THE Commonwealth Games are currently happening in Glasgow, and the boxing tournament is receiving the coverage worthy of a major event although standards can best be described as uneven.
It has always been thus. The first Commonwealth Games I can remember watching with any interest were in Edmonton, Canada back in 1978 – and those were of a patchy quality. Some Home Nations boxers of moderate ability either won medals or went very close, yet at the same time Edmonton saw the coronation of three future world professional champions.
Barry McGuigan, boxing under his proper given name of Finbar, won bantam (54 kgs) gold at just 17 years of age, although his finals victory over Tumut Sogolik (Papua New Guinea) was disputed. Whether it was deserved or not, it must be pointed out that Sogolik was a real handful who had walloped England’s double ABA champion Jackie Turner in the prelims. Sogolik’s big right hands brought Turner two counts and although the Hull boxer lasted the distance he was well beaten. McGuigan did much better in the final.
Barry went on to become WBA featherweight champion in the pros, where one opponent he never got to meet was Azumah Nelson. The Ghanaian, competing under the name Nelson Azumah, had taken featherweight (57 kgs) gold in Canada in 1978; he would go on to hold world titles at both feather and super-feather in the paid ranks, and some consider him Africa’s greatest ever boxer.
Triumphing in the welterweight (67 kgs) class in Edmonton was Jamaica’s Mike McCallum, who like Nelson would become a two-weight (light-middle and middle) world champion in the pros. Difficult as it may now be to believe, given what McCallum went on to accomplish, but the Jamaican’s victory generated little recognition in the pages of Boxing News. Perhaps the fact that Mike was US-based meant he had been little-seen on this side of the Atlantic and few knew how good he really was.
Canada also saw two classy little Kenyans triumph at the smallest weights in Stephen Muchoki (light-fly) and Mike Irungu (fly), who were brothers despite different surnames. Apparently, Kenyan tradition meant Muchoki, as the oldest son, took his father’s name while Irungu, a younger brother, grew up with another branch of the family.
Those 1978 Edmonton Games were considered a flop for England, which had to wait until the last bout of the entire tournament to pick up its solitary gold medal.
That went to Joe Awome at heavyweight, a game and likeable performer whose limitations were exposed when he turned pro and quickly became one of the numerous win-one, lose-one types that abounded before Frank Bruno arrived on the scene in the 1980s.
Whatever happens over the next few days, Glasgow 2014 will have to go some to produce talents like McGuigan, Nelson and McCallum.