Heavy metal: Olympic boxing still matters, politics, corruption, and all
Boxing fans disappointed by the coronavirus -cancelled fight from Las Vegas between heavyweights Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder are looking elsewhere for their fix this weekend.
Some might turn to the UFC for their fun.
Others will keep drinking and sulking until the slim boxing schedule fills out again on August 14.
Put down the glass and pick up your remote. The delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics get underway this weekend, with dozens of amateur boxers who hope to turn gold, silver, and bronze into moneymaking pro careers, including ten Americans, five men and five women.
In a survey commissioned by Axios, Americans polled by Morning Consult named the sports they most looked forward to seeing at the Olympics. Gymnastics, swimming, diving, and track & field sit at the top. But what’s this? Out of 50 sports, boxing made the top ten at #9.
Yes, more popular than soccer, surfing, wrestling, and water polo.
American boxing has a rich legacy in the Olympic Games. Floyd Patterson, Oscar De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Leon and Michael Spinks, Muhammad Ali, Andre Ward.
None can deny the instant reputation builder of an Olympic gold medal. Nationality doesn’t matter. Ask Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk, Katie Taylor, or Claressa Shields. Ask Michael Conlan and Shakur Stevenson, whose silver medals still reflected well on them.
Ask 2012 London Olympics team captain Jamel Herring, who didn’t win a medal but whose compelling backstory as the first active-duty United States Marine to qualify and compete in 20 years won him plenty of admirers.
Today, he’s the WBO World Junior Lightweight Champion, poised to fight one of two fellow Olympians: Stevenson, or Oscar Valdez who fought for Mexico twice, placing fifth in London at bantamweight.
In the US, amateur boxing loses its best competitors to the professional ranks before they can make it through an Olympic cycle. Even the Eastern Europeans aren’t sticking around for several hundred fights as they once did. The best American boxers turn pro as soon as they can make a living at it. Same for their brothers and sisters south of the border in Mexico.
Now that young pros with a limited number of bouts are allowed to compete, three US Olympic Boxing Team members will bring their professional experience to Tokyo: lightweight Keyshawn Davis, middleweight Troy Isley, and featherweight Duke Ragan. They have fought nine bouts among them, none longer than six rounds. Amateurs (in theory) still need to qualify through their national amateur selection system.
Joining them in the quest for heavy metal:
Flyweight Virginia Fuchs, who’s been open about her struggles with mental health outside the ring.
She placed second in the 2019 Pan Am Games.
Lightweight Rashida Ellis’ name may sound familiar. She’s the sister of solid pros Rashidi “Speedy” Ellis, a welterweight, and Ronald Ellis, the super middleweight. She does power more like Ronald and is slick like Rashidi.
Welterweight is a new division for women in the Olympics, and Oshae Jones will be the first American to compete. Jones has solid fundamental skills and solid international experience.
Middleweight Naomi Graham hopes to repeat Claressa Shields’ victories. Graham is a US Army sergeant and the first active duty female servicemember on Team USA. She’s got a solid chance at an American three-peat.
Joining Davis, Isley, and Ragan are welterweight Delante Johnson, who has solid international experience; and super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr., who won the 2020 Boxam Tournament. His father competed in the 1984 US Olympic Trials.
On night one, Duke Ragan won a 3-2 decision. In the Round of 16, he’ll face Serik Temirzhanov of Kazakhstan, who forced two standing eight counts and blew out his opponent. Temirzhanov has the tools and the kill-or-be-killed attitude to be another dominant Eastern European pro.
Delante Johnson survived an early knockdown for a narrow win to advance to the Round of 16 competition for a solid start.
Featherweight Yarisel Ramirez lost her first-round bout in a narrow 29-28 loss on all cards.
On Saturday in the 10 pm ET/7 pm round on NBCOlympics.com, Keyshawn Davis faces Enrico LaCruz of the Netherlands.
At 4 am ET/1 am PT, Ginny Fuchs takes on Svetlana Soluianov of the Russian Olympic committee. Also this round, 38-year-old Mary Kom of India appears. She has fought in amateur competition for 20 years, and all three Olympics with women’s bouts, winning bronze in London 2012. She is a member of the Indian Parliament and was the flag bearer in the opening ceremonies.
Cynics among you will point to corruption in amateur judging. Yes, it’s true. Roy Jones Jr. got robbed…
..and so did Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan. Someone else will get robbed in Tokyo no doubt.
But the Olympic Games provides a platform and can jump-start a talented fighter’s career. An Olympic boxing medal confers instant credibility and visibility. Suddenly, promoters know your name. And they want to protect their investments, so they’ll match Olympians carefully and bring them along slowly. No throwing them into the deep end of the pool.
Only Great Britain and France have won more Olympic boxing medals than the US (true, look it up). Can the US add to its 23 medals? Can an American male win gold for the first time since Andre Ward did in 1996? Will the women on the team outshine their male counterparts?
If you still don’t think the Olympics matter much in boxing, you’re not paying attention. Enjoy the enthusiasm of the amateur competitors and see if you can pick out the rising stars of boxing’s next generation. Raise a glass and cheer them all on.