Olympic Boxing Afterthoughts: Who’s Going Pro, What’s Next In Rio And More

Isn’t he just the cutest. (via, h/t unofficial TQBR visual consultant Che)

You know what else is cute? Our lame boxing blog trying to be all important. Like, maybe we write something for the Guardian’s website about the Olympics the other week, and then we do it again this week. Isn’t it adorable how we just keep lame-ing our way into some of the world’s best publications?

Happily, we really truly are about to move on from the Olympics for good. But just like Weekend Afterthoughts is us banging the trash can to unstick the gunk stuck in the bottom of the past weekend’s pro action, so is this special Olympic Boxing Afterthoughts the same for Olympic boxing. The headline mostly sums up what we’ll cover. Mostly.

  • The changes for 2016. They’re likely to ditch the computerized scoring system in favor of the traditional, professional 10-point must system in Rio. They might also ditch the headgear. Both are welcome changes, if the switch is made. Headgear is mostly for show — it doesn’t do anything for safety, only for avoiding cuts (a not insignificant consideration for boxers who have to fight every few days). And whatever the scoring system, we’ll still have goofy decisions, just like we did before the computerized system of past years and the modified version of 2012. But both changes would make boxers fight more like pros, where there are rewards in throwing meaningful punches rather than merely making contact. It’ll also prep Olympic boxers better for when they turn professional, both in how good they’ll be and in the aesthetic style with which they will come equipped. That’s a net gain.
  • USA Boxing revamp. The U.S. Olympic Committee chief said an overhaul of USA Boxing is coming, although he didn’t have any specifics just yet. I suspect Olympics commentator Teddy Atlas is right, that a housecleaning is necessary. There are subtle fixes aside from the personnel running the show, too, like dropping the reluctance to allow pro coaches to be involved. Team Great Britain did great with Robert McCracken running the show, and I don’t care so much if pro coaches use their Olympic affiliation to seduce potential pros — we need to win. More money also seems in order, as USA Boxing has gotten short shrift in that regard, and you need cash to run a boxing program. But I do fear the United States’ talent pool is, indeed, shallow. I’ve often thought that the state of the U.S. amateur system is a more grave existential threat to the long-term future of boxing in the States, more so than mixed martial arts or other threats, and I don’t know how to mend that fundamental fracture. 
  • AIBA’s professional promotion/league/whatever. No matter how many stories I read about it, I’m still unsure what to make of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) pro venture. It sounds mostly like the World Series of Boxing, and that didn’t end too well. It also led to suspicions that WSB boxers were getting special consideration from judges during these Olympics, and it’s a real potential conflict AIBA if makes money off one set of boxers and there’s an incentive built-in for them to win at the Games because of it. And I can’t say that AIBA’s ambition to run all professional boxing tickles me.
  • Vasyl Lomachenko’s pro plans and Ukraine’s success. AIBA announced that Lomachenko, the lightweight amateur sensation, was going to join AIBA’s professional venture. Lomachenko’s team said it wasn’t true. I’d far rather see Lomachenko branch out into traditional pro boxing than whatever this AIBA thing is, so I’m rooting for the original announcement to be false. Another thing: Ukraine won the most medals in the men’s Olympic boxing competition this year, and search though I might, I can’t find a story about what made their program so successful. I could hazard some guesses — a country with a boxing culture and heroes to look up to is going to get an influx of boxing talent, and the Ukraine has had the Klitschko brothers dominating the professional heavyweight ranks for a long while now — but whatever they’ve done, it’d be wise for USA Boxing to find out and consider whether it can learn any lessons.
  • Anthony Joshua staying amateur. The biggest name talking about staying amateur is Joshua, the talented British super heavyweight. One side goes: It’s good, he’s still very young and will be getting better competition and seasoning going for gold in Rio. Another side goes: Big men who turn pro sooner fare better, and the amateur system is going to instill anti-pro habits. I can’t decide which side I’m on, so maybe that means I default to trusting him to do whatever he feels most comfortable doing. It’s also a shame, though, that we won’t be seeing him as a pro for a number more years, because as a spectator I’d rather be watching him facing fringe top-10 contenders in four years rather waiting another four after that.
  • Others making pro plans. Chinese light flyweight Zou Shiming and Italian super heavyweight Roberto Cammarelle are both talking about becoming pros — at least sort of, the Cammarelle quotes are inconclusive. But both probably should’ve done it a few years back; each of them struggled mightily at times in London and probably got long in the tooth. Brits Freddie Evans (welterweight) and Luke Campbell (bantamweight) are the subject of speculation. These athletes from Cameroon said they were threatened and want to turn pro, Cameroon officials said they were not threatened. As noteworthy names make their decisions, we’ll probably update you in the Quick Jabs column each week.
  • Bad boxing television ratings. CNBC, which carried Olympic boxing prominently for the NBC-helmed broadcast of the Olympics, saw ratings drop, unlike other Olympic ratings. You can argue that boxing might’ve done better on a network other than CNBC, but then, if NBC had much confidence in boxing’s ability to do ratings, it would’ve found a better platform for the sport. And if NBC had confidence in Team USA’s ability to go far, it probably would’ve given it that better platform.
  • Women’s boxing a smash, apparently. Whatever the bad U.S. TV ratings, AIBA’s boss said women’s boxing was a big hit. It’s been enough for him to consider including women’s boxing in this pro venture. I do think the big raucous live audience that turned out for boxing — whether the contestants were men or women — bodes well, but that was in the United Kingdom, where big crowds are a more common sight at boxing events. In America, professional women’s boxing isn’t going so well.
  • Russia, others lob scoring allegations. Russia’s sports minister raised the specter of Team Great Britain having a home court advantage, and with a fair number of close decisions going the way of Team GB, it’s hard to dismiss. But the fighters who didn’t advance to the Finals for Russia? Great Britain had nothing to do with any of that. Welterweight Andrey Zamkovoy and flyweight Misha Aloian lost fair and square in the Semifinals. Cammarelle, Lomachenko and Kaeo Pongprayoon all had their own complaints about scoring post-Games, with Pongprayoon having a more legitimate greivance than Cammarelle and Lomachenko just doubting the whole system, not that Lomachenko’s victories were ever endangered.
  • The Val Barker Trophy. Welterweight Serik Sapiyev won the designation of best overall fighters at the Games, but I would’ve put him behind Lomachenko and Cuban flyweight Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana, but Sapiyev had an argument. Since Kazakhstan seems to win it every other Olympic competition, I guess this is their home court advantage.
  • AIBA suing BBC; Azerbaijan’s medals. Yeah, AIBA’s suing the BBC over its cash-for-gold-medals report. Maybe AIBA’s right. Azerbaijan, in the end, didn’t get any gold medals, and the alleged deal was for two. Or maybe the thing couldn’t be pulled off in plain sight after all. Or maybe some AIBA official’s neck has a date with some piano wire.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.