London 2012: 5 Boxers About to Make a Big Name for Themselves at the Olympics

Zachary Alapi@@ZacharyAlapiCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2012

London 2012: 5 Boxers About to Make a Big Name for Themselves at the Olympics

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    For boxing, the Olympics are a major showcase event, and countless professional stars have used the Games to launch Hall-of-Fame careers. Names like Patterson, Ali (formerly Clay), Leonard and De La Hoya echo in the hallowed halls of Olympic fame, and that’s only the smallest cross section of Americans. 

    While the U.S. sends nearly all of its Olympic hopefuls to the professional ranks, nations like Cuba retain their amateur fighters (for better or worse) and have built dynasties that have thwarted American dominance over the past two decades.

    Names like Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon of Cuba, or Laszlo Papp of Hungary, might not be familiar to casual boxing fans, but it just so happens that the above-mentioned fighters are the only three-time Olympic boxing gold medalists, and their legacy as amateurs (though Papp did turn pro and is in the Hall of Fame) is just as much a part of Olympic lore as the “one and done” superstars.

    Such is the beauty of the Games. The Olympics can transform a boxer into a sensation, and the luster of Olympic gold opens up professional avenues and attracts top promoters.

    Of course, winning the Olympics does not guarantee professional success. I recently wrote an article about the biggest boxing busts of all-time, and there is a peculiar trend, in several high-profile cases, of elite amateur champions flopping as professionals.

    Much of this has to do with the disconnect between amateur and professional boxing, and this will unfortunately be no better in London. The Olympic preview issue of The Ring cites London as a transitional Olympiad, and it is somewhat reassuring to know that London will be the last Olympics where computerized scoring is used.

    As the Olympics get set to revert to pro-style scoring in 2016, London 2012 still offers the chance for several marquee fighters to establish themselves as superstars and professional prospects to watch. With that, let’s look at five fighters to keep an eye on in London.

Vasyl Lomachenko (Ukraine)

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    Vasyl Lomachenko enters the London Olympics as one of the most skilled and accomplished amateur boxers currently fighting. The 24-year-old Ukrainian is a legitimate professional prospect, and should he choose to enter the paid ranks after the 2012 Games, it will be to much hype and fanfare.

    Lomachenko has competed at three World Championships. In 2007, he placed second at the Championships held in Chicago, losing to Russian Albert Selimov. Since that setback, Lomachenko has been on a tear in international tournaments. Lomachenko has won the past two World Amateur Championships in Milan (2009) and Baku (2011).

    Of course, Lomachenko won the Val Barker Trophy as the most outstanding boxer at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where he won gold as a featherweight. At the 2011 World Championships, Lomachenko won his gold at lightweight, but the added weight seems simply a part of his natural physical growth.

    While Lomachenko is already an amateur boxing star, a second consecutive Olympic gold medal would cement his status as the best professional prospect to emerge from London. In the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, a potential gold medal matchup between Lomachenko and Cuban Yasniel Toledo—whom Lomachenko defeated at the 2011 Worlds—is seen as one of the most intriguing potential bouts in London.

    Assuming Lomachenko retains the gold medal form he begun in 2008, he will likely emerge as the most outstanding boxer of the 2012 Olympics.

Shiming Zou (China)

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    For all the hype Rau’shee Warren gets for being the U.S.’s first three-time Olympian, China’s Shiming Zou is also set to partake in his third Olympics. While both are elite amateur boxers, it is Zou who has had by far the greater Olympic success.

    At 31, Zou is a veteran of the international scene, and his success at major tournaments is well documented. Zou has medaled four times at the World Amateur Championships. In 2003, he had to settle for silver in Bangkok, but he has since won three consecutive gold medals (though he did not compete in 2009) in 2005 (Mianyang), 2007 (Chicago) and 2011 (Baku).

    At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Zou lost in the semifinals to Cuban and current pro Yan Barthelemy and was thus saddled with a bronze medal. Emboldened by his subsequent Olympic and World Championship successes, Zou was poised to make history at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

    In front of his home country, Zou rewrote the record books as he won China’s first gold medal in Olympic boxing. As a career light flyweight, Zou is poised to win his third Olympic medal (and likely a second gold) in London, though according to The Ring, a stiff test could come from Ireland’s Paddy Barnes, whom Zou defeated by a bizarre score of 15-0 in 2008.

    The Ring also mentions that Zou is slated to turn pro under Dino Duva’s banner after the London Olympics, and he will certainly have to move fast given his relatively advanced age. That said, a third consecutive Olympic medal would have Zou on the fast track towards a professional world title.

Lazaro Alvarez (Cuba)

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    To write an article about potential breakout boxing stars at the Olympics without mentioning a Cuban fighter would be sacrilegious. Cuba has become synonymous with amateur boxing success, and a recent trend of Cubans defecting to turn professional has added a new layer of intrigue when evaluating the Caribbean island’s perennially stacked boxing team.

    Lazaro Alvarez burst onto the international boxing scene when he won the 2011 World Amateur Championships at bantamweight, and he heads into the London Olympics as the gold medal favorite. At 21, Alvarez is certainly a young sensation, and it will be curious to see how long he remains an amateur and if he eventually elects to one day turn professional.

    Before such hypothetical situations can even be considered, Alvarez will again face a stiff challenge from Great Britain’s Luke Campbell, whom Alvarez defeated in the finals of the 2011 World Championships. A rematch in the Olympic final on Campbell’s home turf is tantalizing, and should the result be reversed, Campbell might very well become one of the Games’ breakout stars.

    Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix singles Alvarez out as one of the boxers to keep an eye on in London, pointing to the fact that Alvarez disposed of five Top 10-rated opponents at the 2011 Worlds, which was followed by an equally dominating gold-medal performance at the Pan American Games.

    Despite winning eight medals in Beijing, the Cubans failed to capture a single gold medal, which was their first such collective absence atop the podium since 1968. Alvarez, with his abundance of skills, will surely be looking to change that.

Rau’shee Warren (United States)

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    It doesn’t seem so long ago that Rau’shee Warren was the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team in 2004—regardless of sport—at the tender age of 17. When Warren lost his first round bout in Athens to China’s Shiming Zou, who was one of the tournament favorites, it came as little surprise and was seen as a positive learning experience for the young American.

    Warren followed up his Athens exit by winning bronze at the 2005 World Championships in Mianyang, which only increased expectations. Despite this success, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, unfortunately, were bitterly disappointing for Warren.

    In securing his spot for Beijing, Warren became the first boxer to qualify for two consecutive Olympics since Davey Lee Armstrong, who accomplished the feat in 1972 and 1976. Furthermore, Warren captured gold at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago, which established him as a clear medal favorite.

    Warren’s momentum came to an abrupt halt at the 2008 Olympics when, in a bizarre episode, he lost his first round bout to South Korean Lee Ok-Sung in a fight where Warren failed to engage for last part of the final round, thinking he was ahead on points. Warren broke down after the fight, and the shocking and controversial defeat was an apt metaphor for the least successful U.S. boxing team in Olympic history.

    Motivated by a promise made to his mother, Warren elected to remain an amateur and in London will become the only three-time American Olympian in boxing. In the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, Warren, when speaking about his mother, Paulette, said, “It’s her medal, not mine.” 

    While Warren could have easily turned professional, his motivation and drive is admirable. Of course, the semi-pro World Series of Boxing (WSB) made electing to remain an amateur easier, a fact Warren acknowledged in The Ring: “We were able to fight for some money and still go to the Olympics.” 

    Warren enters the London Olympics having won bronze at the 2011 World Championships in Baku, and while he might not be favored to win flyweight gold, top honors are certainly within reach, and Warren will undoubtedly have the undying support of every American to spur him towards glory.

Anthony Joshua (Great Britain)

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    It would seem unkind to include a list of potential breakout boxing stars from the London Olympics without mentioning someone from the host nation. Luckily, Great Britain has no shortage of talent to choose from. Despite the team’s overall depth, super heavyweight Anthony Joshua stands out as the British boxer with the most to gain.

    Joshua absolutely exploded onto the international scene when he captured a silver medal at the 2011 World Amateur championships in Baku. According to the Olympic preview issue of The Ring, Joshua entered the tournament as the 46th seed, which makes his silver medal run that much more improbable and impressive.

    During the 2011 Worlds, Joshua defeated reigning Olympic champion Roberto Cammarelle of Italy, as well as Germany’s Erik Pfeifer in the semifinals. In the finals, Joshua lost a heart-wrenching 12-13 decision to Azerbaijan’s Magomedrasul Majidov, but a clear message that he had arrived on the international scene had been emphatically sent.

    The above-sited profile of Joshua mentions that he is currently ranked third in the world at super heavyweight and states that he has won 31 of 34 fights. This relative inexperience suggests that Joshua only has room to improve, and given his natural athleticism and imposing frame (he stands 6’6"), he seems poised to be one of the stars of London 2012.

    The Ring mentions that Joshua experienced a major hiccup when he was found guilty of dealing marijuana, but the incident seems to be behind him and he has a good team of advisors—like Lennox Lewis—in place to keep him grounded.

    Major promoters are undoubtedly salivating over Joshua’s potential, and a deep Olympic run would be the ideal springboard for professional hype and success. Hopefully for Joshua—and for Great Britain—he’ll follow Lennox Lewis’ footsteps more closely than, say, Audley Harrison.