat has talked with several former Olympians in the last few weeks about the idea. Current WBC lightweight champion Francisco Vargas, who fights on Saturday, June 4 against Orlando Salido, said, “In my opinion I don’t think that’s a good idea. As you know I went to the Olympics in 2008, and to be honest with you I can’t see myself after fighting for a title for 12 rounds to becoming the world champion, I can’t see myself going back and fighting three rounds, and I just don’t think it’s right.
“I think we should give the amateurs the chance to compete, and I just don’t think it’s fair for a professional to compete with the kids that are coming up … I wouldn’t do it, I’ve been there, and I wouldn’t do it. I just don’t think it’s right trying to do what they’re doing as far as having professionals compete with amateurs. How are you going to have grown men compete with kids?” added Vargas.
Salido added the perspective of someone who’s faced an Olympian at the professional level. “I think that you’re mixing different things together because allowing professionals and amateurs, and if you want a proof of that, look what happened to (Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Vasyl) Lomachenko, the best amateur fighter when he fought me, a professional; it was a win for me. So I think that proves right there that it shouldn’t be mixed,” said Salido.
Manny Pacquiao indicated interest in the idea early in discussions, but after successfully winning election to the Philippines Senate, it’s out of the question now if it was ever truly on the table. If light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev was considering it (and there’s no solid evidence), promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events said she wouldn’t permit it under any circumstances. British boxer Amir Khan could compete for his parents’ native country Pakistan; the country’s boxing officials say they would welcome it.
The last American male boxer to win an Olympic gold medal, light heavyweight Andre Ward, told me prior to his March 25 bout the idea “definitely sparked my attention.” Ward said at the time he couldn’t rule anything out. “You know, you’ve to get all the facts on the table. You’ve got to get all the details. I don’t have all of that right now. And obviously I’m preparing for a fight but I would just want to see everything and then just kind of digest it and then make a decision from there. But definitely interesting, very interesting,” said Ward.
No American professionals will appear in Rio. Late on Thursday, USA Boxing issued a statement in response to AIBA’s decision. While it called the admission of professional boxers to the Olympics “inevitable,” it would not send any professionals to the Games this cycle. “USA Boxing’s Olympic Selection procedures, on which our amateur athletes have relied for the past two years, preclude us from making the last minute changes that would be required to invite professionals to compete. We believe that many other countries face similar difficulties, and in fairness to our athletes who have already been selected to fulfill their Olympic dreams, we abstained from voting for the proposed change of the eligibility rules.”
With all the opposition, what’s the upside? For precisely the reason this column is being written. Amateur boxing doesn’t merit much attention. It loses its best competitors to the professional ranks before they can make it through an Olympic cycle. Eastern Europeans aren’t sticking around for several hundred fights as they once did. The best American boxers turn pro as soon as they can make a living at it. Few Mexican boxers stick around in the amateur ranks, because there’s a robust fan base for professional boxing that supports more athletes.
The only amateur system still intact beyond the Olympics is the Cuban amateur system, and with renewed diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, it’s only a matter of time before talented Cuban boxers want to earn a real paycheck like their countrymen who managed to escape years before them.
It bears pointing out the weight divisions are not the same in the amateur ranks as in the professional ranks. There are 17 professional weight divisions. There are only ten amateur weight divisions. The wider swings happen in the larger weight divisions. Light middleweight runs from 148 to 156 pounds, middleweights go to 165 pounds; the light heavyweight division runs from 166 to 178 pounds. It sets up the potential for truly dangerous bigger men to face untested amateurs who may have raw talent but should not risk their entire future by fighting a Golovkin, Kovalev, Roman Gonzalez or Terence Crawford.
The British Boxing Board of Control is dead set against the plan, calling it “disrespectful” to Great Britain’s amateur boxers. World Boxing Council president Mauricio Suliaman Jr. warns any boxer rated among its top 15 per weight division they will be suspended from WBC competition for two years if they participate in the Olympics as professionals.
From a cynical viewpoint, mandatory drug testing will scare away some of the professionals. The necessity to make weight for up to two weeks straight will weed out many other pros, who wouldn’t choose to compete at a higher official weight. Peer pressure will convince others considering the idea to stay away. Here’s hope the idea lands with such a big thud worldwide, no amateur fighter will land with a sickening thud on the canvas at the hands of an overwhelming opponent.
Instead, enjoy the enthusiasm of the amateur competitors and see if you can pick out the rising stars of boxing’s next generation.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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