The Haringey Box Cup in London this past weekend showcased both the depth of talent and the grassroots commitment to amateur boxing in the British Isles – something most nations will struggle to contend with at the Rio Olympics this summer.
Europe’s largest amateur boxing event took place over three days and 296 bouts under the wrought iron and glass of Alexandra Palace’s grand hall. Teams were in attendance from across the continent, including Switzerland, Sweden and Portugal, but the vast majority were British amateur boxing clubs.
Whereas a professional fight allows a boxer time to assess their opponent and establish a rhythm, the intensity and freneticism of the 3×3 minute amateur bouts was on display throughout the weekend, with judges’ scorecards tilted towards work rate and industry rather than more considered shot selection.
Miguel’s Amateur Boxing Club head coach Mike Burton had six fighters competing over the weekend and believed this was a key factor deterring professionals from competing at the Olympics.
“The pros are used to fighting ten or twelve rounds and then they have to fight three,” he said. “It’s like asking a 400 meter runner to do the 110 meter hurdles. Nine times out of ten a top class amateur will beat a top class pro over three rounds.”
With no nation other than Canada coming out actively in favour of the International Boxing Association amateur’s (AIBA) decision to make professionals eligible to compete at the Olympics, despite noises from the likes Chris Eubank, Jr. and Amir Khan, it seems unlikely that many, if any, top-level professionals will fight in Rio.
The mood amongst coaches in London this weekend fully opposed pros in the Games.
“Ridiculous,” said Jerry Mitchell, a coach at Islington Boxing Club, on AIBA’s shift in the eligibility criteria. “Most of them guys had that chance when they were amateurs but now they want to stop the up-and-coming fighters. The amateur game is the lifeblood of boxing. The pro game don’t give nothing back and now they want to take away even more.”
An Olympic medal may be a strong lure, but surely the risks outweigh the 0.5kg of gold around your neck. As well as putting on hold any lucrative commercial commitments, the likelihood is that a top pro’s reputation will be damaged whatever the result in Rio – lose to an amateur and it’s an embarrassment; win and you’re depriving a young fighter who has been working towards this their whole life.
In many respects the line between amateurs and professionals, particularly in the U.K., is already blurred. The current crop of GB Boxing fighters are salaried and supported to focus on boxing full-time with teams of coaches and nutritionists at the world-class facility at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
The introduction of the World Series of Boxing (WSB) by AIBA has muddied the waters even further with fighters competing in professional bouts but maintaining their amateur status.
Terry Chapendama of Double Jab Gym was direct in his assessment of the motivation behind AIBA’s decision to set up the WSB.
“AIBA want to own the boxing landscape,” he said. “If you look at it like a value chain, they own everything up until where the big money comes in for the professional bouts. The WSB is an AIBA land grab to get a slice of that pie.
“We’re moving towards the American model where you have amateurs and pros boxing in the same way and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Look at the 2012 intake. Compare Anthony Joshua with Errol Spence, Jr. – their skill set is leagues apart [Joshua the less technically proficient professional fighter]. That’s because Spence, Jr. has been training like a pro his whole career, the sparring has been much tougher.”
(Naturally, AIBA cites other motivations for the WSB.)
While amateur boxing at the highest level in Britain is underpinned by funding from UK Sport, in the United States and South America the focus is on turning professional early in pursuit of riches. It’s no coincidence that other countries which provide significant state support to their “amateur” athletes such as Cuba, Russia and Azerbaijan see the fruits of their investment in competitive success.
By the finals on Sunday at Alexandra Palace, with those remaining having battled through Friday’s quarters and Saturday’s semis, few of the fighters were unscathed. Cut lips, black eyes and broken noses were the order of the day with most moving tentatively, at least until they stepped between the ropes.
Repton Boxing Club, the east London gym where the Krays trained, were the overall winners of the event with three gold and two silver medals. Standout individuals over the weekend included Army Boxing Team’s Chez Nihill and youngster Jamie Edwards of Coventry’s Triumph ABC.
The Haringey Box Cup attracted hundreds of elite-level competitors and thousands of spectators over the weekend. With this demonstration of grassroots strength, coupled with the funding from Sport UK, everything is in place for a golden summer for GB Boxing.