London 2012: Can APB's Signing of Vasyl Lomachenko Bridge the Pro-Amateur Gap?

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London 2012: Can APB's Signing of Vasyl Lomachenko Bridge the Pro-Amateur Gap?
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With the recent conclusion of the 2012 Olympic boxing tournament in London, it is natural for fans and pundits to speculate about the professional potential of the marquee boxers and medal winners that participated.

While some fighters failed to fulfill lofty expectations as others retained Olympic titles or burst onto the international scene, London 2012 offered no shortage of compelling boxing story-lines.

In terms of the link and transition between amateur and professional boxing, perhaps no story is as significant as AIBA (amateur boxing’s governing body) solidifying its professional promotional outfit. APB (AIBA Professional Boxing) is an organization worth examining, especially in light of the disconnect between professional and amateur boxing since the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the steady slide of the United States into the doghouse of Olympic boxing.

According to ESPN.com (via the Associated Press), APB promotions has secured the signature of Ukrainian star Vasyl Lomachenko, a now two-time gold medalist and winner of the Val Barker Trophy as the most outstanding boxer at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. After his gold medal performance in 2008, Lomachenko had no shortage of professional offers, and his decision to sign with APB after repeating as Olympic champion represents a major move towards validity for the AIBA’s professional outfit.

According to the above-cited article, AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo has also signed Lomachenko’s four teammates, stating, “What we offer is different from the current professional promoter. The boxers have a full protection. They have a good living, and a minimum number of bouts a year, and also a close affiliation with their national federation.”

Lomachenko in 2008.

This all sounds promising, especially the stipulation of securing fighters a minimum number of bouts per year—three to four according to ESPN—but it is the bond with national federations that might be APB’s most ingenious innovation, particularly when wooing boxers from nations that don’t have the inherent professional promotional structure found in the likes of the U.S. or Germany.

The ESPN article accordingly touches on this security:

“APB's connections with the amateur sport's national federations apparently were the key to landing Lomachenko and his teammates. Although any professional promoter would sign Lomachenko immediately, he appears more comfortable staying with his national federation and the nascent APB, which will allow its fighters to maintain Olympic eligibility while making money from professional bouts.”

As amateur and professional boxing attempt to breach the chasm that has disconnected and ultimately hurt the sport’s growth, allowing boxers to fight professionally while maintaining Olympic eligibility is an enticing and interesting proposition.

APB’s link between the pro ranks and the Olympics might not be as straightforward as they envision. While APB fights will abandon headgear, be longer than Olympic-style three round contests and operate on the 10-point professional scoring system, such a structure could alienate APB’s stable of fighters and result in a situation where boxers have a foot in two camps (amateur and professional) without a firm enough commitment to either.

While the ESPN article is a preliminary report scratching the surface of exactly how the APB will operate, it remains somewhat unclear as to who their roster of fighters will be contesting professional bouts against. Will APB fighters lace up the gloves against their stable-mates? If so, it could create tantalizing match-ups.

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However, if APB fighters build their records slowly against the traditionally weak opposition expected of a fighter early in their professional career, while still competing in major international tournaments, it is reasonable to question exactly what these boxers are working towards. Is it professional championships?

Or is it just an innovative way to stay sharp for the Olympics and World Amateur Championships?

According to the ESPN article, “Wu intends to reserve 56 Olympic quota places for the top APB fighters, while regular professional boxers wouldn't be eligible for an Olympic shot.” While understandable, in a sense, this seems somewhat unfair on principle as fighters are benefiting from circumstance and the ability to parlay the APB’s development into additional Olympic opportunities, whereas fighters who turned pro conventionally, say, one year ago, will miss out on this chance.

Given that amateur boxing will abandon computerized scoring for the 2016 Olympics, anything that helps bridge the gap between amateur and professional pugilism has to be viewed as positive and given the benefit of the doubt (for now).

While the APB appears to have some questionable aspects, the choice to give its boxers regular salaries, health insurance and regular fight dates on networks that can offer exposure is exactly what boxing needs.

Structure-wise, there are things to like about the APB, but as it always does, success will boil down to the fighters and whether their in-ring performances captivate fans and capture titles.

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