The International Boxing Association (AIBA) met in Lausanne and made a decision. Professionals boxers would be allowed to compete in the Summer Olympics. It was met with mixed reaction:
"Now all of a sudden, you get a world champion or somebody in the top 10 as a professional now going against basically an amateur, somebody with a lack of experience - I don't look at that as being fair," said Lennox Lewis, 1988 Olympic gold medalist in the super heavyweight division.
"It's pretty interesting. I think right now it's just about maybe getting more information about how something like that will work," remarked Andre Ward, 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the light heavyweight division.
â€œI have always said that I would love to participate again in the Olympic Games," said Wladimir Klitschko, 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the super heavyweight division.
Fans see one probable outcome, which is America's return to dominance. Ward, a native of Oakland, California, is the last American (amateur) boxer to win the gold. He's one of two boxers who made it to the winners' podium in Athens. (Andre Dirrell won the bronze medal in the middleweight division.) The Beijing Olympics saw Deontay Wilder winning the only medal for the US. If not for Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza, the Americans would have left London empty-handed four years ago. (The 2012 Olympics marked the first time that female boxers were allowed to compete.) Not a few would point to the judges, where there have been controversial decisions. (Roy Jones, Jr. would be a good case.) Alas, the rest of the world catch up with America.
It remains to be seen if the US can rule amateur boxing once more, but professional boxing is a different universe. Take the case of Cassius Clay, who hailed from Louisville, Kentucky. He had an outstanding amateur record of 100 wins and 5 losses, winning the light heavyweight gold medal at the Rome Olympics along the way. In 1964, he beat Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight championship. It was his first professional ring, which he achieved at the age of 22. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali, sending a message that resonated with the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Ali came at the right place at the right time, which would be an unfair comparison to the current generation of boxing champions. The Cuban boxers in particular.
Cuba is arguably the best nation to produce amateur boxers, second behind the US in the total number of medals. But Fidel Castro didn't favor the best Cuban boxers to turn professional. (He might have seen it as a part of the American Empire, but this would be a contentious issue.) Apart from Guillermo Rigondeaux, the two-time Olympic champion in the bantamweight division, there won't be another boxer from this Latin American nation who made a successful transition to professional boxing. Indeed, boxing would be one of those few sports where ideologies would lure fans. Drama turned it into high-profile sports.
What can fans expect from the Rio Olympics? The Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) and Olympic Qualifier have yet to be held, while the AIBA haven't decided on the Tripartite Invitation. (The OQT will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan on June 16-25. The Olympic Qualifier will be staged in Vargas, Venezuela on July 3-8). Nine slots in each division are still up for grabs. There are ten divisions, which gives a total of 90. Here's a rundown:
It's still Cuba over the US. In case the US fails in Baku and Vargas, then it will only send three boxers to Rio. On the other hand, Cuba has eight boxers (in eight different divisions). The female boxers are likely to save America for the second successive Olympics. Claressa Shields, who won the gold medal in the middleweight division, is a heavy favorite to retain her Olympic title.
Kazakhstan might end up on the top of the medal table. This former Soviet republic qualified in all ten divisions. This boxing team might surpass the two-gold medal haul at Sydney sixteen years ago.
Don't count out Brazil. Not a few won't consider the host nation as a powerhouse in amateur boxing, but nine Brazilian boxers will see action. Expect a lot of raucous fans at the Riocentro.
Great Britain is still the favorite to win the most medals. Competing in front of their home fans helped the British boxers to win five medals. They are entered in ten (out of the thirteen) divisions, and they like their chances.
China might pull out a surprise. This Asian powerhouse is also entered in ten divisions, which didn't surprise the fans. They have been one of the top contenders in amateur boxing for more than a decade, and they may do better in Rio.