Amateur boxing doesn’t get a whole lot of love from fans of the professional side of the sport. Words like “boring,” “mechanical” and “pitty-pat punching” tend to get thrown around a fair bit. Not that “Pitty-pat punching” is a word, in the strictest sense. Fans don’t like the headgear, they don’t like the scoring system and, in America, they don’t like the fact that the guys on the podium have names that end in -chenko and come from countries that end in -stan (and, in recent years, -hina).
Still, as a fan of the pros, there are some pretty good reasons to watch the boxing at the Olympics in London, starting on July 28. Women’s boxing is included in the program for the first time. The good old U.S.A. has some chances (not great chances, let’s not get carried away) to medal. You can play the always-fun game of “spot the future top pro” and compare notes with your mates. That, and you can follow all the fun here, with special coverage on TQBR.
Spot The Future Pro
Like every four years, this will be the number one talking point and pastime for pro-boxing fans watching the London Olympics. The boxers themselves will be thinking about it too. There’s no better start to your professional career than an Olympic gold medal. Think Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and, more recently, Andre Ward. The most fun part of the game is that it’s purely speculative. Winning a medal doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good pro (just scan the list of medallists from recent Olympics to see what I mean), though sensational amateurs can make sensational pros, like Yuriorkis Gamboa.
The Big Boys
You don’t often get to see highly skilled match ups between boxing’s biggest men and hardest punchers in the professionals. You do in the amateurs. The super heavyweights will be one of the divisions to watch in London, with a three-way horse race developing between Italian veteran Roberto Cammerelle, Azerbaijani puncher Magomedrasul Medzhidov and British upstart Anthony Joshua. Watch the 2011 World Championships gold medal match between Medzhidov and Joshua and tell me amateur boxing is boring:
The USA has a decent chance to bring home some silverware (or goldware?). As in 2008, America’s best hope is flyweight Rau’shee Warren, only 23 and about to become a three-time Olympian. The Cincinnati native trains out of Aaron Pryor’s famous Eastside gym and won bronze at the 2011 world championships. Queen Underwood, ranked fourth at lightweight by AIBA, could potentially bring home the U.S.A.’s first female boxing medal too.
Amateur Boxing Is Changing
I hate to focus on the persistent criticism of amateur boxing, but it is rather persistent. Fortunately, people have taken notice and things are changing. The much maligned computer scoring system is being shaken up (after these Olympics) and the World Series of Boxing has given many elite amateurs experience in a more aggressive fighting style. The headgear remains, but the more you watch, the less that seems to matter. The boxing at London 2012 will be much more exciting than at Beijing in 2008.
If you only watch one fight at London 2012, make it a Vasyl Lomachenko fight. The Ukrainian lightweight is a blur. At only 23, he’s already one of the greatest amateur fighters of all time. He’s like Yuriorkis Gamboa on steroids, but with a better body attack and seemingly sounder fundamentals. With a gold medal from Beijing already under his belt, I can only hope we’ll be seeing him without headgear soon. Check the video and remember to keep track of his red/blue outfit changes.
The Changing Of The Guard
This might not seem like a cause for rejoicing for American fans, but the amateur boxing landscape is changing. Even Cuba, long a boxing superpower, can’t keep up. The new players are Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and other former Soviet republics — not to mention China, which came from nowhere to win four medals in Beijing. The U.S.A. has been sliding for years, in part due to the pull of other sports (in which you don’t have to get punched in the face to make money) and in part due to poor administration. In traditional boxing nations like Cuba and Britain there’s still a huge level of investment in the sport, but international landscape is now so competitive that nothing is certain.
London will be the first Olympic games to include female boxing, though there was a demonstration bout at the 1902 games – take that to your pub trivia night. Things have settled down after a bit of a flap (pardon the pun) over whether female boxers would have to wear skirts or not and women will be boxing across three weight classes. In The States, the Olympic team has already got some pretty major coverage, including a New York Times feature on the hard childhood of lightweight Queen Underwood.
Queensberry Rules Coverage
You’ll be able to follow all the Olympic boxing from London right here at TQBR. We’re going to have special coverage, tweeting, features, analysis and more. TQBR founder Tim Starks and I will also be working with guardian.co.uk as part of their Experts Network Blog Project. The London Olympics will be boxing’s biggest moment worldwide, so pop by, have a read and leave a comment.