So, in the last few days there’s been a bit of a set-two between USA Boxing (the amateur/Olympic boxing authority in the US) and Mike Tyson, who along with his many other media interests has started in the murky world of boxing promotion.
In essence USAB is complaining that Mike Tyson is offering professional contracts to its amateur stars, taking advantage of their relatively poor financial position to entice them away from the unpaid ranks.
USAB’s full open letter can be found here but I’ve quoted what I believe to be the most interesting bit below.
Iron Mike Productions is offering money to our best athletes to turn “professional”. Many of these youngsters are living in poverty. These young boxers are foregoing their Olympic hopes and the hopes of our nation in exchange for a professional boxing contract now. You are offering these athletes pennies on the dollar of what they could be worth with an Olympic medal, or even potentially just being an Olympian. You are also undermining the next United States Olympic Boxing Team in the process.
Mike Tyson eventually replied. It’s clearly been through the public relations machine but even so there’s still some of his typical bombast
Many of these boxers are like me in that they are from poverty stricken communities and boxing is their only way to a better life. They have obligations beyond your personal vision for them. No one has the right to question the path a fighter chooses in pursuit of their American dream.
Many commentators (including Tyson himself in his piece) note that USAB are simply using Mike Tyson’s name for publicity in an attempt to drum up sympathy for themselves. Mike Tyson is still a big name in boxing and attaching his name to any piece is likely to drive up the audience. USAB could have contacted Tyson directly or they could have not mentioned him at all… he’s far from the only promoter who attempts to swoop on promising amateurs. Yes, Tyson signed Olympic hopeful Erickson Lubin when he turned 18 but Lou DiBella also signed Junior “Sugar Boy” Younan, another well regarded prospect last month. I guess Lou DiBella’s name just doesn’t have the same punch that Mike Tyson’s does…
That said, I can’t say I’m too critical of the way USAB publicised this. After all, we are talking boxing and since two men decided to stand across from each other and partake in fisticuffs using another boxers name to raise your own profile has been one of the most established tactics in boxing. One only needs to go to one of the news aggregate sites to find countless articles and press releases about a boxer you’ve only vaguely heard of calling out a superstar in boxing. I bet back the day Diagoras of Rhodes and his sons had to put up with some scamp from Megara calling him out before each Olympics.
What I am critical of is the entire way that USA Boxing is set up and run. And in this case their own words betray them.
It’s often been a source of confusion over recent years as to why the US Amateur boxing team has fallen on such hard times. Not so very long ago they used to dominate Olympic boxing, regularly producing gold medalists and coming home with a hatful of medals. Yet this last Olympics the mens’ team returned with no medal at all and in 2008 only Deontay Wilder got one… and his a bronze after winning two bouts. To give a direct contrast in those two Olympics the British team have three golds, one silver and three bronzes. As much as I’d like to jokingly put that down to British boxers being superior to those across the Atlantic that’s simply not true. The US has just as rich a boxing history as the UK,has a far higher population and continues to turn out proffesional boxers who compete well on the world stage. There is no reason the US shouldn’t at least match… and likely surpass… the results the UK gets.
So why doesn’t it?
I suspect the answer can be found in articles such as this and this. The British medal hopefuls train at the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield, in facilities that would put most professional gyms to shame. Despite the “amateur” tag, they live the life of a full time athlete. They have individual trainers all conducted under the vision of Rob McCracken (who also trains Carl Froch) and previously Terry Edwards (one of the best amateur coaches in the world). A nutritionist takes care of their diet, tailoring meal plans specifically, delivering the food and able to make adjustments on the fly. They have access to some of the best in the world… both in facilities and experts… when it comes to strength and conditioning and medical care. And they spend half the week living essentially at this facility before returning home each weekend to see their families and do more individual training. Truth be told most of them will never again have such a perfect environment for success or have quite such an exceptional team utterly dedicated to their training, however successful their pro careers are. It has been described as a “medal factory” and it probably is; a machine perfectly calibrated to get as much success as possible, to remove as many distractions from achieving that goal as humanly possible.
The US Olympic hopefuls?
They’re living in “poverty” and being trained by volunteers. Not my words… the words of USAB.
None of the 2012 squad of British boxers would have even considered turning pro before the Olympics. They were too well looked after, too financially secure and the Olympics was too big a carrot dangling in front of them. Khalid Yafai turned pro after losing a series of box-offs with Andrew Selby but that was because the Olympic dream was over for him. With the carrot of the Olympics still there any boxer with a chance to qualify… let alone the medal hopes… wouldn’t think twice about changing from the unpaid to paid ranks.
But the US boxers are living in poverty. Of course they’re going to consider offers from promoters… they’d be stupid not to. And in truth they’d likely be stupid to turn them down.
Perhaps it would be different if the USAB could virtually guarantee medals in the way GB Boxing can. But it can’t. Mike Tyson makes the strong point that it’s all well and good to talk about him “stealing” these boxers and removing their chance at an Olympic gold but what history can USAB point to of regularly delivering medals? One bronze over two Olympics? The simple fact is too many US amateurs are left on their own, regardless of whether they’re in poverty or not, excluded by a cliquey system that rewards connections over talent (are we really meant to accept that Rau’shee Warren, despite his success at the World Championships in 2007 was undisputedly the best flyweight in the US in 2004, 2008 and 2012 despite going out in the opening round each time?). While GB Boxing is built around improving and developing its talented boxers it seems much of the (rare) success US amateur boxers find is despite USAB, not because of it.
So here’s the thing USAB. If you don’t want your star amateurs to be “poached” then don’t keep them living in poverty. And if you want to keep them in the amateur ranks with the promise of Olympic glory then work out a way that you can actually help them find that glory.
Until that point not only are your boxers prone to turning pro but I can’t say I blame them for doing so. And I certainly can’t blame Mike Tyson for offering them a way out of poverty when you do nothing of the sort.