Bunce on Boxing: World Series may shift power and glory back to amateurs

 

It has been 16 years and 61 fights since Wladimir Klitschko joined the only available route to glory and placed his size 15s in the worn steps of boxing's legends by turning professional after winning the super-heavyweight gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics.

Klitschko defends his four versions of the world heavyweight title on Saturday in Hamburg when he meets unbeaten Mariusz Wach in what will be his 22nd championship fight, at a time when the list of contenders is set to shrink even further. Wach, incidentally, is the first man Klitschko has met who is taller than him.

In amateur boxing, which is where all professional world heavyweight champions have come from since Muhammad Ali in the early Sixties, there now exists an alternative way for the big guys; next year there will be a second method for post-Olympic champions and other quality amateur boxers to get a living without turning professional.

Today in London a team of amateur boxers called the British Lionhearts will be launched and you will hear a lot of garbage about the team being crucial to "securing a boxing legacy". The Lionhearts will join other squads from all over the globe in a tournament called the World Series of Boxing, which is run by AIBA, the amateur sport's governing body. It has nothing to do with legacy, nothing to do with boxing below the most elite and exclusive level.

However, boxers in the WSB have a toe in both codes of the sport as they will retain their amateur status, but will not wear head guards or vests and will fight over the longer distance of five rounds of three minutes. This is the third year for the WSB and it has been an eventful, costly and rocky passage for the unique tournament, which was to have featured a British team when it started. There have been numerous collapsed sides in the tournament's brief history.

The WSB format is entertaining, with five fights, at five different weights, between all the teams in two leagues of six; there is a home and away leg and then the top sides progress to a grand final, which this year took place in London and featured teams from Mexico City to Milan. The 2012 finals were screened by BoxNation and were thrilling and a bit gruesome. The individual winners, who fought over seven shattering rounds, each won $10,000 (£6,300).

Today several boxers from Britain's Olympic squad are expected to sign over their careers to the WSB and begin their journey to Rio. However, gold medal winners Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua have not yet agreed terms and seem unlikely to be part of the Lionhearts, who are in a division with teams from Italy, Germany, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and America. The other group has Mexico, Azerbaijan, India (the Venky's brand, no less), Poland, Argentina and Russia.

Next year something called APB, which stands for AIBA Professional Boxing, will launch and this takes amateur boxing even closer to the professional model; the men who take part in APB will, like their WSB brothers, be eligible for the Rio Olympics. The APB will also embrace existing professional boxers, who have had less than a set amount of fights, for its format of eight- and 10-round contests, and the professionals could, if they sign from the start for the full three years, box in Rio in 2016.

The WSB and APB will further reduce the talent pool available to the traditional world of pro boxing and in three or four years there is every chance that the APB or WSB champion could be a better fighter than some of the existing world champions. Both Klitschko and Wach were quality amateurs and if they were still at that level there is no guarantee that they would be able to refuse the new roads to boxing glory.

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