UPDATE (June 1, 2016): Just 10 weeks before the Olympic Games in Rio, an overwhemling majority of the voting federations of the International Boxing Association voted in favor of allowing pro boxers compete if they qualify.
As we reported last month, president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) Ching-Kuo Wu made a public proposal to allow full-fledged professional boxers to compete in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games. Presumably, this would mean guys like Gennady Golovkin, Manny Pacquiao, or even Floyd Mayweather Jr. could be eligible to compete for a gold medal if the proposition passes. Since the news, top-ranked boxing professionals, both active and retired, have chimed in on the matter. Here’s a quick look at how the conversation has stacked up.
“I have always said that I would love to participate again in the Olympic Games, but right now I’m only focusing on my rematch with Tyson Fury,” Klitschko told NBC in an email reported by Sports Illustrated.
As most fans know, Klitschko is reeling off a surprise upset loss against now heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and as mentioned, is still focused on a rematch that has been speculated to take place in July of this year. With the 2016 Games taking place a month later, this makes an Olympic return for the Ukrainian unlikely, and by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Klitschko will be 43, surpassing the AIBA’s upper-age limit of 40. The idea of the former heavyweight champ of the world fighting for the gold medal probably won’t ever happen. Theoretically though, the good Dr. Steelhammer appears in support of the idea.
Former Klitschko opponent David Haye is on the opposite side of the debate, and calls the proposition “insane”. Haye won his last outing by TKO in the 1st round against the unheralded Mark de Mori. It was the Brit’s first fight in nearly four years and the first step in what he hopes to be a successful comeback campaign. A run at an Olympic gold medal is not on the route, however.
"You get these young kids who are training their whole life to go to the Olympics," Haye said during a conference at Wembley. "To go there and not fight someone else like them but fight someone who might have won at the Olympics before, been a world champion and is just coming back to fight some kids, I think is insane. I think you're going to get some young kids hurt and you're definitely going to stunt the growth of these young kids. Some kids may be able to handle it, but a lot of them won't.”
Fellow Englishman and 2004 silver medalist Amir Khan had a different take on the matter, and believes professionals competing in the Olympics would benefit the sport in its entirety. Khan is slated to fight Canelo Álvarez this May for the lineal middleweight championship, and appears open to the idea of returning to the Olympics afterwards, regardless of the outcome.
“The AIBA wants professional boxers to work with AIBA and they will allow them to go to Olympics. So imagine, I may have a second chance at the Olympics. That will be amazing and massive because everybody wants to go to Olympics,” said Khan in an interview via Boxingscene. “I have heard that they are changing the rules and this would a great thing because pro boxers want to compete in the Olympics. I think it's very good that they are (thinking of) bringing amateur and professional boxers together because end of the day it’s boxing and people want to watch good fights.
Former WBA super bantamweight titlist Scott Quigg, who recently lost his unification bout against Carl Frampton, believes there are inherent safety concerns to the proposal. Though other Olympic sports such as basketball and hockey allow professional athletes to compete alongside amateurs, there are perhaps more pronounced differences between the two in a sport like boxing. To make an Olympic medal a goal for professionals may also affect the cultivation process for up-and-coming fighters.
"When you are an amateur you are learning and if you start mixing up with the professionals, I think it is a bad idea and it could be dangerous,” said Quigg in an interview. "The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of an amateur's career so you have got to keep it separate. I was shocked when they said it could actually go ahead, and I hope they have another good think about it and make the right decision.”
Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward just dominated Sullivan Barrera last Saturday in his light-heavyweight debut, and the match is what most fans hope to be the first step in an eventual showdown against recognized 175lb champ Sergey Kovalev. But now there may be a potential roadblock to the mega-fight taking place. When news dropped about professional fighters being potentially eligible for Olympic competition, Ward didn’t necessarily say he would make another run for the gold, but he didn’t say that he wouldn’t either.
“I read that (professionals can fight at the Olympics) and it’s pretty interesting. It’s pretty interesting. I think right now it’s just about maybe getting more information about how something like that will work. But it definitely has sparked my interest and has gotten my attention,” said Ward in an interview. “You can’t rule anything out. You know, you’ve to get all the facts on the table. You’ve got to get all the details. I don’t have all of that right now. And obviously I’m preparing for a fight but I would just want to see everything and then just kind of digest it and then make a decision from there. But definitely interesting, very interesting.”
Former undisputed heavyweight champ and 1988 Olympic gold medalist Lennox Lewis called the proposition to allow professionals into the Olympics “preposterous”, citing the experience gap as a major issue.
"Now all of a sudden, you get a world champion or somebody in the top 10 as a professional now going against basically an amateur, somebody with a lack of experience—I don't look at that as being fair," said Lewis.
Lewis believes the Olympic experience as a build-up to a professional career, not part of it. He also cites the structural differences as problematic.
"I may be the best amateur in the world by winning the Olympics—now I really have to empty my cup, just like all Olympians do when they decide to turn pro, they empty their amateur cup and now they start learning as a professional, different scoring, a different type of boxing, longer rounds,” Lewis said. "It's just a different type of boxing all together, so for them to marry the two, I don't think they marry well.”
As of right now, opinions on the matter appear fairly split amongst the professionals. With the qualifying trials already on their way, it would be difficult to imagine how pro fighters could be comfortably integrated into the competition, especially with the Games being less than 6 months out. The structural differences between the two formats, such as scoring, rounds, objectives, glove size, etc., would also present a number of issues. The AIBA is expected to make an official announcement on their decision sometime in May of this year and should the initiative pass, the entire landscape of boxing could be changed.
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