Has GB boxed itself into a corner for Tokyo Olympics?

Has GB boxed itself into a corner for Tokyo Olympics?


By Alan Hubbard

Peter McGrail

So what do we make of boxing’s recent World Championships conducted in Hamburg under the auspices of the International Boxing Association (AIBA)?

Should Britain’ squad have done rather better in view of past achievements, notably in the Rio and London Olympics, and after pocketing funding of more than £27 million ($35 million/€30 million)? The debate continues.

British boxers, this time competing under the flags of their home nations, collected just one solitary medal, a bronze from England’s bantamweight Peter McGrail.

True, it was a similar figure to that achieved in the previous World Championships in Doha two years ago, and subsequently Team GB went on to have a decent Olympics in Rio with a gold, silver and bronze.

Indeed, at the past three Olympics, Beijing, London and Rio, there has been a golden flourish for British boxers.

And at the last European Championships six of the seven British boxers selected reached the finals, with the only gold medal coming via the skiklful fists of the same McGrail. 

The 21-year-old Liverpudlian is now the brightest star in a re-vamped British squad and looks a possible medal prospect for Tokyo.

That is, if he is still around in 2020. For the pro-game is on a high in Britain where, with more shows scheduled than at any point for several decades, and the hunt is on for talent to occupy the corners.

The personable McGrail is already being touted. There seems little doubt that either before or after Tokyo he will succumb to lucrative overtures to join so many of his Team GB podium predecessors.


AIBA’s decision to “professionalise” boxing for one-time “amateurs” is not working as a deterrent to joining the recognised pro-game where the lure of the real mega-bucks remains too strong’


Despite their UK Sport funding for the Tokyo 2020 cycle Team GB continues to lose boxers to the professionals hand over fist, so to speak.

For instance, of Britain’s 12-strong team from Rio – ten men and two women – only three remain within what used to be called the amateur discipline.

 So what does this tell us? Well, for one thing, AIBA’s decision to “professionalise” boxing for one-time “amateurs” is not working as a deterrent to them joining the recognised pro-game where the lure of the real mega-bucks remains too strong.

In Britain, a Team GB fighter can earn up to £28,000 tax-free a year, in basic funding. They can have food, physio, travel and the costs of living four days a week in camp fully covered.

It sounds attractive – for a while. But should we be asking whether this is simply a liberally assisted passage until they are ready to fly the comforts of the Sheffield nest into the arms of the pro promoters?

Interestingly the nine from Rio who have turned pro have done so under an array of promoters. Joe Cordina, Anthony Fowler, Josh Kelly, Joshua Buatsi, Qais Ashfaq and Lawrence Okolie have joined 2012 stars Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell in Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable, which continues to raise eyebrows within the sport with its considerable influence at Team GB’s state-of-the-art Sheffield HQ.

Double golden girl Nicola Adams, a prized coup for Frank Warren,has her third pro contest on the BixNation-televised Golovkin-Canelo bill in Las Vegas on Saturday week where her former team-mate Savannah Marshall made her pro debut for Floyd Mayweather on the under-card of his self-promoted “fight” with Conor McGregor.

Anthon Joshua’s successor at super-heavyweight, Joe Joyce, has finally teamed up with David Haye’s new promotional outfit and makes his pro debut next month.

The Olympics seem to have become more of a springboard towards professionalism for British boxers than at any time in the last half century. 

Of course competitors in other sports can earn fortunes on the back of their Olympic exploits while remaining eligible for future Games.

Technically, so can boxers since AIBA made it possible for fully-fledged pros to compete in the Olympics under certain criteria. But so far no Brit has elected to do so, and personally I doubt if many will. Certainly none currently pursuing a fresh career in the prize ring.

Can you imagine Joshua, Campbell, Adams and co competing in Tokyo for nowt, risking riches and reputation? Don’t be daft.

As it happens, Britain’s head coach and performance director Robert McCracken is sanguine about his relatively untried squad, denuded of its stars of 2012 and 2016, doing well in Tokyo. This is despite the apparent lack of success in Hamburg.

“I was so pleased with many of the performances from what is still a very young and inexperienced squad,” he says. “It was vital experience for them in a tournament that arguably is tougher than the Olympics.

“These World Championships were about trying to get these boxers a profile, gain some valuable experience and nick a medal, which we did. Hopefully in three years time we should be in a really good position.”

If Hamburg was a pointer for Tokyo it told us that the Cubans, topping the table with seven medals, five of them gold, are back on the march again and still the fighting force to be reckoned with.

We also know that the ever-emerging threat comes not from the United States or Russia, who managed only four medals between them, none of them gold, but from the former Soviet-bloc satellites of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, who filled the four places behind Cuba.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Championships was the feat of one participant who did not even pull on a pair of gloves.

AIBA’s President Dr C K Wu went to Hamburg very much on the back foot in the face of aggressive opposition from those determined to unseat him.

But the redoubtable lord of the AIBA rings is still standing. And still smiling

LIKE MANY OTHERS I will be hotfooting it from the Copper Box to The Box next Saturday night (September 16).

Canelo v Golovkin

We will be anxious to catch the exclusive BoxNation telecast from Las Vegas of what could well be the fight of the year – possibly any year – when that smiling assassin Gennady Golovkin and the fiery-fisted redhead Canelo Alvarez settle their multi-belted middleweight differences.

The preceding BoxNation/BT televisded WBO middleweight title duel in the Olympic Park between a re-honed Billy Joe Saunders and American challenger Willie Monroe jnr is a real appetite-whetter for the epic fistic feast to follow.

Saunders v Monroe Jr


I believe this could be the most gripping confrontation in the 160lb division since Hagler-Hearns 30-odd years ago, though it is likely to last longer.

Both scraps promise blood and thunder for 12 rounds –or less.

I suspect wily Willie may provide the re-tuned Billy Joe with a sterner task that many think, while, having fancied Golovkin from the moment the match was made I am not about to switch horses. Will tell you why here next week.

Meantime my old mucker Colin Hart and I (“not so much of the old,” says Harty) will be arguing the toss over the greatest middleweight fights in history in an upcoming Boxing Matters on Box Nation.

Let’s hope the debate will be as compelling as the scrapping

Tickets for Saunders v Monroe Jnr priced at £40, £50, £70, £100, £150, £200 and £300 (VIP/Hospitality) are available from:www.eventim.co.uk www.seetickets.com www.ticketmaster.co.uk

Order Canelo v Golovkin on BoxNation Box Office via your remote control for £16.95/€21.95. BoxNation’s current paying subscribers, and any new customers that wish to subscribe instead of buying it via BOX OFFICE, will get the fight as part of their monthly subscription.

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