If there ever was a death knell for U.S. men’s amateur boxing, it might’ve just sounded over the 2012 London Olympics.
With bouts taking place in front of a capacity, if not SRO crowd inside the Olympic Park near Stratford, the U.S. men will not take a home a single medal in any weight class. Every single American was eliminated from competition before the medal rounds were even underway.
That’s an outright embarrassment to any nation’s boxing program – especially a country that gave the sport Olympic champions like (then) Cassius Clay, George Forman, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya.
Since I was an amateur boxer myself (very amateur, in fact), I was looking forward to seeing the U.S. team from the cheap seat to see what real talent could do in the ring. When I fought, I was well-trained, but slow. No one would mistake me for an Olympian or even a Golden Gloves champion, so I enjoy watching good, young amateur fighters.
I was shocked to see the American men disappear on only day seven of The Games. And it’s becoming painfully obvious as to why that happened. The U.S. guys are just as dedicated, just as hardworking and just as intensely trained as any other country’s boxers. They just aren’t the best athletes America has to offer.
There’s the punch to the gut of USA Boxing. The best athletes in America are now pipelined into football and basketball – even baseball and soccer. In those sports, top athletes see more of a chance to make big money and less potential to get their brains bashed in for it. While there’s no easy way for a professional athlete to get into a position to make big money, there are easier ways than being a boxer.
Muhammad Ali was a fantastic, talented and well-proportioned athlete. Foreman had the brutal strength to be a football player and the height to play power forward. Leonard had freakish stamina. And these days, guys like that play other sports.
Of course, mixed martial arts is one of those sports. Many tough kids who still want to fight for a living see MMA as sexier and more prevalent. It also seems easier to get into as it’s a shorter road than boxing to progress from amateur training to professional fights.
And there’s one last reason why boxing is fading off of the American amateur and professional sports radar. Junior Seau. Or Dave Deurson. I won’t go on listing suicidal former athletes, but you get the idea. We’re only now really discovering the damage concussions can do to a human being physically and emotionally. We’ve all seen punch drunk boxers. There’s not much doubt Ali’s severe neurological conditions were at least aided by blows to the head.
Now, the prevalent theory is that multiple concussions not only have a negative cognitive effect on the brain, but they can trigger profound depression leading to suicide. There’s only been a possibility a fighter could die in the ring, but the potential of dying years later at his own hand is giving more athletes a reason to stay out of the squared circle.
No matter what the reason, America is off the men’s boxing scene. The U.S. was once a great boxing nation and a program that used to rival the Cubans and Russians for the most medals in each Olympics (even though the Americans were true young amateurs and those Commies were pro fighters training year round).
With the U.S. men leaving empty handed without so much as throwing a punch in a medal bout, it’s truly a first round TKO.
However, to end on an upbeat note, U.S. women are making a much better showing with Katie Taylor, Marlen Esparza and Claressa Shields all guaranteed a medal going into the final days.
At least someone wearing the Stars and Stripes knows how to fight.