2016 Olympians: Team Great Britain Report Card
By: Oliver McManus
The pinnacle showcase of standout talent, every four years, the Olympic Games are designed to be a celebration of the elite. Emphasis on ‘designed’, you’ll notice, with recent editions being overshadowed by dodgy judging decisions, incompetent governance from the AIBA and a whole host of other dogged issued – to such an extent the sport may not feature in Tokyo next year.
Put politics to one side and each Olympic cycle brings forward flourishing prospects, many of whom will seek to replicate their success as a professional. The old adage goes that ‘a great amateur doesn’t necessarily make a great professional and vice versa’ which is true enough but let’s delve into it and take a look at what came next for Great Britain’s Rio 2016 boxers –and yes, weights are referring to their Olympic categories!
Galal Yafai – Light Flyweight
Yafai, the younger brother of Khalid and Gamal, went over to Rio at the young age of 23 having secured his place with a comfortable win over Samuel Carmona Heredia in the qualifiers. Once in Brazil the draw immediately looked difficult with Joahnys Argilagos – the World Amateur Champion from 2015 – his second round opponent. Yafai put in a good display against Argilagos, a prodigious Cuban, but lost out by 2 rounds to 1.
Since then the Birmingham fighter has shown a really impressive maturity, taking on that Olympic experience, to win Silver at the 2017 European Championships and Gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games – boxing well and working the angles throughout. Now aged 26, Yafai has built on his solid early foundations and has sought to move up to 52 kg over the last year – he’ll be in pole position to represent Team GB next year and will, surely, have plenty of promotional offers in the aftermath.
Nicola Adams – Flyweight
One half of Team GB’s female contingent in Rio, Nicola Adams strolled through the flyweight division to secure her second Olympic Gold medal before turning her attention towards the professional ranks. The distinguished amateur – 12 major medals, all told – signed terms with Frank Warren and made her debut in April 2017 against Virginia Carcamo.
5 fights in a year and a half represents frustration for Adams who, initially, had hoped to be a world champion by the end of 2018. Varying reasons were responsible for her periods of inactivity – none her own fault – but the Lioness from Leeds has looked the real deal throughout her professional career. Last time out, in October, Adams faced Isabel Millan for the interim WBO world title in a contest where she failed to capitalize on her vast technical superiority.
As fast as she has risen up the ratings, you could easily argue that the calibre of opposition hasn’t fully allowed her to showcase the full range of her ability. Almost inadvertently leading to the foot coming off the gas – and let’s be clear, that’s understandable. Luckily for Adams – who turned 36 in October – Arely Mucino will provide the first world title opportunity, in March, with full WBO honours on the line. After that it’ll be a case of unification, then domination.
Muhammad Ali – Flyweight
Born in 1996, Muhammad Ali was a regular with the GB Lionhearts in the World Series of Boxing prior to competing at the Rio Olympics. Possessing all the desirable attributes to attain success, the 20 year old looked visibly under-experienced in his first round bout against, eventual Silver medallist, Yoel Finol.
Ali tested positive for Trenbolone in April 2017 and was suspended by AIBA until May 2019. The 22 year old is said to be targeting a place in Tokyo but, given the firm anti-doping stance taken by those at the helm AND Galal Yafai stepping up in weight, it seems an unlikely endeavour.
Qais Ashfaq – Bantamweight
Another one of those to have come through the WSB programme, Ashfaq lost his first fight at the Olympics against Chatchai Butdee. Eager to turn professional, Ashfaq initially signed with Hayemaker Ringstar in the Summer of 2017 in a move that stalled – Eddie Hearn came along in early 2018 and, since then, the 25 year old has racked up four fights in quick succession.
A Commonwealth and European Championships Silver Medallist, Ashfaq beholds pedigree and has adapted with consummate ease over the first 12 months. An eye-catching knockout against, game, Jay Carney ensured the year ended in style and was a sign of the speed and power that Ashfaq holds at super bantamweight.
Incredibly likeable and with plenty of time on his hands, there’s plenty still to come from the feisty southpaw.
Joe Cordina – Lightweight
2015’s European Amateur Champion, the Welshman reached the Round of 16 in Rio before signing with Eddie Hearn – seemingly the go-to man for post-Olympic euphoria – in 2017. It’s fair to say that the 27 year old made an immediate impression with his first four fights ending inside the distance. The fourth, a first round stoppage over Jamie Speight, particularly notable for the punishing style in which he despatched with such an experienced counterpart.
Six fights in eight months set the initial tempo but Cordina was limited to just two outings over the course of 2018. That’s not to say he wasn’t mightily impressive in those outings and, indeed, he comprehensively out-pointed Sean Dodd in August to add the Commonwealth title to his WBA International strap.
Training with Tony Sims, Cordina has looked immaculate thus far with a maturity beyond his years. Certainly capable of flashy, eye-catching work it is always pleasing to see him revert back to his, equally adept, jab. For me, a wonderfully well-rounded fighter who should be in line for a massive 2019.
Pat McCormack – Light Welterweight
One of only two boxers who represented Great Britain in Rio to stick around as part of the GB set-up in Sheffield, Pat McCormack has stepped up to Welterweight and is likely our representative in Tokyo. Only 23 years of age, the Sunderland sensation has already been to an Olympics, won two Silver medals at the European Championships and a Gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth in 2018 – talk about setting the bar high! In all seriousness, McCormack should easily surpass the Round of 16 – where he lost narrowly in Brazil – and be a hot-tip for medal contention.
Josh Kelly – Welterweight
A 24 year old at the heart of a North East revolution – pivotal, alongside Lewis Ritson, in a resurgence of love for the sport. Only twice, though, has Kelly fought on North East soil with the unrelenting flamboyance reaching all four corners of the United Kingdom.
Kelly has partnered up with Adam Booth to produce some electric results, no less so than the seven round pummelling of Kris George in June. Offensively supreme, I would suggest that more variation is required and, indeed, the fundamentals of boxing to be displayed more frequently when Kelly takes a step up in level.
Having said that it doesn’t really matter at this stage of Kelly’s career because he’s getting the job done and he’s doing it in merciless fashion. With a keen eye on the punishing the body of his opponent, Kelly swings in hooks with venomous intent and does so with pace and precision – enough to sicken anyone.
Defensive fragilities but, offensively, nightmarishly unconventional.
Anthony Fowler – Middleweight
The man who divides opinion across my Twitter feed, the mere mention of his name seems to stir spirits. Whatever you think of him, Fowler has made an unblemished start to his career at super-welterweight with nine wins, eight of those coming by knockout. Against Ryan Toms and Craig O’Brien, Fowler took out back to back domestic fighters – O’Brien the Irish Champion, Toms a two-time Southern Area kingpin – as he mercilessly targeted the body of his opponents, finishing the job with show-reel combinations.
Confident in his own ability, the Liverpudlian has continually looked imperious and relaxed over the course of his professional career without ever, really, having to click into second gear. A real centre-of-the-ring fighter who controls the tempo of the bout, Fowler is a real hot talent emerging out of Merseyside.
A much-discussed contest with Scott Fitzgerald awaits on March 30th before the 27 year old turns his attention towards, European and British Champion, Ted Cheeseman. It’s nice to see Fowler wanting to prove himself domestically in a sport where, far too often, reputations are forged through regional rainbow belts.
Savannah Marshall – Middleweight
The only boxer to have defeat Claressa Shields, that contest in the amateurs, Savannah Marshall may well be on a collision course with the American as a professional. The 27 year old from County Durham signed a professional deal with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and debuted on the undercard of Mayweather-McGregor. A glimpse of the big time to, surely, whet the appetite.
Four bouts have followed over the course of 2018 – three in the United Kingdom and one out in Bulgaria – with Marshall collecting the WBA Inter-Continental belt whilst on foreign soil. Marshall has shown a dangerous finishing instinct with three stoppages inside the distance – all occurring in the second round – with the Silent Assassin establishing a firm left jab along the way.
Generally quite outside of the ring, it’s the skill inside the ring that makes noise for Marshall and it’s a crescendo that’s yet to reach its peak.
Joshua Buatsi – Light Heavyweight
For me, Buatsi is the cream of this particular crop – the fighter with the most natural ability and highest ceiling to reach. That’s no discredit to any of the other guys, either, all of whom seem certain to achieve good things in the sport but Buatsi is, in my humble opinion, something else. Entering the pro ranks with an Olympic Bronze medal was always going to place him on a slightly higher pedestal and, boy, has he delivered.
Calm and composed, Buatsi’s nerves seem unshakeable with the 25 year old’s natural ability coming through when fighting up close. It’s really enjoyable to watch the patience that Buatsi shows before finding an opening and then compare that with his instant burst of aggression when the moment is right. Much like Fowler and Kelly, Buatsi has hammered away at the body of his opponents with vast success.
Against Andrejs Pokumeiko (a late replacement for Ricky Summers), Tony Averlant and Renold Quinlan, Buatsi has blitzed through his counterparts with successive first round knockouts – make what you will of the opponent calibre, Buatsi gets in the ring and does the job in destructive fashion. Indeed I’m of the opinion that Buatsi is the best British light-heavyweight – better than Callum Johnson and Anthony Yarde.
Lawrence Okolie – Heavyweight
Okolie has carved himself the most materialistic success of all the 2016 Olympians with the British, Commonwealth and WBA Continental belts all, at one stage, gracing the shoulder of the Hackney hammer (new nickname alert). Standing mountainously tall at 6 ft 5 inches, the cruiserweight breezed past the cannon-fodder placed in front of him over his first seven bouts – Blaise Mendouo the only opponent to hear the final bell.
Then came Isaac Chamberlain, Luke Watkins and Matty Askin – Okolie’s trio of contests over 2018 – three domestic rivals in fights that could all have ignited into something special. Except none of them did. Quite the opposite, they were relatively forgettable. I won’t, however, join the merry brigade in writing off his fight aesthetics – he’s shown he’s adaptable and I’m confident that 2019 will be a turning stone.
All but Askin have been dropped en route to defeat, a clear demonstration of his punch power. Guided by Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua, you can have no doubt in your mind that Okolie is on the right path for success but the question for me is, can he become a genuine big show headliner?
Joe Joyce – Super Heavyweight
Years past without the heavyweight phenom making the transition into professional boxing – people were of the opinion he had, perhaps, left it too late. Rio granted him a Silver medal which should have, in a fair world, been Gold. The softly-spoken giant inked a deal with Hayemaker Boxing and smashed his way into domestic contention with a beatdown of Ian Lewison.
Then came the waiting game, Rudolf Jozic and Donnie Palmer were both exploited before the Commonwealth title came a-knocking with Lenroy Thomas on the other side of the door. That fight was over with in double-quick fashion, as were contests with Ivica Bacurin, Iago Kiladze and Joe Hanks.
Criticism has been levelled at him for a visually slow and ponderous fighting style with Joyce not having forced the pace of a contest, as of yet, despite opportunities arising. Not that I suspect him or his team will be fazed by this, Joyce is getting the job done and has looked untroubled in doing so.
The 33 year old faces Bermane Stiverne on February 23rd with the British fighter looking to move 8 and 0 and force his way closer to a world title challenge.
12 boxers represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the 2016 Olympics, nine turned professional and have since forged a combined record of 64-0. Who , then , has impressed you the most since Rio 2016 and who’s left you feeling a little deflated?
Best 10 Boxing Fights of 2016
Best 10 Boxing Fights of 2016
By: Jordan Seward
With the new year approaching it’s time to reflect on the best boxing action of 2016, so in no particular order….
Orlando Salido vs Francisco Vargas
The two Mexicans treated us to a classic right up to the final bell for Vargas’ (23-0-2) WBC World Super Featherweight title. Vargas, coming off the back of Fight of the Year for 2015 faced a true, steely warrior in the 36-year-old Salido (43-13-4). It was a back-and-fourth slug fest between two champions who don’t know when to quit. In the end the pair couldn’t be separated and the judges correctly scored it a draw.
Tony Bellew vs Ilunga Makabu
The real life rocky story that saw Bellew (28-2-1) finally crowned a world champion. Just after starring in the new rocky film ‘The Bomber’ got his third bite at the cherry facing a dangerous and feared Congolese who had chalked up 18 knockouts in 19 fights. A packed crowed inside his beloved Everton football club’s stadium were stunned when Makabu (19-2) sent Bellew rolling over at the end of the first. The Everton man climbed off the canvas Balboa esque and rallied to stop Makabu in the third with a flourish of heavy punches to claim the vacant WBC World Cruiserweight strap.
Dillian Whyte vs Dereck Chisora
This one had it all. Filled with controversy from the start these two Heavyweights threw everything but the kitchen sink. A table was thrown though. At a press conference. Which, as a result meant the British title wasn’t on the line. But after all the talk, the bad mouthing and the attempted scrapping Whyte (20-1) and Chisora (26-7) done it properly in the ring and fought out a clean and action-packed-12-rounder. Both men were rocked and absorbed a lot of punishment, but Whyte’s superior stamina was just about enough to nick it for him on the judges’ scorecard by split decision.
Keith Thurman vs Shawn Porter
Thurman (27-0) was getting in the ring with probably the best opponent he’s faced. The only man to previously have defeated Porter (26-2-1) was Kell Brook, but, in a fierce competitive fight, Thurman successfully defended his WBA World Welterweight title dishing out Porter’s second loss of his career with a 115-113 unanimous decision. Although the announcement was greeted by booing, the stats suggested Thurman deservedly had his hand raised at the end, landing 43.6% of his punches while his opponent made 35.6%.
Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev
The fight that everyone scored differently. It was a fight we all wanted as soon as Ward made the jump up from Super-Middleweight. The defensive suave of Ward (31-0) met the aggressive power of ‘The Krusher’ (30-1-1) at the T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas. The American, fighting on home turf, was put down in the second round for only the second time in his illustrious career. But Ward, as Ward does, after falling behind on the cards managed to take the second half of the fight and claim Kovalev’s WBO, IBF and WBA Super World Light Heavyweight titles by unanimous decision.
Carl Frampton vs Leo Santa Cruz
After unifying his IBF super-bantamweight title by outpointing Scott Quigg, the Northern Irishmen capped off his impressive year by adding Leo Santa Cruz’s (32-1-1) WBA Super World Featherweight belt. ‘The Jackal’ (23-0) jumped up a weight division and battled it out with the Mexican champion in an absolute barn burner. After a hard and punishing 12 rounds it went to the judges’ scorecards and Frampton, was given the nod. Now, just for us, they’re doing it all again at the MGM Grand on the 28th January. Not a bad way to start the new year.
Hosea Burton vs Frank Buglioni
Words were exchanged between the pair in what was a heated build up to this Light-Heavyweight contest for the British title. But when the fighting started it quickly turned in to a very watchable and enjoyable scrap. Both Burton (18-1) and Buglioni (19-2-1) continuously plowed forwards, in attempts to assert their dominance. They were both taking serious damage and in the twelfth-round Burton’s chickens came home to roost. The 28-year-old was slowing down and deserved to hear the final bell but with just one minute left in the bout Buglioni landed some hurtful blows and the ref waved it off.
Thomas Williams Jr. vs Edwin Rodriguez
A fiery, hard fought contest… while it lasted. At the StubHub Center, on the undercard of Andre Berto’s knockout win against Victor Ortiz, Rodriguez, (28-2) displayed courage, grit, determination, and, a chin. In this two-rounder, it was Williams Jr (20-2) who was landing the more powerful and hurtful shots but a number of times Rodriguez remained upright and proudly came firing back. In the end, it took a monster left hook to knock the resolute 31-year-old out.
Gennady Golovkin vs Kell Brook
As far as unexpected fights go, this one took the biscuit. You couldn’t have called it. This was not a fight many had in mind, but, when it was made it was all the talk. The IBF World Welterweight champion, Brook, jumped up two weight division to face the feared Middleweight kingpin at the O2 Arena. Looking in great shape and as confident as ever the Englishman made a great start to the fight. However, as the fight went on we began to realise Brook wouldn’t be making history as Golovkin’s power started to take its toll and Brook’s trainer, Dominic Ingle threw in the towel stopping proceedings in the fifth round.
Anthony Crolla vs Ismael Barroso
After prizing away the WBA World Lightweight title from Darleys Perez in their second meeting, Crolla, (31-5-3)made his first defence against the man who, effectively, sent world title challenger Kevin Mitchell into retirement. As expected, the Venezuelan (19-1-2) started strong and, typical of a Joe Gallagher fighter, Crolla did not. He absorbed some early punishment and probably lost the first five rounds. It became clear after six though, that Crolla’s tactics were spot on, as the challenger noticeably began to tire. He had thrown all he had and was on empty, Crolla seized his chance and overwhelmed his opponent, eventually stopping him in the seventh.
AIBA to allow pro’s in the 2016 Olympic games, Fair or Foul?
AIBA to allow pro’s in the 2016 Olympic games, Fair or Foul?
By: Matthew Becher
Last month a vote took place with AIBA (Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur or International Boxing Association) in which 84 out of its 88 federations agreed to allow professional boxers to participate in the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This will be the first time that professional boxers will be allowed to compete in a, regularly, amateur event and against other amateur participants. This brings up many questions of why this has been changed so close to the actual events and why a mixing of pro’s and novices would be thought to be Okay to do.
The reasoning for AIBA to allow professional athletes and amateurs to compete with one another is to “increase the amount of competitive boxers”, having amateurs step up their competition can only make them better. What then happens to amateur boxing? Under this new model, the true amateur boxer, who has gone through years of tournaments and trials just to make it to the Olympics will be able to retain their amateur status, but why would they? If you are already going to end up fighting grown men and paid prize fighters in the biggest stage that an amateur can achieve, why not just become a pro as early as possible, get paid yourself. An amateur trying to make an Olympic team goes through a very intense and grueling process to just qualify for an Olympic games. It only comes around every four years, and within those four years, you are traveling, training and for most of these youngsters, still going to school. If you could sign with a promoter, make money fighting and still be able to be able to fight in an “amateur” styled tournament, why stay in a dorm room with other amateurs?
What happens to the great amateur programs of the world, namely the Cubans and Russians? We see so many great professional Cuban and Ex-Soviet country fighters right now, and the main reason why they are so dominant is because they are from Socialist countries, that have extremely disciplined amateur programs. They are paid, not always handsomely, and are only allowed to fight in amateur style tournaments. This, in most people’s opinions, engrains the trades of the sport into them so well, they become second nature. If a fighters has 300+ amateur fights, then they know when to jab and when to duck. It becomes like breathing, it is instilled. They biggest highlight for these men, especially the Cubans, who are technically never allowed to turn pro (unless they defect from their native country) is winning an Olympic Gold, some even do it multiple times. If pro fighters can just get in there with the amateurs, what would happen to these dominant boxing countries?
Safety also has to be an issue. This year, AIBA has also decided to go back to the days of no head gear. This is an issue all in itself, and does seem to have some great benefits, but does it when we start putting 18yr old kids in the ring with say 30+ year old men, some who are current or former world champions. Watching fighters like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, or Artur Beterbiev knockout other professionals in 1 round is one thing, but how does that play out when they put that kind of power on a novice? Many amateurs seem to have no problem with this happening, but we suspect that as bravado. You cannot expect an amateur, who may have sparred with pros in the past, to be able to take that type of power. Sparring with headgear is one thing, a real fight is completely different.
What does AIBA look to get out of this? Is it higher ratings, since Boxing may be on the docket to drop as an Olympic sport in the future? Do they want bigger Knockouts? Most amateur fights go to decisions and work on a point system, does getting rid of Headgear and adding professionals increase viewership and knockdowns? Do they want Stars now, instead of building them up like it used to with Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Oscar De la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Vasyl Lomachenko, George Foreman, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and the list can go on and on.
Some boxers have showed interest in actually participating in this. Manny Pacquiao has said he would see how it would balance with his new Senatorial duties. Amir Khan has shown interest in participating for his parent’s homeland of Pakistan. Light Heavyweight contender Artur Beterbiev looks to be making his way to Rio. Other boxers have spoken out about it, speaking about its safety issues. The World Boxing Council has even put out a warning, that any professional boxers who do decide to participate in the Olympics will be banned from their rankings for two years. It is a debate that is going on right now, and both sides are making good points to their arguments. Should professionals be allowed to compete in the Olympics, they do in Golf, Basketball, Tennis, Hockey….but those guys aren’t getting punched by fully developed, trained, fighters.
Biyarslanov Aiming to Make History in the Olympics
Biyarslanov Aiming to Make History in the Olympics
By: Ed Hitchins
When Canadian Olympian Arthur Biyarslanov first took up boxing, he never thought of a gold medal. He thought of ways to get out of it.
“I really sucked,” recalls the 21-year-old. “I don’t like doing something I’m not good at.
“I was the worst one of all the guys there,” Biyarslanov says.
“I hated going back to the gym. Sometimes I would pretend I was asleep because I didn’t want to go. My brother boxed too. He would eventually catch onto my little tricks.”
Biyarslanov, born in Chechnya during the war with Russia in the mid ‘90s and emigrated immigrated to Canada from Azerbaijan when he was 10, would eventually start winning.
After the 2012 London games, he set his sights firmly on 2016.
“I felt that, my whole life I’ve been a fighter,” he says. “I have the fight in me. So I started to take boxing seriously. I just kept going and winning tournaments and got more motivated. So, I set a goal for myself for 2016.”
Biyarslanov, who has dreams of becoming a cop, put his degree in psychology on hold. Training 30 hours in the gym at a week, he simply doesn’t have time to study.
He also found a new trainer. Chris Johnson, who won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic games. Johnson feels Biyarslanov’s dedication to his craft is what will carry him into Rio.
“It seems like I’ve training him for 10 years,” says Johnson, who has been Biyarslanov’s trainer for the past six months. “He’s more confident and powerful. He hits the target.”
“This kid has all the attributes,” Johnson says. “He has power, speed and smart. He’s a wolf, he’s going to tear the opponent apart when he’s in the ring.”
Biyarslanov, who goes by the nickname ‘Chechen Wolf’ in honour of his roots, is aware of Canada’s drought in boxing. There hasn’t been a Canadian medalist in boxing since David Defiabagon in 1996. A Canadian hasn’t won a gold medal since Lennox Lewis took it in Seoul in 1988.
Having won Pan Am Gold in Toronto last summer and ending a 50-year drought at that competition, Biyarslanov would like to do the same at the Olympics.
“It would be awesome. It’s been a really long time,” he says. “Being in Canada, if I wasn’t here I would have never taken up boxing. I would have never had the opportunity to go to school.
“I want to work as hard as I can and return to Canada with the gold medal,” Biyarslanov says.