While watching Sylvester Stallone’s ‘wrinklerific” performance in ‘Rocky Balboa,” my roommate said to me, ‘I wonder why boxing isn’t an Olympic sport.” I was somewhat taken aback, but I later came to find out that the majority of my Rochester peers were in the same boat. More than half of the residents of Crosby Hall had no idea that boxing was an Olympic sport. As an advent fan and participant of the sport, it was a shame to see how a sport that has historical significance and even biblical reference could shadowbox its own self into a dark corner.
Olympic-style boxing involves a unique scoring system. The two boxers have white circles on the ends of their boxing gloves. To score a point, the white portion of the glove has to land cleanly on the opponent. Five world-class judges are situated around the ring so that they can see the punches from different angles. When a judge sees that the white portion of the glove has landed cleanly, he must press a button within three seconds of the punch. The punch isn’t recorded unless three out of five of the judges press the button for the same punch within three seconds. Under those regulations, it doesn’t take a boxing expert to realize that combos and many other punches go unrecorded. It is simply unlikely for five guys, sitting at five different spots, to hit a button three times for a three-punch combo within three seconds of each other. My tongue is tied just by imagining the odds.
But Olympic-style boxing surely wasn’t always this way. Otherwise, the great gold-medal achievements of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard may have been undermined. Those great champions fought under a completely different set of rules. As opposed to scoring points with a button, the match was scored by rounds. The fighter that won the round would get 10 points, while the loser would get nine points. In the event that a fighter was knocked down or overly dominated, the round would be scored, 10-8, in favor of the winner. This system was intended to score in favor of quality as opposed to quantity.
If the greatest fighters of all time fought under this system, what triggered the changes? It all changed when one of the greatest fighters of our time was robbed of a gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games. Roy Jones Jr., of Pensacola, Fla., dominated North Korean fighter Park Si-Hun. The 18-year-old Jones Jr. Ali-shuffled around the ring as he landed punches at will. But the fight ended in a scandal and was given to Si-Hun. The results were considered such an atrocity that the judges had their licenses permanently suspended. The Olympic Games’ scoring has been different ever since.
In the post-1988 era, the television viewership and media attention of Olympic boxing has plummeted. After the Atlanta Games of 1996, NBC decided to pull it off of its primetime slot and threw it on its less popular network, CNBC. The combo-less, one-punch-at-a-time style is aesthetically pleasing to the Olympic judges, while the professional style is often overlooked. As a result, there has been a depression in the American gold medal count in boxing. Thus, we have forgotten that a sport that was once rich with American gold is even an Olympic sport at all. The casual fan may not even realize that talents like Jermaine Taylor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have competed in the Olympics. And under the new rules, not even those pound-for-pound fighters are able to win gold. In fact, only one American fighter has won a gold medal since 2000.
UR is only a college campus: it’s a mini world that reflects the general knowledge and pop culture of our time. If the American in the grocery store doesn’t know, then the student in the Pit doesn’t know. It only makes sense for my roommate to be oblivious of Olympic boxing. Who watches CNBC, anyway?
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.