Thursday, August 26, 2021

Reflecting On Olympic Boxing 2020: A Step Forward

 16 days, 25 sessions, and 276 fights. A period of time between between July 23rd and August 8th, 2021where the long delayed 2020 Summer Olympics took place in Tokyo, Japan. The numbers that began this column is in reference to the Olympic Boxing tournament, which was held at the Kokugikan Arena. While it can be a cliché to say, the tournament that takes place under normal circumstances every four years is truly a marathon that often sees a mix of competitive bouts and controversy. For the most part, the 2020 tournament was void of many of the controversial elements that have plagued many previous Olympic tournaments.


This observer says “For the most part” because after all, even with overall improvement in the way the Olympic Boxing tournament was conducted from start to finish under the oversight of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Boxing Task Force, replacing the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), it is impossible to completely remove the potential for “Controversy,” due in part to the number of bouts that occur on a daily basis over the course of the sixteen days where the Olympic Games are held. The most obvious element of “Controversy” this time around came in the form of a disqualification of Super-Heavyweight Mourad Aliev of France, who was disqualified in his bout with Frazer Clarke, who was representing Great Britain in a quarter final bout for what was deemed intentional head butting by the referee.


In one of the strangest instances of a disqualification being rendered that this observer has ever seen in either the professional or amateur realms of the sport, the referee appeared to indicate the disqualification by literally giving a thumbs up. This infuriated Aliev, who proceeded to yell as loud as he could “Everybody Sees That I Win!” This was followed by Aliev getting in front of the camera in such a manner that it resembled a professional wrestling promo in waiving his finger saying “No! No!” and proceeding to throw a few punches at the camera following the result of the contest being formally announced. As if that was not bizarre enough, Aliev followed this by staging a sit-in protest on the ring apron for nearly an hour afterwards. Aliev subsequently filed an appeal of the result, which was subsequently denied.


My initial impression of this strange occurrence was that I did not see the referee warn or deduct points from Aliev prior to disqualifying him. While I feel the referee might have been too quick to rule a disqualification, it is important to keep in mind that over the course of an Olympic tournament, referees officiate many bouts both in the role of a referee as well as serving as a judge for bouts. Although this does not excuse what may have been a case of a referee reacting too quickly, when one considers the number of bouts that take place over the course of a tournament such as the Olympics and with many bouts taking place daily over the duration of the games, it is not hard to envision the possibility of a referee not being at his or her best in one bout. As strange as the circumstances of Aliev’s disqualification was, as controversial as it was, it does not overshadow the significant progress that was made in this delayed Olympic tournament.


Some readers may recall in the first part of Olympic Boxing coverage provided by this observer, which was released here on The Boxing Truth®️ on July 29th, I discussed the progress of Women’s Boxing being represented in Olympic competition as well as the significance of women boxers in this tournament being allowed to fight the same length of rounds in terms of duration as their male counterparts. Something that as of this writing has not been universally adapted in Women’s professional Boxing. The addition of three minute rounds for women boxers was a major step forward and proved that female fighters are just as capable of fighting for three minutes per round as male fighters.


While I was really impressed with the efforts put forth by all the women that competed in the sense of seeing the wider scope in terms of progress, many of the women’s bouts in the 2020 Olympic Boxing tournament were in fact the most competitive of the entire tournament. Among those who stood out to me were Women’s Featherweight Sena Irie, who representing the host country for these Olympics Japan, put on an impressive Boxing display in winning five bouts to become Japan’s first Women’s Boxing Gold Medalist. The twenty year old Irie displayed quick combination punching, as well as defense and lateral movement in her bouts in this tournament and this was able to give her the edge in some very competitive fights, particularly in her bouts with Maria Nechita of Romania and Karriss Artingstall of Great Britain, in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. Two fights that Irie won by the narrowest of margins in Amateur Boxing in getting the nod of three of five official judges. This set the stage for Irie, who was viewed initially as a long shot in the tournament to face Nesthy Petecio of the Philippines, who entered the tournament as the number one seed in the Women’s Featherweight division as rated by the IOC Boxing Task Force. Irie tactically out boxed the more experienced Petecio over three rounds to earn the unanimous decision and with it the Featherweight Gold medal. 


Lightweight Gold medalist Kellie Harrington representing Ireland also stood out as she scored four victories in the tournament resulting in her winning the Gold medal by scoring a unanimous decision over Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira.  Both Harrington and Irie could be among those that might see increased exposure as they turn their attention towards professional careers,


One thing that also stood out at least in my eyes as I observed this tournament over the sixteen days it took place that seemed like a recurring theme throughout on both the Men’s and Women’s side of the competition beyond numerous bouts that ended in decisions by a 3-2 margin amongst five official judges was, some fighters had styles that appear more suited for the professional ranks as opposed to the amateurs, which at times can have an over emphasis on technicalities including, but not limited to numerous standing eight counts, which may or may not have been necessary depending on one’s perspective, aa well aa referees issuing cautions and point deductions for things that you would not necessarily see in professional Boxing. 


In some aspects, I felt this worked against some fighters throughout the tournament that may have been able to progress further along into the medal rounds, but hopefully this is something that the International Olympic Committee and its Boxing Task Force will be able to address in the future providing that the committee keeps what it has established in place in future tournaments. One might argue however, that if there were not an at times over emphasis on technicalities that the tournament may have looked a little different in terms of the results on both the Men’s and Women’s brackets.


One fighter that made an impression on the Men’s side of the equation was United Status Super-Heavyweight Richard Torrez, who exited these Olympics with a Silver Medal, the first for the United States since Riddick Bowe in the 1988 games.  Keeping in mind this observer’s long stance that there should only be one Heavyweight division in Amateur Boxing as is the case in the professional ranks, Torrez’ style impressed me as someone that may have the punching power that will garner the type of attention that has not been seen for an American Heavyweight as they turn pro following competing in Olympic competition in many years. After seeing him score three convincing victories including a stoppage of Kamshybek Kunkabayev of Kazakhstan to ensure at least a Silver medal, I felt Torrez had a good chance to emerge from this tournament with a Gold medal.


In the final fight that closed out this Olympic Boxing tournament, Torrez lost a unanimous decision to Bakhodir Jalolov of  Uzbekistan in the Gold medal bout. Despite the loss, Torrez should have plenty of attention as he now looks upon a professional career. Similarly, fellow Americans, Men’s Lightweight Silver medalist Keyshawn Davis,  Women’s Welterweight Bronze medalist Oshae Jones, and Men’s Welterweight Delante Johnson should all be fighters that Boxing fans should keep an eye on as they look towards pro careers.


Although the last three Olympics has been marked by progress in the elimination of the highly controversial and inaccurate computerized scoring system that was in place since the 1992  Barcelona games, and the the elimination of headgear for men’s bouts beginning in the 2012 London games, there is much more that could be done to improve Olympic Boxing. 


Although the computerized scoring system, which was based on single punches landing and was never really an adequate system for scoring Boxing on any level was done away with nearly ten years ago in favor of a return to the more traditional ten point must system of scoring, the same standard that is used in professional Boxing where the winner of a round is given ten points and the loser is given nine or less, there were several bouts throughout this tournament where it appeared as though some fighters were fighting with the mindset that scoring was still punch based rather than the more professional-based format. While this could have led to some of the numerous close bouts we saw throughout the tournament, it will be interesting to see if in the future fighters competing in Olympic competition are more geared towards the professional format and if so, whether that might lead to more fights ending via referee stoppage and whether the technical emphasis in which bouts are officiated in Amateur Boxing will ease a bit with fighters fighting a more professional style.


It will also be interesting to see if the IOC task force will take another step towards equality for the women competing in Olympic Boxing and not require headgear for women’s bouts. Similar to the men’s side of the equation, headgear is not used in Women’s professional Boxing and even though the IOC has taken the step forward in allowing women’s bouts to be fought under three minute rounds, for the moment the use of headgear in Women’s Amateur Boxing competition still exists. Although the possibility of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), who was barred from overseeing and hosting this Olympic tournament after a long history of questionable practices and accusations of corruption, possibly being reinstated down the line by the IOC also exists, I would like to see the IOC continue moving forward with its Boxing Task Force in place.


There is one aspect however, that I do believe should be on the agenda moving forward. As some may recall, a decision was made prior to the 2016 Olympics that allowed professional boxers to participate in Olympic competition. This observer was never supportive of such a decision on the basis that Olympic competition was at one point considered a pinnacle of Amateur Boxing and for many the last stage of their amateur careers before settling sights on professional careers. While I do not intend to single out any of the professional fighters who have competed in the now previous two Olympics, it is my hope that if the IOC is truly sincere about wanting to change Olympic Boxing for the better and hopefully move on from many instances of possible corruption that they will continue to get back to the basics, which means also returning Olympic Boxing to an amateur competition and not allowing professional fighters to compete against those with no professional experience.


While this observer has covered a fraction of what took place over the course of the delayed 2020 Olympics over two feature columns spanning a month’s time, I came out of these Olympics feeling optimistic about the future both in regard to the Olympics itself as well as Amateur Boxing as a whole. We will see what further progress occurs between now and the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.” 


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