Amateur Boxing Reform: Return to Glory or Band-Aid on a Bullet Wound?

By Tyson Bruce

While the boxing world is still spinning from the brutal and exciting fight last weekend between Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov, another boxing event involving fighters from all around the world is taking place. Confused? Well, that’s because I’m referring to the World Amateur Boxing Championships, which are taking place this week in the “booming” metropolis of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The significance of this is that, for the first time since 1988, they will be fighting without the computerized scoring system and headgear. Just seeing the pictures of the competition on the AIBA website is enough to make any spectator of the famed 1976 Olympics nostalgic.

A common complaint you hear from long time fans, or fans that are no longer with us is that the skill level of young fighters today isn’t at the level it once was. While the degree to which this is true can be debated, it is true that the sport, while still respectable, isn’t what it was just a couple decades ago. One of the biggest and possibly least discussed reasons for this is because of the decay and disassociation between the amateur system and the professionals.

Much of this can be attributed to the computer points scoring system, which was put in place as a result of the scandalous decision in the Roy Jones Jr. vs. Park Si-Hun gold medal match at the 1988 Olympics. There was tremendous pressure from the Olympic committee to take the subjectivism out of the pro-style round by round scoring, replacing it with a more technologically advanced method of scoring. Thus, the computer scoring system was born—a form of judging that essentially consists of five judges hitting a red or blue button any time a punch is scored. Simultaneously, the average of all the judges scores is tallied, resulting in a total punches landed method of scoring a fight.

Naturally, this did not take the human factor or the corrupt unaccountability of scoring out of amateur boxing. Instead, it only provided more loopholes and bad decisions. If you think professional boxing scoring is as insufferable as it gets then you didn’t watch the last Olympic Games, where decisions as bad as Bradley-Pacquaio happened on an everyday basis.

Not to mention that since its implementation, the style of boxing in the amateur game has been so perverted that it now hardly resembles professional boxing. After all, how can a system that rewards a flickering jab with equal value to a brutal left hook to the body or a head snapping right uppercut, possibly produce a higher caliber of fighters?

For generations of fighters the amateurs, most specifically the Olympic games, was a springboard, for the professional ranks, much the same way the NCAA is for basketball and football. Just try and imagine De La Hoya or Leonard’s pro career without them? Or, just imagine how much pro football would suffer if college football had a completely different style of play and method of scoring from the NFL? This is exactly what has happened with boxing.

The consequences have been dramatic. As a result of this system, boxers have had to modify their style in order to win medals, which has limited their ability to flourish as professionals and, also, decreased the entertainment value of boxing as a whole.

The proof is in the pudding: in an age of title belt proliferation gone mad, there have been just nine gold medalists since the introduction of the computer scoring system, to win any form of a major world title. The famed 1976 United States Olympic team on its own had three gold medalists that would go on to win some form of professional title. Sugar Ray Leonard, an all time great amateur and professional, once commented that if the computer system had existed during his time he would have never won a gold medal.

Pound for pound kingpin Floyd Mayweather Jr., with all of his once in a generation reflexes and speed, didn’t even manage to win a gold medal and all-star fighters like Timothy Bradley and Danny Garcia didn’t make it to the Olympics at all. A lot of casual boxing fans aren’t even aware that Andre Ward, one of boxing’s premier talents, even won a gold medal.

Thus, the amateur system has ceased, for the most part, to be a determination for future success in the pro game. And while the aforementioned fighters have proved that you don’t need amateur titles to make it big in the pro game, the destruction of the amateur system has robbed fighters of a platform from which to market themselves as young professionals.

The question now becomes whether the reintroduction of professional style scoring and the abandonment of headgear will have an immediate and substantial impact on bringing amateur boxing back to what it once was. Will amateur fighters eventually become household names the way Ali and Leonard once were? Will the radical changes repair the lost connect between amateur and professional boxing? Or, is it simply too late and the damage has already been done?

Time will tell, but for once the international amateur boxing community has made steps in the right direction. Plus, for the first time in many years, I will begin my viewership of the 2016 Summer Olympics with an open mind and reduced measure of cynicism.

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