The Games They Are A-Changin’


Claressa Shields won the only gold medal for the US boxing team in 2012

According to ESPN, Mike Tyson has recently come out in opposition to the potential change in Olympic regulations to allow professionals to compete in boxing events.  Since 1986, other Olympic sports have integrated professional competitors into the events, and only in 2016 will that inclusion be officially considered for boxing.  Personally, I was very excited to hear about the possibility, and even more excited when Manny Pacquiao announced he was considering competing.  I admit, Pacquiao at 37 is no Dream Team, but it would still be great to see what kinds of variables come into play when the speed-first style of amateurs collides with the wisdom and experience of a seasoned professional.  After my own experience in the amateurs, I was also relieved and encouraged to read about the AIBA’s decision to remove its requirement for headgear in Olympic competition.  This outdated convention has actually been shown to increase damage to the brain caused by rotational force, which is often the more destructive of the two types (linear and rotational force) sustained from a punch.

The 2016 Summer Games are shaping up to be an unprecedented spectacle in the context of boxing, so I was surprised to read that some of those in the professional ranks were opposed to inclusive competition.  If anything, you would expect pros to be in favor of gaining international exposure in the world’s biggest sports competition, theoretically being matched against far less experienced and less skilled athletes.  Some may harbor that sentiment, but others feel that the odds won’t be so favorable, including Mike Tyson, while others, like Bob Arum, feel the allowance would pose an unacceptable health risk.  Now, Bob Arum is the human manifestation of evil, we’re all agreed on that, but he does know boxing.  Manny Pacquiao has stated that he is open to the idea of representing the Philippines in the 2016 games, but Arum has suggested that his participation, along with other professionals, would put amateur fighters at risk of “serious health consequences.”  It could just be that he doesn’t want the reputation of his biggest and most recent cash cow tarnished if Pacquiao were to fail to earn a medal.  After all, Arum is known for nothing if not being a shrewd businessman.

On the other hand, he has a point.  How many amateurs trained purely to land ineffective shots quickly would be rushed to the hospital after being violently knocked out by a professional?  Maybe the reason boxing is an exception to the professional competition allowance is that in other sports, you don’t score points by punching someone in the face, nor can you win by knocking them unconscious.  That’s pretty sound logic.

Mike Tyson is concerned about the rule change for entirely different reasons. He speculates that disparate training styles puts pros at a disadvantage because their instinct is to find a rhythm and pinpoint weaknesses in slow-paced “feeling out” rounds, while amateurs will be conditioned to land as many punches as quickly as possible. This type of miscalculation would certainly be a risk, but you would hope that any boxer who only has three rounds to win a fight would adjust his strategy accordingly. Olympic boxing has also recently adopted the 10-point must system for scoring, meaning that no longer will blindly flailing at an opponent count towards a win. There’s no telling how accurate or objective the judges will be (not very if 2012 was any indication), but the new scoring system should improve overall results.

Another significant change that came in the 2012 games was the inclusion of female boxing. Were it not for dominant performances from Claressa Shields, the US would have failed to take home a single gold medal for the sweet science. This development adds even more flavor to the already exciting evolution of the sport.

Whether professionals will be allowed to compete this year remains to be seen, but if they are, it could only help the US to regain its footing as one of the top nations in the world for the sport, unless our fighter is facing Manny Pacquiao.  One last consideration might be that this hypothetical “revival of boxing” that promoters, fans and announcers are always talking about isn’t going to come from one fight or even a series of significant ones.  Not from Mayweather-Pacquiao II, not from Canelo-Golovkin, and certainly not from Mayweather-McGregor.  But, it actually could happen if unknown fighters are allowed the possibility of gaining international notoriety from a top performance against a well-respected pro, before ever having their names plastered on a pay-per-view ad at some Las Vegas casino.  Change hasn’t always been good to the sport of boxing, but this time, I think the changes will be better for everyone involved.

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