Let Olympic champs like Nicola defend titles

Let Olympic champs like Nicola defend titles


By Alan Hubbard

Britain’s wannabe Olympic boxers set off on the last lap of the road to Rio this week. It may be a hazardous journey.

For the first time at an Olympics later this year there will be a strong professional flavour in the men’s boxing tournament with the scrapping of headguards and the employment of a 10-point pro-style scoring system.

Joe Joyce

The no-headgear idea is designed to personalise the boxers, making them more identifiable to the TV viewers; and while AIBA may dispute it, I believe this runs the risk of an increase in cut eyes  and head injuries, of which so we see much in the pro game.

Otherwise why would they retain head-guards for women?

I am not sure either that the ‘heads-up’ coaching technique suggested to avoid such injuries will actually work in the heat of battle.

Also the World Series Boxing league and AIBA Pro Boxing tournament are included this time in what seems a somewhat complicated and over-lengthy qualification process.

However the fact that no British boxer- male or female – has yet qualified for Rio has not set alarm bells ringing at GB Boxing’s Sheffield HQ.

Robert McCracken and his coaching team seem to have every confidence that Team GB will have at least a decent fistful of contenders in Rio, with fresh talents such as  Joe Joyce,  Anthony Fowler, Joe Cordina, Josh Kelly, Harvey Horn, the aptly-named Muhammed Ali, a world youth flyweight silver medallist, at their disposal.

But whether this new-look squad can emulate to their counterparts in London is questionable. There Joshua, Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams came away with an unprecedented collection of gold, with a silver from Fred Evans and bronze from Anthony Ogogo.

All – save Adams of course – have now turned pro, and it is likely that the majority of the current GB squad will do so whether or not they make it to Rio.

Super-heavyweight Joyce has already in intimated his intention of follow the Anthony Joshua route and middleweight Anthony Fowler, cousin of Liverpool football legend Robbie, is another.

Anthony Fowler

He has consistently been touted as one of the best bets for gold in Rio since winning world bronze in Kazakhstan in 2013 and Commonwealth Games gold two years ago in Glasgow when in the final he outpointed none other than Vijender Singh, the Indian superstar now forging an impressive pro career with Queensberry.

Like the rest, he has three more chances to seal his place at the Games in upcoming qualification tournaments, and that long-term vision is what has helped him through the dark days of 2015 when injuries and a controversial judging decision robbed him of the chance to book his ticket to Brazil at the first attempt.

Fowler was beaten in his opening bout in the European Games in Baku, which acted as a qualifier for the subsequent worlds, and also missed the Europeans due to a nose injury.

Fowler, who looked shocked when the judges declared in favour of Italy’s Salvatore Cavallaro, said “I couldn’t believe the judging in Baku – it really knocked me back.

“I’ve always been very confident and seen it as my destiny and suddenly it makes you start to question things. With all my injuries and the judging, it made me quite depressed for a while.

“It hurt that I couldn’t go to the worlds because it’s one of the biggest competitions out there. While it was on I couldn’t watch it and I’d had it with boxing for a while.

“I continued to train, but I couldn’t have anything to do with it. I went to Tenerife at the time and I tried to forget all about it.”

Now he makes no secret of the fact that he sees success in Rio as a stepping-stone to the sort of glittering professional careers achieved by Olympic champions Joshua and James DeGale.

He says: “All you hear at the GB camp in Sheffield is Rio, Rio, Rio, but that has never been the end game for me.

“I’ve always seen myself as a professional fighter and, while winning an Olympic gold medal would be huge, it would be another step towards what I want to achieve.

“I want to do it the right way by winning British, Commonwealth and European titles then one of the biggest world belts. It’s been hard recently, but I’ve never lost my belief.”

This time four years ago GB already had five boxers qualified for London 2012 but now, with opposition honing their skills in the pro-am series  it will be distinctly tougher for Olympic qualification and eventual success, especially with no home advantage and the US reportedly getting a more impressive Olympic act together than in their last few Games.

The GB women, like the men, still need to qualify for the three available berths at flyweight, lightweight and middleweight.

Adams, world champion Savannah Marshall and either Chantelle Cameron or Sandy Ryan seem likely to do so.

Nicola Adams

It will be 33-year-old-old Adams’ final Olympics, because of the age limit, and it seems a shame that after creating history in London by becoming the first-ever female Olympic boxing champion, she should have to punch her way through a qualifying process which sees a European tournament in Istanbul in April and the World Championships in Astana a month later.

Personally I would like to see AIBA adopt a system whereby all Olympic boxing champions are given the automatic opportunity to defend their titles at the next Olympics, should they so desire.

That’s not only a professional way of doing things, it is also progressive, which AIBA claim to be. Please think about it, Dr Wu.

Meantime the British Lionhearts have made a winning start to their WSB season with a 3-2 victory over the USA Knockouts in Miami.

Wins for Harvey Horn, Pat McCormack and Lawrence Okolie gave the British team victory in a nailbiting contest on Thursday that was decided by a split decision in the final bout of the evening in-favour of the Okolie, the British heavyweight making his debut in the competition.

Highlights of the match will be shown at 7.00pm tonight on BoxNation, who will regularly screen coverage of the Lionhearts in the tournaments including live telecasts of home fixtures at York Hall against the Mexico Guerreros on February 18, the USA Knockouts on March 3 and the Morocco Atlas Lions on March 17.

BoxNation is available on Sky 437/490HD, Virgin 525, Freeview 255, TalkTalk 415.  Subscribe at www.boxnation.com or watch online at watch.boxnation.com and via iPhone, iPad or Android and Amazon devices.

More details on the Lionhearts and WSB are available at http://www.worldseriesboxing.com/ and by following the Lionhearts on twitter at @Brit_Lionhearts

Tomorrow in Alan Hubbard’s Punchlines: Will Fury and Haye should still get it on.

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