Boxing: AIBA Approves Pros in Olympics

By Joseph Santoliquito Jun 1, 2016
The International Boxing Association -- the recognized international amateur boxing governing body -- made an unprecedented move on Wednesday at what the organization called an “Extraordinary Congress” in Lausanne, Switzerland. There, it removed Article 13 (J) of the AIBA Statutes, allowing professional fighters to compete in the Olympic Games, starting on Aug. 5.

AIBA President Ching-Kuo Wu said the change to the AIBA constitution was approved with 95 percent in favor, or 84 of 88 voting delegates that attended the Extraordinary Congress.

“We approved it, and now they can compete,” Wu told Reuters.

AIBA’s decision supports the IOC Agenda 2020, which seeks to ensure that the world’s best athletes are eligible to compete at the Olympic Games. Boxing was one of the few sports that had not been open to all professional athletes. The change is supposed to level the playing field and represents the culmination of reforms and new competitions for which AIBA has been responsible, particularly the inauguration of AIBA Pro Boxing and World Series of Boxing competitions.

There will be 26 Olympic spots still open when fighters compete at a qualifying tournament in Venezuela next month, with a total of 286 boxers -- 236 men and 50 women set -- to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. AIBA spokesman Nicolas Jomard said there would be no wild cards, with an age limit of 40 for the athletes.

The move has drawn considerable criticism from world-class pros. Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, an amateur gold medalist in the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympic Games, has called the move “ridiculous and foolish.” Others, like future hall of famer Bernard Hopkins, have mixed feelings.

“Beating a kid at 51 years old is not a good look. These kids should be fighting for a dream, but for someone like me, I fight for a paycheck, not a gold medal,” Hopkins said. “I can see pros, limited pros who aren’t world-class doing it, but I’m fighting for million-dollar checks. Why would I fight for a gold medal? I’d rather fight for a check than a medal. The only thing I don’t have in my career is a gold medal, but punches hurt. They don’t feel like they used to feel when I was 20. I’m not saying that I’m against [pros going to the Olympics].

“I’m saying limited pros can go and should go if it helps their brand, but you won’t find anyone in pro boxing of real superstar status doing this,” he continued. “Too much risk. There might be a guy who’s a day short of a world title that might try it. I see where they can have pros in basketball and in track, but those guys don’t get hit for a living. Basketball, track and boxing are very different things. You can rest in those sports. They don’t have to worry about getting cut up or hit in the head. They won’t play with a swab on their heads or a referee looking over them determining whether or not they could continue. We’re expected to continue.

“Those guys in basketball and track have insurance 24/7 when they’re playing,” Hopkins added. “The only insurance you have in boxing is that you’re going to get hit and you’re going to get hurt. People saying pros in all sports make sense don’t respect boxing. Boxing doesn’t compare to any other sport. I think 90 percent of pros fight for money. Look at the boxing landscape -- everyone fights for money -- but you have guys out there, guys like Roy Jones, who can go back and correct a great wrong done to him [when he was robbed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics]. Roy going back and winning a gold medal would generate great buzz for him.” At 47, however, Jones is too old and would be ineligible.

World-ranked junior middleweight contender Julian “J Rock” Williams feels it is a horrible idea and there is no way he would take what he terms as “a step back” to compete in the Olympics.

“No way, absolutely not,” Williams said. “I want to fight for a world championship, I want to fight for a major paycheck, but I will say that the best amateurs in the world would give a good pro a good fight over three rounds. You can put the top 141-pounder in the world in there against Manny Pacquiao, and I can guarantee you they would give Manny hell, because they’re used to going three rounds hard. Most seasoned pros take time to warm up, and by the time he does that, the fight is already over.

“I think amateur boxing has been losing a lot of steam over the last 10 years,” he added. “It’s not where it used to be, and all this is is a way to get boxing back in the Olympic spotlight again. I don’t think pros in the Olympics is a good idea at all, because there will be guys facing guys that have nowhere near their skill and experience. Someone can get hurt. I see the move they made. Amateur boxing had to make the move to bring attention to guys coming up, but anyone who is any good won’t do this. They have too much to risk.”

Like facing a hungry lion like Philadelphia amateur welterweight star Paul Kroll, who is looking like a strong Olympic hopeful.

“I can care less about this move,” Kroll said. “I’m not really worried about it. Pros have to pick their pace up again, and a lot of them may not be able to do that. It’s three rounds. I’m fighting for a gold medal. I don’t care who I have to face to get it. They still have to qualify [June 14-26 in Baku, Azerbaijan]. I really don’t care about the decision. I don’t care who’s on the other side of that ring. Pros start slow. It would take longer for them to warm up, and by then, the first two rounds are gone.

“Amateurs have trouble in deep water, but three rounds? We’ve been doing that forever,” he added. “If I get a chance to, I’d love to fight one of those guys that’s a legend. It would make winning a gold medal worth it, because you’d be beating the best.”

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