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.
This weekend in the Baluan Sholak Palace of Sports and Culture, the boxers will fight to the ‘10-point must system,’ the same as in professional boxing, so named because a judge must award 10 points to at least one boxer after each round before deductions for fouls.
Most rounds are scored 10-9 with 10 points for the winner of the round and nine for the loser. For an even round it’s judged 10-10 and for each knock down a judge deducts an additional point from the fighter knocked down resulting in a 10-8 score or 10-7 for two knock downs.
The method makes it more difficult for fighters to run away with the bout after one round as there is usually just one point dividing the contestants.
Even without world number one Nevin, Walsh’s team includes Olympic bronze medallist Conlan, double Olympic bronze medallist Barnes, European Champion middleweight Jason Quigley and the one time teenage European light-heavyweight champion Ward.
Conlan will move up a division from flyweight to take Nevin’s place at 56 kg and will carry 75 per cent of his ranking points with him, which should see him seeded.
The Belfast 22-year-old is currently ranked three in the world at lightweight and his points carry-over should have him placed in the top four bantamweights in Almaty. If Conlan turns professional, he will certainly end up boxing in that division.
This is Ward’s comeback tournament after a poor showing two years ago, failure to qualify for the Olympics and dislocating a kneecap at the recent European Championships in Minsk.
He’s had quite a career for a 19-year-old and is still a whirlwind blowing through the division. The best of Ward, who needs luck to fall his way in the draw, would secure a medal.
Jason Quigley was this year’s breakthrough boxer, when he won a gold medal in the summer’s European Championships.
The Donegal middleweight finally beat London 2012 Irish team captain, Darren O’Neill and is one of the most exciting talents on the scene. There is also professional talk from Quigley.
The others, apart from Ray Moylette, who was a World Youth Champion, have yet to punch through at international level.
But in heavyweight, Tommy McCarthy, super-heavyweight, Con Sheehan and welterweight Adam Nolan, experience is with them in a competition seen as more difficult than the Olympics.
For the most successful Irish team at international level the future seems bright. But just what that future is remains open to question in the rapidly evolving boxing world.