April 11, 2017
April 11, 2017
Olympians

Greg Woodward/GB Boxing

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‘TIS the season of GB Olympians turning pro and it promises to be the start of a different kind of ride. Think less locomotives gradually gathering steam, more bullet trains.

We’ve already seen a brief debut from Lawrence Okolie in Manchester a fortnight ago and an accomplished display from Nicola Adams at the weekend.

Josh Kelly has first outing in Glasgow on Saturday (Okolie also features) and then the week after Joe Cordina takes his bow in Liverpool. Seven days later Okolie, Kelly and Cordina all fight again at Wembley on the Joshua vs Klitschko undercard with Nicola Adams back in her home town of Leeds on May 13.

And there’ll be more to come.

Of the eight other boxers who represented Great Britain in Rio Galal Yafai, Mo Ali and Pat McCormack are staying with the squad with Tokyo 2020 in their sights but Qais Ashfaq, Anthony Fowler, Joshua Buatsi, Joe Joyce and possibly also Savannah Marshall are all expected to turn pro. Marshall had already officially left the squad but for the others their contracts ran out at the end of March so we can expect news soon.

With the exception of Marshall, who is pretty taciturn by nature, the others have all been making noises about imminent announcements. Fowler’s been sparring John Ryder in preparation for his pro debut as he put it, Joyce has been in the ring with Anthony Joshua doing his best Wladimir Klitschko impersonation whilst Buatsi has been a regular at ringside at major shows.

So who will they sign with?

So far Okolie, Kelly and Cordina have gone with Matchroom whilst Adams has teamed up with Frank Warren. Joyce and Buatsi, with silver and bronze medals attached to their CVs, are either taking their time, have decided where they’re going and agreed a start date or haven’t attracted the interest you might have expected. The final scenario seems unlikely but it’s not impossible. With GB Boxing and Team GB as a whole having performed so well over the last two Olympics particularly, medals are not the currency they once were. In Rio, where Joyce was, in my opinion, utterly robbed of super heavyweight gold in the final against the serially fortunate Tony Yoka, GB won 67 medals (27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze) and the Earlsfield man was one of 12 boxers, another being Adams who again scooped gold. In 2004 when a 17-year-old Amir Khan took silver, he was the only boxer in a team that overall won less than half the amount of medals that were hung around British necks last summer. I understand that Khan’s age made him a bigger story but whilst he returned to the UK a hero, lauded by press and public alike, Joyce quietly slipped back in unnoticed by comparison.

Now more than ever it’s about winning and I suspect the judges at ringside in Rio Centro have limited Joyce’s options and decreased any potential signing-on fee by somehow finding in favour of Yoka.

Having said that Buatsi didn’t win and, from what I hear, he is not short of suitors. But with the light-heavyweight it was all about the way he did it; his bouts were explosive and extremely good to watch, and that allied with a naturally outgoing personality makes him an attractive package.

But whatever the reason for the apparent delay one thing is for certain; it’s a very big decision for them all. People talk a lot about the difference between amateur and professional boxing and inside the ring, due to the removal of the head guards and the changes to the scoring system, the two codes are as close as they’ve ever been but outside the ring you could argue that for top international amateurs they’re as far apart as ever.

If you’re a GB podium squad boxer then you’re a full time professional fighter, but unlike professionals in the traditional sense, you’re within a system where all aspects of your boxing life are taken care of. You have to commit completely to a gruelling training regime but you don’t have to decide where you’ll be training, when you’ll be training, who you’ll be training with and then have to find out who’s got the keys to the gym if you need to train late. As a pro everything is your decision and it’s your career so you’d better make sure you make the right ones, starting with who you want to train you, who you want to manage you and who you want to promote you, and that’s before all the day to day routines need to be decided upon. It’s a totally different world.

But within the ropes top amateurs are now better equipped than ever to hit the ground running. All the fighters mentioned have been travelling the world, competing at the highest level for a sustained period of time and as a result are skilled, resourceful and adaptable. The men have also had the advantage of competing in World Series Boxing where they’ve been through the fires of contests of five three minute rounds. And WSB bouts are fires, make no mistake about that. A 50-50 record is a perfectly good one and the only boxer in this season’s competition who remains undefeated with more than 10 bouts to his name is the Cuban Bantamweight genius and double Olympic gold medallist Robeisy Ramirez (11-0) after his compatriot Erislandy Savon lost his perfect record a few weeks against Colombia. The best meet the best and the standard is immense.

What all of this means is that top international amateurs don’t need to be held back when they turn over, they don’t need a succession of four rounders against the usual suspects, it would be a huge step down from what they’re used to. They must be moved quickly. Nicola Adams’ opponent on Saturday was a perfectly good one for her debut but there was no need to be cautious and schedule it for four two minute rounds, a distance she has covered countless times, it should have been six or eight.

The same for the men. Josh Taylor and Andrew Selby both graduated from GB recently and Taylor made his debut over six whilst Selby opted for eight; Selby won the British title in his fifth fight, Taylor the Commonwealth in his seventh. That’s the rate of progress we’re talking about and whilst it will vary slightly depending on the weight division it’s a realistic benchmark. There will be defeats, of course there will; Charlie Edwards challenged for a world title in his ninth fight and got stopped in the tenth round but from what I’m told the experience has done him no harm, quite the opposite, and he’s back this week fighting for the British title.

Fighters like Edwards, Taylor, Selby and the others who are about to join them in the pro ranks are not afraid of taking risks and they need people guiding their careers who are equally unafraid. It’s a brave new world and one in which the much vaunted “0” on a fighter’s record is no longer king. Vasyl Lomachenko has seen to that. The Ukrainian insisted on fighting for a world title in his second fight and he insisted on going ahead with the fight when his opponent, Orlando Salido, came in over the weight. He lost. Did he cry and say it was too much too soon? No. He shrugged his shoulders, learnt from the experience, moved on and won a world title in his next fight. Not everyone can do that obviously, his skills are exceptional but as a graduate himself of the modern “amateur” school and a WSB veteran he is the standard bearer for a new generation of boxer.

The mentality has changed, the rule book is being rewritten and it should be one hell of a read.