Stakes never higher for Irish champions as World Boxing Championships beckon
Changing face of ‘amateur’ boxing sees the likes of Ward, Conlan and Barnes aiming to earn professional contracts in new era
European champion Jason Quigley who will represent Ireland at middleweight (75kilos) at the World Boxing Championships in Kazakhstan. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Between championships the internal battles in Irish boxing so often spill out on to the streets, a federation at odds with its athletes. But fighting in the ring is where Irish boxers excel and in Almaty, Kazakhstan from this weekend, head coach Billy Walsh and his team of nine will face issues they have not had to deal with before in the World Championships.
For several of the Irish team this tournament is a showcase. As the landscape in the amateur scene dramatically changes with professional boxers no longer excluded from Olympic Games qualification, podium places in Almaty will attract professional contract offers.
Although the new rule states that only those professional boxers who have less than 15 fights can fight in the Olympics, AIBA president Dr Wu Ching-Kuo declared he would make exceptions for boxing icons such as Manny Pacquiao. The eight-division world champion has yet to commit.
But these championships will be the last of their kind.
It’s expected that from 2015 only the outright winners at world level will qualify for future Olympic Games with the rest of the Olympic draw coming from a disparate group of professional bodies.
So several of the Irish team will hope that contract offers fall their way – Joe Ward, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes overtly considering change and John Joe Nevin already, seemingly, gone to Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
The changing and occasionally confusing nature of the sport demands caution but Almaty may provide options and with that in mind, the boxers face into new territory mindful of the future it can provide for them.
There are moves too inside the ring and it will the first modern World Championships where head guards will not be used.
Cuts have suddenly become an issue and even for fighters who win, the prospects of continuing may be in jeopardy if they are nicked in the process.
Walsh himself grew up competing with no head guard but none of his young fighters have and although some of them including light-heavyweight Ward and bantamweight Conlan have fought in the WSB, a branch of professional boxing permitted by the amateur authorities, this is the first time they face it at world level.
The scoring has also been revised since the last major competition, the Olympic Games. In London 2012 judges pressed buttons when a score was made in the punch-count system that came in after the Seoul Olympics in 1988. The winner was the boxer with the highest score.