London Olympic medallists sign up for another four years
BOXING:The changing face of Olympic boxing kicked off as the four medal winners from London arrived at the National Stadium. Contracts dotted and crossed, agreements secured, commitments made to stay amateur from John Joe Nevin, Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Katie Taylor makes for a competitive four years towards Rio. And quite a spread of talent at the top table.
Nevin particularly was sought out for his change of heart. A fanfare announcement on television that he was turning professional with Bolton’s former world champion Amir Khan has gone the way of many things in the pro game and while Nevin’s love affair with professional boxing remains alive, if unrequited, the dream will have to wait until after Rio.
In the intervening years Nevin could sneak up on Beijing silver medallist Ken Egan’s 10 senior titles. By then the bantamweight would have nine senior titles if he kept winning.
But he is certain Irish coach Billy Walsh will get just one more Olympic cycle from his bones. “Four more years and that’s me.” said 23-year-old Nevin. “We had a few five-year contracts but we are taking the four-year deal. That was a great achievement for Ken, that’s his piece of history. Leave him that. If I chased that I might get a bit of bother off his right hook.”
Coach Walsh, who is hoping to secure his own deal over the next few weeks, is satisfied at the way current talks are going.
The contrast between his deal and those of peers in other Irish sporting federations was brought into focus at the end of London 2012 when it was revealed boxing medals appeared to be the cheapest money could buy.
But Walsh is content and if Peter Taylor and Zaur Antia are too then that represents progress, especially as the boxers’ explicit reasons for staying was because of the coaching staff. Walsh’s trained eye saw Nevin’s future in the professional ranks as fitful at best and it was not something he would have recommended.
His theory is that Nevin’s technique and boxing style over three rounds might not hold its veneer over 10 professional stanzas.
“It’s great,” said Walsh. “He decided to go. I thought he was having that Brendan O’Connor show (where he announced turning professional) a bit early actually. He needed time to think it out. For his style and type of boxing, which is Olympic style, the pro game doesn’t really suit him.”
“If they invested money in him they would get him a few bums but they are going to throw him in with somebody over 10 rounds at some stage. John Joe is a mover. He can’t keep doing that for 10 rounds. He is elusive but his chin is up and the pro game may be not for him. The Sports Council have guaranteed him four years funding. It’s great in the current climate.”
Nevin pointedly explained he wasn’t rushed into making a decision to go with Khan. Whatever, his bargaining on the national stage made wheels that move slowly turn that bit faster.
“I wanted to do it at the time but I got home to think and we decided to hold back for four years and go after Rio.
“An Olympic medal was always my dream. But when I got out of the ring I got another feeling that I missed out on gold and the opportunity to join the Katie Taylor and Michael Carruth club. Hopefully in four years’ time I can do that. I know it’s a risk but at least I’ll have tried and there is plenty of time to go pro afterwards.”
In the short term Nevin will join Joe Ward in the professional offshoot of Olympic boxing, the World Series of Boxing (WSB). Shattered by not making the Olympics but training well again and still in possession of the European championship title, teenager Ward and Nevin were drafted into the British Lionheart team that will fight in Dublin at some stage.
Michael Conlan is in another American franchise. The latitude to fight professionally and earn money was an important factor in the whole equation of the boxers remaining in Ireland.
Katie Taylor has no outlet yet for similar competition but with a bout after Christmas in the pipeline against USA’s Queen Underwood, Ireland’s gold medal winner is not without competition.There wasn’t enough money forthcoming to construct an Irish franchise.
“Ideally, we would have our own franchise but unfortunately there is no money here to do that,” said Walsh.