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Jackie Kallen: What is happening to amateur boxing in the US?

By Jackie Kallen

It was exciting to see women’s boxing for the first time in the Olympics. And it was a proud moment for American athletes when Clarissa Shields got her gold medal. But what happened to our male team? Why didn’t the US have a better group of boxers? Are we to believe that these men were the finest amateurs in the country?

Where are today’s Cassius Clays? Evander Holyfields? Sugar Ray Leonards? Where are tomorrow’s champions supposed to come from if there are no quality amateurs to choose from? For boxing fans–this is a serious issue.

People lament the fact that the heavyweight champion of the world is from the Ukraine. The #2 heavyweight is his brother. Where is the American fighter who can dethrone their dynasty? Some say that he is playing football. Or basketball. He is apparently not walking into the nearest boxing gym.

Therein lies the problem. There aren’t as many top-notch boxing gyms around as there were 20 years ago. The gyms have evaporated and so have the skilled trainers who know how to develop and nurture a young talent. Network TV does not cover boxing like they cover the other sports so that has hurt, also. To top it off, the national endorsements that other athletes get do not seem to filter down to boxers.

In the past, Americans racked up 108 medals and produced superstars. This year’s team lost 9 out of their last 10 fights and walked away empty-handed. It was an embarrassment for the US and had boxing fans complaining bitterly about the state of the sport they love.

What can be worse than taking home zero medals while tiny Mongolia took home two medals? Talk about a slap in the face.

Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the USOC said that he is “disappointed” and the lack of medals is “unacceptable.” But it is not apparent how he intends to fix it by 2016. Unless more gyms spring up around the country and more talented kids walk in at 10 years old and lace up the gloves–how do we change things? A good start would be to do a complete overhaul of USA Boxing, starting with those at the top.

Blackmun did not elaborate on what he intends to do, but I hope he knows something I don’t because I can’t see how we are going to entice new young people into the boxing gyms. When they can sign a basketball or football contract for between $400,000 and $500,000–why the hell do they want to purse boxing? Baseball and hockey players can do almost as well. Tiger Woods is worth over $500 million. Hitting a small ball has become more enticing than hitting another man.

In contrast, the average undercard fighter on a championship card only earns between $20,000-$200,000. Most of the main event fighters on ESPN2 are taking home $10,000. For most 4-round boxers, they are likely to take home $1,000. So boxing has not proven to be a very lucrative sport for the average participant.

Those at the top like Pacquaio and Mayweather are doing well. Pacquaio’s net worth is estimated at $85 million and Mayweather’s is $116 million. But they are unique and rare. They are certainly the exceptions. With no national governing body or pension plans, boxers usually retire with very little in their bank account to show for their years of hard work.

We have to give boxing a total makeover. We need more gyms in every urban area. We need better coaches and trainers. We need more corporate sponsorship money to fund these gyms. We need more network TV exposure. We need more positive role models in the sport. (The fact that Floyd Mayweather is our richest boxer and he just got out of jail is not a good thing.) has some of the most knowledgeable fans in the country. I would love to hear some of your suggestions as to what will rebuild this proud sport in the years to come.

Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.”,



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