Few sports have changed more than boxing in the space of a single Olympic cycle. Rio 2016 will see boxers fighting without head guards and using the “10-point must” scoring system from professional boxing (more below), rather than the traditional count of punches landed cleanly used in amateur boxing. The event will also be open to professional boxers for the first time, a cumulative set of changes that makes Olympic boxing difficult to distinguish from the professional sport, although matches will still be significantly shorter.
Fans of the changes say it will allow the biggest names in the sport to add a gold medal to their laurels, and will put an end to the mismatches seen when countries which prohibit professional sports field mature, experienced fighters against younger amateurs from western nations, like when 17 year old Amir Khan lost to 33 year old Mario Kindelan at Beijing in 2004. It also makes it easier for medallists from previous Olympics to return and defend their medals, an opportunity taken up by Great Britain’s Nicola Adams in the women’s boxing.
Critics believe that it will simply increase the number of meetings between amateur and professional boxers, leading to a greater number of dangerous mismatches. The British Boxing Board of Control has criticised the change, and two of the professional sport’s governing bodies, the IBF and WBC, have threatened a variety of sanctions against professionals who compete.
The upshot is that while a number of professional fighters have qualified, they are all young fighters rather than the superstars of the sport.
There are ten weight categories for the men, ranging from light flyweight to super heavyweight, and three for women – flyweight, lightweight and middleweight.
Great Britain is sending 12 fighters, its largest team of boxers for 32 years, and has set a target of three to five medals for the boxing team. In addition to defending champion Nicola Adams (pictured), keep an eye out for Joe Joyce at super heavyweight, Josh Kelly at welterweight, Pat McCormack at light welterweight and the evocatively named flyweight, Muhammad Ali.
Other fighters to watch
Top international prospects include bantamweight Shakur Stevens and middleweight Claressa Shields (pictured), who are expected to end Team USA’s boxing medal drought, and Ireland’s Paddy Barnes, who has two Olympic bronze medals and is one of the favourites for a gold medal at light flyweight.
How matches work
Men’s matches will consist of three three-minute rounds, while the women’s will be four two-minute rounds. The 10-point must system of scoring is almost universally used in professional boxing and awards the winner of each round 10 points based on criteria including effective aggression (the ability to take the fight to their opponent in a controlled, deliberate fashion), ring generalship (how well they control the movement and pace of the fight), cleanly landed punches and defensive skill. The loser of each round receives nine points – unless they were thoroughly dominated or knocked down, when they receive eight. On rare occasions, rounds can be scored 10-10 for a draw or even 10-7 for a round with multiple knockdowns. Points deductions for fouls are applied after the initial scoring, making a 9-9 round a possibility as well. The judges hand in their scorecards after each round, so there will no longer be a “live” score during the fight the way there used to be in the days of simply tallying up the clean punches.
The shorter duration of amateur fights means that the pace of the action is usually more frantic than professional boxing – keep an eye out for professional fighters tiring as they attempt to fight at a faster pace than usual. A fresh fighter will pull his arm straight back from a punch into a defensive position around their face, while a tired or arm-weary fighter will tend to drop his or her arms to his sides before hoisting them back up into position. Footwork is important too – a good fighter rarely moves directly backwards or “crosses” his feet during the action – the lead foot is always in front, the rear is always behind. This is to prevent being caught by a sudden forward surge by an opponent, and to avoid the moment of imbalance as the feet cross. Tired fighters tend to let these fundamentals slip, and it’s here where fights are often won or lost.
Matches take place every day of the Olympics, with most of the coverage on BBC red button as well as BBC1 and BBC4. Quarterfinals start on 10th August, semi-finals on 12th August and Finals begin on 14th August