Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reflecting On Olympic Boxing 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil saw what should be considered an overall improvement for Olympic Boxing. A return to basics in regard to not only the scoring format in returning to the traditional 10-point must system where a winner of a round earns 10 points while the loser of a round earns 9 or less, as well as a return of no headgear for men competing in the Boxing tournament seemed to have a positive impact on the 2016 Olympics.

Bouts in the tournament were generally quick paced and did have more entertainment value than had been the case in previous Olympic tournaments that were fought under the previous computerized scoring format that was in place from 1992-2012. The 2016 tournament also saw the inclusion of three professional fighters who competed against amateurs in the tournament. As controversial as the decision to allow professional fighters to compete against amateurs seemed however, it did not have as much an impact as some thought it would as all three fighters Amnat Ruenroeng, Hasan N’Dam, and Carmine Tommasone were all eliminated in the early stages of the competition.

In the first piece discussing the 2016 Olympic Boxing tournament last week, this observer stated that I was on record in saying that I was taking a “Wait And See” approach regarding the changes to the format of Olympic Boxing before forming an opinion one way or another. I also stated that despite the changes in the format, elements of controversy remained with regard to the scoring in that several fights ended in a split decisions and had differences of opinion as to who won those bouts, a scenario that is not all that uncommon from what happens on a regular basis in Professional Boxing in regard to close fights or bouts where the official outcome differs significantly from the opinion of spectators who watch a fight.

Although the original intent of this column was going to be centered on what may be in store for the various medalist coming out of this tournament, it cannot be overlooked that there was action taken in light of some of these controversial decisions that took place in Rio. The International Boxing Association (AIBA), the organization that oversees Amateur and Olympic Boxing announced during the second week of the competition that unnamed referees and judges who had not performed up to expectations were removed from officiating from the remainder of the tournament citing that less than a handful of decisions of over two hundred thirty plus bouts at that point were not at the level expected and after evaluation decided to remove those officials from officiating the remainder of the 2016 Olympic Boxing tournament. The AIBA also stated that the results of all the bouts would stand, but also expressed its commitment to ensuring a level playing field and its commitment to a zero-tolerance of foul play policy in regard to Boxing.

Even though the officials and particular bouts that led to the AIBA’s intervention during this tournament were not named, it is something that should be applauded by all Boxing fans and experts alike that the organization, which oversees Amateur/Olympic Boxing, is taking a proactive approach toward ensuring that all fighters who compete get a fair shake. After so many years of questions of corruption and questionable decisions in Olympic Boxing, it is refreshing to see that steps are being taken to improve the sport on the Olympic level.

It goes without saying however, that no sport Amateur or Professional is perfect and after many years of dealing with issues regarding questions of corruption and controversial decisions, it is not something that can be improved overnight. It takes time and it was simply unrealistic for anyone to expect that there would not be any questions of the scoring of fights or questionable outcomes in this tournament. The proactive approach that the AIBA has taken is nevertheless encouraging as it relates to future Olympic tournaments.

As for some of the boxers who stood out in this tournament, some fighters did show promise in my eyes as potential fighters, who could go on to have successful professional careers. Fighters such as Light Flyweight Bronze Medalist Nico Hernandez, Bantamweight Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson, both of the United States as well as Flyweight Gold Medalist Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan and Middleweight Gold Medalist Arlen Lopez of Cuba were just a few of the fighters that stood out as those who could have promising professional careers. In all truth and honesty, it is hard to judge who might go on to have a promising pro career based on what happens in Olympic tournaments and it would not surprise me to see fighters who may not have advanced far in this tournament go on to do more in the professional ranks.

The 2016 Olympic Boxing tournament also saw history made as Women’s Middleweight Gold Medalist Claressa Shields of United States became the first American boxer male or female to win consecutive Olympic Gold medals after previously winning gold in the 2012 Olympics in London, England. Although Women’s Professional Boxing has not received the kind of exposure in the United States as it has in other countries, I believe that if Shields were to pursue a professional career that it would give the sport much-needed exposure that is frankly long overdue. Shields has demonstrated in two Olympic tournaments that she has the skills that could make her a force to be reckoned with in the professional ranks and it will be interesting to see if she decides to pursue a career as a professional fighter.

Overall, I feel that the 2016 Olympic Boxing tournament should be viewed as a success, but also a work in progress. This tournament took some important steps towards improvement in regard to its format as well as improving the perception of the competition. As far as some things that I would like to see improved upon perhaps as early as the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, I believe that increasing the distance in rounds for Olympic fights from three to four rounds may decrease the potential for controversy with maybe a fifth round being used in the event of a draw as a tiebreaker round as a way that would hopefully resolve close decisions. In the 2016 Olympic Boxing tournament there were several fights where either one fighter was able to get the upper hand by a slight margin over his/her opponent in the first two rounds of the fight, while the opponent was able to be clearly more effective in the third and deciding round, resulting in many fights being scored by a margin of 2 to 1 on the scorecards.

As the 2016 Olympic tournament seemed to take a step of moving Olympic Boxing to a format closer to its professional counterpart, I believe increasing the distance of bouts by a slight margin may help improve future tournaments as well as decrease potential controversy. The 2016 tournament was nevertheless successful and if progress can continue to be made by the AIBA toward ensuring a level playing field for all fighters who compete in the sport in the future it will only benefit Olympic Boxing overall.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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