Monday, August 15, 2016

Has 2016 Been A Resurgence For Olympic Boxing?

For many years, the Summer Olympics has served as a springboard for top amateur boxers to begin their professional careers after competing for Olympic medals in what has been thought of as the pinnacle of Amateur Boxing. Fighters such as Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, Leon Spinks, Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, and a host of others all received much-needed exposure by way of their participation in Olympic tournaments. Following that exposure at the end of their amateur careers, many of them were able to quickly establish themselves in the professional ranks due in large part to getting exposure out of the gate as they embarked on professional careers.

It goes without saying however, that the exposure and accolades that come with Olympic Boxing has diminished somewhat over the years. Some may remember the well-publicized scandal that emerged in the 1988 Summer Olympics that took place in Seoul, South Korea where Roy Jones, then competing as a Jr. Middleweight was the victim of what most, including this observer feel was a miscarriage of justice in his gold-medal bout against Park Si-Hun of South Korea in a fight that Jones thoroughly dominated, but lost a controversial decision.

The injustice that took place in the Jones-Si-Hun bout led to a change in the scoring format for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Instead of the traditional 10-point must system where both Amateur Boxing had been scored as is also the case in Professional Boxing, the 1992 Olympics saw the introduction of computerized scoring for its Olympic Boxing tournament. Although the computerized scoring system, which was based on a fighter’s ability to out land their opponent with judges pressing a button for a fighter one punch landed, and was aimed at putting an end to controversy and corruption, the computerized scoring system in reality created more problems than it ever solved.

Although in regard to the United States Boxing team where fighters like Oscar De La Hoya in 1992, David Reid in 1996, and Andre Ward in 2004 were able to win Olympic gold in the respective weight classes, most fights that took place under the computerized scoring system, which this observer has often referred to as the “Nintendo scoring system”, became almost non-competitive to a large extent as fighters were more concerned with trying to land punches that would be clearly visible to judges scoring the fight in the hope of a judge being able to hit a button quickly enough for a punch to count as a point. The scoring format did not seem to take into consideration elements of ring generalship, effective aggression, and defense. Three aspects that are also  considered part of scoring criteria in Professional Boxing in addition to effective aggression.

This led to fights almost always being determined by simply who was ahead according to the computer rather than necessarily who was the better fighter. After twenty-four years of computerized scoring, the 2016 games saw a return to basics for Olympic Boxing. Not only has the scoring format returned to the traditional 10-point must system, where the winner of a round receives ten points and the loser of a round receives nine points or less, but there have been other significant changes. For the first time since the 1980 Olympic Games held in Moscow, Russia, the 2016 Olympics was the first where the Olympic Boxing tournament would not include mandated headgear for men competing, while women competing are still mandated to wear headgear.

Although this could be seen as a dangerous change in the format given the ongoing concern throughout all sports of with regard to the dangers of concussions, this change appears to be an attempt to move Olympic Boxing closer to his professional counterpart. After all, most Olympic boxers, particularly those who are medalist turn professional shortly after competing in the Olympic Games and Professional Boxing does not have mandated headgear. The third significant change for the 2016 Olympic Boxing tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been the inclusion of professional boxers competing against amateurs in the tournament.

This observer has been on record in saying that I was taking a “Wait And See” approach with regard to these changes to Olympic Boxing before forming an opinion one way or another as to whether or not these changes would be good or bad. In all truth and honesty, I applauded the decision to go back to the traditional 10-point must system of scoring as it would not only be a way through even the field among all the athletes competing in the Olympic Boxing tournament, but also a way to hopefully ensure that fighters would not be given a “Tough Break” simply because of a scoring format that was frankly flawed.

The decision to return to no headgear for the men competing in this Olympics for the first time in thirty-six years did have me concerned due in large part to the ongoing research with regard to the effects of concussions throughout all of sports. As this Olympics is now approaching its conclusion, I can say that the decision to forgo the use of headgear has not had the negative impact that I thought it might have prior to the tournament beginning even though there has been an increase in fighters suffering cuts during bouts. The third change however, in allowing professional fighters to take part in this tournament against amateur fighters was a mistake, in my opinion.

Despite the opinion of this observer, the decision to allow professional boxers to compete in this Olympics has not had the negative effect that many thought it would in regard to safety as well as other concerns, as all three of the professionals who qualified for this tournament did not make it far. Longtime professional top Middleweight contender Hassan N’Dam of Cameroon, who entered this Olympics competing as a Light-Heavyweight was dominated in his only bout in a tournament by Michel Borges of Brazil on day one of the Olympics, losing a three round unanimous decision.

Current European Professional Featherweight champion Carmine Tommasone of Italy, competing in this Olympics as a Lightweight was eliminated in his second preliminary fight in the tournament losing a three round unanimous decision to Lazaro Alvarez of Cuba. The third professional who took part in this Olympics, former IBF World Flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand, who also competed as a Lightweight, was stopped in three rounds by Sofiane Oumiha of France in his second preliminary bout in the tournament.

Whether or not the concept of professionals competing against amateurs in Olympic Boxing is one that will remain after 2016, remains to be seen. It is clear however, in this observer’s eyes that part of the reason the professional fighters who took part in this tournament were not successful was due to the fact that this is an amateur tournament and thus fights are only scheduled for three rounds. A distance that is not common for most top level professional fighters. Even though the inclusion of professional boxers did not ultimately have much effect on this tournament, this observer believes that Olympic Boxing should remain the pinnacle final stage of Amateur Boxing for most top level amateur boxers before embarking on a professional career.

One thing that should not the overlooked is a positive that has come with going back to a traditional scoring format is fights in this tournament has been fought at a much quicker pace than has been the case in previous Olympics due to the flawed computerized scoring format. Fights in this tournament have been determined on a basis of which fighter is able to get off first with their offense as well as effective aggression, ring generalship, and defense. There has not however, been an absence of controversy in the tournament as several fights have gone to the scorecards and have ended up being split decisions.

Much as is the case with regard to Professional Boxing, the potential for controversy especially with regard to the scoring of a fight is something that will never be absent from the sport. It is something that simply comes with the territory and at times not everyone will agree on who wins a fight. It is clear however, that going back to the traditional scoring format has been an improvement as compared to how fights were determined under computerized scoring.

Whether or not 2016 will be viewed as the year of a rebirth of sorts for Olympic Boxing remains to be seen, but as the tournament is ongoing, this observer is encouraged by the direction Olympic Boxing is going and believe that this should be viewed as progress. There is however, more Boxing to take place before the 2016 Olympics concludes.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The second piece of Olympic Boxing material for the 2016 Olympics will be released on Wednesday, August 24th. Stay tuned.

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