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The supposed ‘danger’ of pro boxers at the Olympics

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Pro boxers went 2-3 at the 2016 Games

Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz Jr. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

All sanctioning bodies are full of crap in their own special ways, though none as amusingly full of it as the WBC. Sure, the WBA won’t rest until everyone who’s ever put on gloves larger than four ounces has a belt around their waist, but at least they’re shameless about it. The WBC presents themselves as the gold standard of the sport while turning favoritism into an art form and filling Don King’s brain-stained shoes as the premier source of self-righteous bloviating.

Complaining about the WBC may seem a strange way to start an article about pro boxers at the Olympics, but trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Shortly before Rio 2016, AIBA opened the doors to professional boxers taking part. There was, let us say, a bit of blowback; Oscar De La Hoya claimed that “[a]n amateur fighter is almost sure to lose against any professional, eliminating his opportunity to launch his career.” A New York Times headline labeled it a “dangerous power grab.” Our friends at the WBC, meanwhile, launched a passionate plea of their own:

“The WBC has voiced the opinion of the majority in the boxing community from all over the world. There are too many unanswered questions, the competition format and standards are not clear and the risks towards the fighters’ safety are tremendous.

”Boxing is one of the founding sports of the Ancient Olympic Games in Greece and modern boxing has been known to be divided into amateur boxing and professional boxing. AIBA is acting with an evident conflict of interest by threatening this structure by being a promoter, manager, regulator and governing entity who wants to have amateur boxers fight professional boxers in a scenario where severe mismatches could result in tragedies.”

So what ultimately happened? Three (3) professionals took part in Rio: mid-level featherweight and future Oscar Valdez victim Carmine Tommasone, former flyweight king Amnat Ruenroeng, and longtime middleweight contender Hassan N’Dam. They combined for a 2-3 record.

Not that it stopped Mauricio Sulaiman and co. Sulaiman would go on to compare the WBC’s stance to their refusal to support apartheid and churn out yet more op-ends about his opposition. When video emerged of Uzbek super heavyweight standout Bakhodir Jalolov starching Richard Torrez in an amateur bout, Sulaiman called it “brutal and criminal” due to Jalolov having six pro fights against terrible opposition under his belt.

They’re both super heavyweights, by the way. Sulaiman is inviting abuse on Jalolov for fighting someone without the foresight to be 6’7.”

Now let’s have a look at the 2020 qualifiers, currently on lockdown like everything else and thus primed for examination. Only two professionals appear to have qualified: Olympic veteran Vikas Krishin, who signed with Top Rank last year and is 2-0 as a pro, and Jalolov. Delfine Persoon, arguably the best female lightweight on the planet, was bounced from the European qualifiers in the opening round.

The question, then, is “what is it about professional experience that makes those who have it more dangerous than those without?” Yes, the majority of amateurs are on the younger side, but there’s loads of career amateurs who compete well into their 30s. Is there a difference between fighting some 37-year-old with 100 amateur bouts and 20 pro bouts compared to, say, 37-year-old multi-Olympic veteran Clemente Russo, who’s got a couple hundred unpaid bouts under his belt and no professional experience?

If there is, I don’t see it. The only argument seems to be “experience,” which immediately falls apart when exposed to the existence of older amateurs. Being used to fighting for longer than three rounds is useful, sure, but it’s nobody’s idea of a secret weapon.

That’s not to say putting pros in the Olympics is 100% harmless, just that the harm isn’t physical. The danger comes in costing up-and-comers qualifying spots; if my job demands I produce as many medals as possible and someone like Terence Crawford rolls up to the tryouts, you bet your ass I’m choosing him over an 18-year-old hopeful with dreams in his fists and stars in his eyes. If Sulaiman and De La Hoya want their objections to be taken seriously, this is where to shove a wedge. As is, their comments are ill-founded at best and downright insulting to amateurs’ skills at worst.