Olympic Boxing: How Much Does it Really Matter?

Teddy MazurekCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2008

The round of 32 finished Wednesday morning. After Rau’shee Warren’s disappointing first-round loss, it was nice to see Luis Yanez and Deontay Wilder bounce back with victories and continue on in the tournament.

Team USA went 5-3 in the first round, a worse record than many expected. While watching the Olympics, two questions popped in my head:

  1. Is an Olympic medal required to become a boxing champion?
  2. Flipping the other question on its head, of course it's nice to win a gold medal (or any medal at that), but does success in the Olympics lead to a successful pro career?

Obviously, there is no generic answer to these questions. While some of the best professional boxers have won gold, like Muhammad Ali in Rome during the 1960 Olympics, other top fighters gained stardom without the Olympics, specifically Rocky Marciano.

The first question was the easier of the two to research. 

I comprised a list of all the current boxing champions in each weight class according to the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF, and Ring Magazine. I simply went through each fighter’s bio to see if they had ever won a medal in the Olympics (world championships did not count). 

Out of a total of 61 boxing champions, only seven have won Olympic medals. 

That is only 11 percent of today’s major titlists!

Out of the seven who won medals, there were three gold-medal winners, one silver, and three bronze.

While Wladimir Klitschko won the gold medal in 1996, the other two gold medal winners aren’t obvious champions in the boxing world today. 

Joel Cassamayor, the Ring Magazine Lightweight Champion who won gold in 1992, does not deserve to be among today’s champions because he clearly lost his WBC interim title bout to Jose Armando Santa Cruz. 

Lastly, Brahim Asloum, the WBA light flyweight champion, impressively won gold in the 2000 Olympics. While I do not wish to take any accomplishments away from Asloum, I doubt that many boxing fans know that he is a world champion (I didn’t), which might be caused by Ivan Calderon being the posterboy of the division.

It seems clear through looking at today’s champions that Olympic glory is not at all necessary to become a champion in professional boxing. 

Just to strengthen the statement above, according to Ring Magazine’s top-10 pound-for-pound fighters (which contain Manny Pacquiao, Joe Calzaghe, Juan Manuel Marquez, Bernard Hopkins, Israel Vazquez, Antonio Margarito, Kelly Pavlik, Cristian Mijares, Rafael Marquez, and Miguel Cotto), guess how many won Olympic medals?

None. That’s zero, zilch—a goose egg. 

So, from these results, we can conclude that an Olympic medal is not a prerequisite to becoming a pro champion.

Now it’s time for the more difficult question, does Olympic glory (winning a medal) lead to professional boxing glory?

I chose to gather data from the past four summer Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004) and, from that, draw some conclusions. 

If you didn’t know in Olympic boxing, two bronze medals are awarded, so there are four medal winners per weight class. Below, I have organized my results by each Olympics. 

20004 Olympics

Total Medal-Winners:  44

Medal-Winners Who Went Pro:  11

Percent Pro:  25%

Gold-Medal Pros:  5

Silver-Medal Pros:  4

Bronze-Medal Pros:  2

Combined Professional Record:  136-3 (98%)

Major Titles Won:  None

2000 Olympics

Total Medal-Winners:  48

Medal-Winners Who Went Pro:  21

Percent Pro:  44%

Gold-Medal Pros:  4

Silver-Medal Pros:  7

Bronze-Medal Pros:  10

Combined Professional Record:  357-30-1 (92%)

Major Titles Won:  10

  • WBA Light Featherweight Title
  • Interim WBC Featherweight Title
  • WBA Light Welterweight Title
  • WBO Heavyweight Title
  • WBA Bantamweight Title
  • WBC Middleweight Title
  • WBO Middleweight Title
  • WBA Middleweight Title
  • IBF Middleweight Title
  • WBO Light Heavyweight Title

1996 Olympics


Total Medal-Winners:  48

Medal-Winners Who Went Pro:  27

Percent Pro:  56%

Gold-Medal Pros:  5

Silver-Medal Pros:  5

Bronze-Medal Pros:  17

Combined Professional Record:  643-72-2 (90%)

Major Titles Won:  19

  • WBO Featherweight Title (twice)
  • WBA Light Middleweight Title (twice)
  • IBF Cruiserweight Title
  • IBF Heavyweight Title
  • WBO Heavyweight Title
  • WBC Welterweight Title
  • WBC Light Middleweight Title
  • IBF Welterweight Title
  • WBC Light Welterweight
  • WBC Lightweight
  • WBC Super Featherweight
  • WBA Lightweight Title
  • WBA Light Heavyweight Title
  • IBF Light Heavyweight Title
  • WBC Light Heavyweight Title
  • WBO Welterweight Title
  • WBO Light Middleweight Title

1992 Olympics

Total Medal-Winners:  48

Medal-Winners Who Went Pro:  26

Percent Pro:  54%

Gold-Medal Pros:  4

Silver-Medal Pros:  7

Bronze-Medal Pros:  15

Combined Professional Record:  612-116-8 (83%)

Major Titles Won:  18

  • WBO Lightweight Title (twice)
  • WBC Lightweight Title
  • WBA Super Featherweight Title
  • WBC Light Middleweight Title
  • WBO Middleweight Title
  • WBA Light Middleweight Title
  • WBC Welterweight Title
  • WBC Light Welterweight Title
  • IBF Lightweight Title
  • WBO Super Featherweight Title
  • WBC Bantamweight Title
  • IBF Heavyweight Title
  • WBO Heavyweight Title
  • WBO Featherweight Title
  • IBF Bantamweight Title
  • WBA Lightweight Title
  • WBC Super Middleweight Title

The first striking piece of data that can be seen throughout the four Olympics is the low percentage of medal-winning Olympians who chose to become professional boxers. 

The last Olympics, 2004, seems to have an unusually low percent of professional boxers; the reason behind this data is that many of these Olympians are now participating in the 2008 games and will turn pro afterward. In the other three Olympics studied, the professional boxer percent hovers around an average of 50 percent. 

Another unusual piece of data is the consistently low number of gold medal-winners who choose to become pro boxers. Specifically that the number of gold-medal professional boxers is lower than both those who won silver or bronze medals. Why gold-medal boxers choose not to continue their careers in the sport is a question for another day.

Although many successful Olympic fighters choose not to fight at the professional stage, the few who go to that level are very successful. The winning percentages range from 98 percent (2004 Olympics) to 83 percent (1992 Olympics), show that former Olympians are thriving in a professional setting. It should be known, however, that there are quite a few Olympians who had professional career records of 2-0 and 3-1, in addition to other Olympians who held records of 30-1 and 38-4, for example. 

As the years go by, it makes logical sense that the winning percentages decrease. The pro boxers from the 2004 Olympics have the highest combined winning percentage because they have fought a worse class of opponents while trying to build up their records. On the other hand, the boxers from the 1992 Olympics have fought for titles and competed against a highly impressive set of opponents. 

While winning percentage says a lot, nothing shows a successful boxing career more than championship titles. The class of the 1996 Olympics had 44 boxers and won 19 world titles. Now, it should be known that this does not mean that 19 boxers won titles—there are far fewer—but that one boxer won numerous titles during their career, like Floyd Mayweather, a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist. 

So does winning an Olympic medal lead to a successful professional career?

While the answer is not a definite yes, it certainly is not a detriment (assuming you become a professional fighter). Almost all of the Olympic boxers who became pros have winning records, and many of those who didn’t choose to retire after a few fights have fought in title bouts (although many did not win). 

An Olympic medal seems to only help you, but don’t worry, Rau’shee Warren; success in the Olympics isn’t required to become a champion, just look at the champions today. 


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