Not that long ago boxing was on the verge of being kicked out of the Olympics because corruption, ineptitude and head-shaking decisions had made a mockery of the sport.
Maybe it’s time to bring up the idea again.
Boxing in Rio this summer was going to be different, no matter what. The most notable change is that headgear will come off, at least for the men, an idea that has stirred more than just a little controversy by itself.
But now the head of the organization that runs Olympic boxing has gone a bit too far. Taiwan’s Ching-Kuo Wu, president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), suggested this week that the best pro fighters in the world should be eligible to compete for their countries in the upcoming games.
It’s a proposal born out of desperation for a sport that is its own worst enemy. It’s also a recipe for disaster should it be allowed to happen.
You want knockouts to boost the ratings? Not a problem.
A little blood to spice things up? No worries, because without the headgear it’s almost a given.
Permanent brain damage isn’t on the list, but that’s for the fighters themselves to deal with down the road. A death in the ring isn’t out of the question, either, with the incompetents who run what used to be called amateur boxing in charge of the matchups.
Imagine, if you will, some of the possibilities.
Gennady Golovkin already knocks out everyone they put in front of him, and bringing a gold home to Kazakhstan might entice him. It might, however, not be the kind of match the parents of a teenage Golden Gloves winner want their son to have in his Olympic debut.
Who knows, Wladimir Klitschko might want another gold medal to add to the one he won in 1996. The former heavyweight champion shouldn’t have much trouble knocking out the kids they put in front of him, and hopefully they’ll be able to complete a sentence afterward.
There are already suggestions that Floyd Mayweather Jr. may want to come out of retirement to win the gold medal that eluded him in 1996. Mayweather got the bronze in Atlanta after incompetent judges using a scoring system invented in some third-world country went against him in a semifinal bout with Bulgaria’s Serafim Todorov.
Those who have been around Mayweather find that just a bit laughable. His motivation to fight hasn’t been a trinket to hang around his neck, but big checks to cash. And the $25,000 that goes to a gold medal American athlete wouldn’t pay for an oil change on one of his Bugattis.
Ridiculous? Yes, though don’t sell these dreamers short. If not this year, then 2020 looms for pros of all sorts to descend on Tokyo.
“Do I think it’s going to happen this year? No,” said Mike Martino, executive director of USA Boxing. “But it’s something that’s been on our radar screen, something we’ve talked about for the last four years, knowing that AIBA pro boxers were going to be in the Olympics. We’ve talked to the USOC about how it impacts the sport, and it’s huge. The Dream Team changed basketball in the Olympics forever. This will obviously change boxing forever.”
It will do that, no doubt. Unfortunately, it will be for the worse.
The Olympics have always been a goal for young fighters coming up in the amateur system. Gold medals launched the careers of some of the best fighters ever, from Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray Leonard to Lennox Lewis.
Take away that path and you take away much of the amateur system. With no incentive to remain amateurs, fighters will turn pro before they are ready and most will end up on the scrap heap or toiling away for $1,500 a fight on an undercard somewhere.
Yes, the Olympics have long been in need of serious change when it comes to the sport of boxing. The incompetency of Olympic boxing officials cannot be overstated, from the robbery of Roy Jones Jr. in Seoul to the decision to disqualify Evander Holyfield after he knocked his opponent silly in 1984 in Los Angeles.
But the idea of tossing pros into the games in Rio is both shortsighted and harebrained. It accomplishes nothing, and almost surely wouldn’t draw the biggest stars anyway.
Let the Dream Team keep its historic place in opening the Olympics to pros. Remember, though, that there’s a difference between dunking basketballs and getting punched in the face.
Let amateur boxers continue chasing an Olympic dream of their own.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg