By: Charles Jay
Some observers have thought that the inclusion of professional boxers into the Olympics would have an impact, and in fact, a major one.
Needless to say, things have fallen short of that.
And naturally, this can be rationalized. It is admittedly very difficult to explain the concept of long-time world-class pros stepping into the ring with amateurs. And you know the kind of thing I’m talking about – it’s the kind of thing that no respectable boxing commission would allow under normal circumstances (well, perhaps with Nevada the notable exception).
In case that’s what you’ve been worried about, that class difference isn’t what we’re seeing, at least any more than we have seen for years and years in the Olympics, when, for lack of a better description, competitors from the “big” countries commonly beat up on those from the “little” countries.
Of course, the concept of the amateur in boxing at the world-class level is murky to begin with. Some folks, depending on their point of reference, might suggest it’s even a more black-and-white situation.
For instance, has there ever been a question that those who competed for countries that were behind the Iron Curtain -some of which remain communist or socialist to this day – have used boxers who were, in effect, paid to train and compete? Was it not their job, and did they not box in the Olympics and other international competitions under those circumstances?
And you know, in the United States we are less immune from that kind of charade than you might think. We have had plenty of boxers from the military appear in the Olympics, Pan Am Games, World Championships and so forth. Do you think, as they were collecting their salary, they were primarily soldiers or fighters?
And in USA Boxing, specifically designated competitors, generally those who were good enough to be at their Olympic trainer center in Colorado Springs, could earn money through a special account through which they could receive sponsorships and other forms of financial support. Those opportunities were not available for other amateurs.
I remember signing a former national amateur champion to a promotional contract, and during the time we were bringing him through four-rounders, he remarked that he was making less as a pro than he was when he was at the Colorado Springs training camp.
And then you had the World Series of Boxing, which advertised itself as a way of providing a “bridge” between Olympic boxing and professional boxing. Essentially, the fighters were being paid like professionals but managed to retain their amateur status.
The AIBA, which ran the WSB, had adjusted its own rules to accommodate what they wanted to do. And one of the investors was the sports marketing monster IMG, which might have had it in mind to represent some of those WSB fighters eventually.
A number of boxing commissions were not moved by all of this, and demanded that WSB fighters get licensed as pros. So much for any pretense surrounding what high-level amateur boxing is all about.
By the way, for those who are interested, the AIBA was removed as governing body of Olympic boxing amid scandal (that’s a whole other kettle of fish), the WSB folded, and now intends to lace up the gloves again next year.
As we have seen, particularly in recent years with people like Vasiliy Lomechenko, a world-class amateur can be capable of fighting world-class pros relatively early in his (or her) career.
But those guys are exceptions rather than the rule.
There is something built-in that safeguards against professional stars over-running amateurs (or those who purport to be) in the Olympics, like they have in some other sports.
Top-level boxers – at least the kind who would otherwise be high-impact players – are making purses too large for it to be worth their while. That is a different case than, say, basketball players, who might benefit from their Olympic experience in terms of merchandising, branding and the like. In boxing, that doesn’t exist, for the most part.
And then there is the much simpler explanation that if you are a world champion, and getting hit in the face while you’re working, you might as well get paid – and paid big – for doing it.
While there were just three professionals competing in the 2016 Olympics, there are 43 who entered this year (36 men, seven women).
Generally, on the men’s side (the women’s side is a little different), they are of the four and six-round level of development, which means they don’t have many pro fights to their credit. So if they are indeed ahead of the better “amateurs” out there (you see, we used the quotation marks), it’s not by much.
And remember that there are differences between fighting as an amateur and as a pro. It goes without saying that the three-round limit is one of them. And this leads to other stuff. Because they have to land in more volume and in less time, they are probably going to prepare differently. Since the standard for scoring differs, power (that is, how much impact their punches are really having) doesn’t count as much. We can go on and on, but the bottom line is that it’s a different ball game, and it may not be worth the trouble, unless you’re a pro with a considerable amateur background.
In other words, unless you already “know the drill.”
But who knows – we may see a shift of sorts there. Keep in mind that we have not had many Olympiads since the onset of absolute social media explosion. Perhaps some industrious promoter and/or manager and/or fighter will come along seeking to exploit the huge stage the worldwide TV exposure provides, if that’s something of value to them. Of course, a lot may depend on how well the networks cover Olympic boxing, and they’re not doing it the way they did in the past.
But accumulating followers across all social media platforms appears to be the coin of the realm these days, and the Olympics may offer a golden opportunity to get them.
Just a thought…
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