Developing storylines at Olympic boxing in Rio
Boxing at the Rio Olympics has gotten well underway, giving us quality action to watch every day, as we delve into the dog days of August. Going in, many observers had questions, particularly those who only watch the amateur game once every four years. The reformed AIBA rules, despite being in play since 2013, and thousands of fights around the globe taking place under them, were still a new thing to many, including people who cover the sport for a living. This is the first Olympics Games since 1984 to feature fighters without headgear and the reputation that the old computer point scoring system had left on amateur boxing was not a good one. Furthermore, professional fighters were officially allowed into the Olympics, to the dismay of many, though, technically, a few years ago, this had already started with the introduction of AIBA Pro Boxing, in which some pro fighters left the pro ranks in order to enter the AIBA and fight in pro-style fights for Olympic qualification spots.
Going in, many questions were asked about what would transpire and many expectations were held about whom would or wouldn’t shine. Let’s take a look at some developing storylines so far in this year’s Olympic boxing.
The reputation for point scoring and running has hopefully been thrown out the window as we’ve seen numerous fights full of action. If you’d watched at any time over the past three years, the introduction of the 10-point must scoring system, as well as pro-style scoring has made fights actually resemble fights, not point-scoring contests. Fighters are actually fighting, not fencing. Add to that the experience of many of the fighters competing in pro-style competitions like World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing and you’ve got fighters, in some cases, with more seasoning, more savvy and more of a pro style. This all makes for a number of fun fights every day of the competition.
Fighters with big reputations are dropping left and right and smaller, lesser known countries are having big moments. Case in point, fighters from Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia and Mauritius have all pulled upsets over some titans of amateur boxing like Russia and Azerbaijan. They fight with a hunger and energy level that shocks their more experienced and decorated opponents. Even in coming up short, competitors from Zambia and Papua New Guinea have put up very spirited efforts, getting the crowd strongly on their sides. While some may lack in technique and schooling, they certainly don’t when it comes to heart and determination.
Paddy Barnes was one of the favorites to win gold at light flyweight. He lost his first fight. Andrey Zamkovoy won bronze in 2012 and was expected to contend for a medal. He lost his first fight. Vasili Egorov, who got silver at last year’s World Championships and was the No. 2 seed, the same thing happened to him. Mathias Hamunyela from Namibia scored a shock win over Azerbaijan’s Rufat Huseynov, which no one saw coming. That’s just the shortlist and there are probably more to come.
Russian out of the competition
Russia is always one of the top countries in the amateurs and consistently does well at all the big tournaments. Well, they aren’t doing so hot in this one. Some haven’t even fought yet but those who have are dropping like flies. Andrey Zamkovoy, Petr Khamukov, Vasili Egorov and Adlan Abdurashidov have already been eliminated, with the first three all losing their first fights. Sure, the first three were in close fights for which you could argue either way but they haven’t looked like the dominant force that Russia is supposed to be.
USA! USA! USA!
Expectations of the Americans beforehand were pessimistic but, so far, the results have been great. Carlos Balderas has looked outstanding and Nico Hernandez is almost in position to medal. That’s without Shakur Stevenson and Gary Russell debuting yet. One thing many didn’t discuss in the lead-up was the effect of new coach Billy Walsh, who built the Irish amateur boxing program into a powerhouse. Since winning Olympic Trials, the fighters on the team have spent a lot of time in camp at the National Training Center and, certainly, Walsh is already having an impact. Despite being a smaller-than-usual team with only six men, they’ve made up for it with their victories and quality of performances. It’s looking more and more likely that they’ll outdo their performance in 2012, which requires the men just winning one medal.
Pros in the Olympics dangerous…to the pros?
Many people in boxing said it was really dangerous to let pros into the Olympics and that they could seriously hurt “kids.” Well, first off, the average age of every boxer is around 24 or 25 and, secondly, all three pros who qualified didn’t even reach the quarterfinals. Now, I know these aren’t the best pros. Point being, people genuinely thought just decent or mid-level pros could walk in and smack a bunch of top fighters around in their own realm, that being fights of three rounds at a much faster pace and style than pro fights over a longer distance. There’s a reason high-level amateurs are coveted by promoters and managers in the pro game. They’re good fighters, consistently competing against other good fighters year-round and are usually young enough to where they still have upside after switching over to the pros and adapting.
Pros fighting in the Olympics are probably more in danger than the amateurs. The brunt of that danger comes from the hit their reputation takes were they to lose. In actuality, they were at a disadvantage in the first place, having to adapt their style back to three rounds and having to fight at a higher weight class due to same day weigh-ins, multiple times in a week. That’s why people like myself never bought into the whole “Someone could get killed” nonsense. The embarrassment may come from the fact that they “lost to an amateur” and/or they wanted to fight amateurs in the first place. Either way, even though the circumstances to their losses are predictable and understandable, many will hang it over the heads of Hassan N’Dam, Carmine Tommasone and Amnat Ruenroeng that they lost to fighters who are, theoretically in the minds of some folks, supposed to be inferior.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.