Not many sports seem to be dogged by self-generated controversy like boxing. Every major announcement appears to be met with derision and debate. One topical example is the “professional” debuts of KSI and Logan Paul. To the trained eye, their professional status is no more than an extra layer of spin to increase the publicity. A transparent attempt to give the bout more legitimacy. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that DAZN requires it to be professional in order to broadcast it. The fact that two relative novices have been granted such status has understandably drawn the ire of the boxing masses. It is seen as ultimate disrespect towards those true professionals who have worked for years to earn their crust. These newcomers arrive into the sport and bring in the millions thanks to teenage YouTube viewers with no knowledge of the sweet science.
To many, professional boxing is seen as the pinnacle. So when the International Boxing Association – bizarrely still referred to as AIBA – talks of professionals being allowed to compete with amateurs there is similar uproar among boxing aficionados. If we take the literal definitions at face value, then it’s not hard to see why:
- a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid rather than a professional basis.
- a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity.
1. relating to or belonging to a profession.
“young professional people”
2. engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur.
“a professional boxer”
Interesting that a quick online definition search specifically referred to “a professional boxer” as an example. The problem however is, like with many aspects of boxing, the terminology takes on a life of its own within the sport. Countless professional boxers are paid but not as their main source of income. They juggle their boxing career around a day-to-day job in order to make ends meet. Does that mean they are any less professional in their application? Of course it doesn’t but it again shows boxing’s connotations aren’t always black and white. Most pros scoff at the mention of “semi-pro” boxing, yet it arguably is a more accurate description of the majority of men and women who hold a professional licence.
Many people lazily assume that amateur status refers to ability. Or a lack of it. If someone is professional i.e. getting paid then they must be better than someone who competes as a hobby. There are glaring inaccuracies with this observation.
BBB was recently pulled up on Twitter for stating that “There are many pros out there who would lose to the current Tokyo hopefuls. Just because they’re professional doesn’t make them better.” 6 whole likes indicates we were onto something, then as ever on social media someone disagreed. I stand by this statement and didn’t have to look far to support my claim. As the Tokyo Olympics 2020 approach, I imagine this debate will gather legs once again. I say “once again”, because it has already been discussed ahead of, and during, the previous Olympics in Rio, where it has already happened. Professional World Title contender Hassan N’Dam re-entered the amateur scene and was soundly beaten in the very first round. There is a reason that most amateur standouts look spectacular in their professional debuts. They, with their mere amateur pedigree, are technically and physically levels above experienced pros.
If we take this further, several examples have been highlighted, and rightfully mocked, that amateur boxing is a stepping stone to white-collar, before moving to the pinnacle of professional level. I am not for one second debating that professional is the pinnacle, merely the reasons it is considered as such. There are obviously supremely talented professionals, just as there are amateurs, but the glitz and glamour associated with the paid ranks is an overriding factor. As is the paid part of professionalism. At the high end of pro boxing, the purses are, for want of a less pedalled phrase, life-changing. The achievement of winning a genuine world title is beyond compare, yet it is arguably easier than winning Olympic Gold or, for Britons at least, the elusive World Amateur Championship Gold. It is worth noting that many amateur boxers attract lucrative sponsorship deals and endorsements, as well as being well looked after by their respective setups. Many are professional in all but name.
Having amateurs only compete in the Olympics isn’t particularly broken, so there is no need to fix it from where I’m looking. However, let’s not downplay the skillset and ability of those yet to cross over.