The US Olympic boxing team came away Beijing with just one bronze medal, the nation’s worst performance in more than 50 years. I haven’t quite put my thoughts together into a logical sequence, but here are two of them:
Olympic boxing is little more than a sword-less fencing match, and the scoring is a joke. The scoring system takes a flaw inherent in boxing—human judgment and therefore human error—and, without doing anything to alleviate it, hides it behind a mask of technological objectivity. Twenty years ago, at least we knew who was screwing Roy Jones in Korea. Today, a corrupt or biased judge is nearly impossible to finger individually.
It also creates a gigantic gap between the skills needed to succeed at the highest amateur and professional levels. This year's Olympic failure coincides with a steep decline in the professional fortunes of the Olympic team. From 1960 to 1996 (with the exception of the boycotted 1980 Olympics), there was an average of one boxer per team who was destined to be a pound-for-pound top three entry, and arguably top 50 all time: Mayweather, de la Hoya, Jones, Holyfield, Whitaker, Leonard, Foreman, Frazier, and Clay. In Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy, the 2000 team had two guys loaded with physical talent but saddled with technical flaws, and both were ultimately unable to make the leap into superstardom in the pro ranks (though I guess there’s an outside shot Taylor could still add a great deal to his legacy at super-middleweight). The cream of the 2004 crop, Andre Dirrell and Andre Ward, seem even less likely to break through. It's not a coincidence that almost all of the best American boxers to come up in the last eight years --Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, Juan Diaz-- haven’t been Olympians. Nor is it just the Americans; by my count, Miguel Cotto is the only ex-Olympian on Dan Rafael’s top ten pound-for-pound list-- and his very un-amateur style got him bounced in the first round in the Sydney Games.
Now, back to the pros!