Talking Boxing

Interviews, opinions, features and news from the greatest sport in the world!

December 9, 2016

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Anthony Joshua, Robert McCracken

Image credit: Matchroom Boxing

by Rian Scalia

Since the start of Anthony Joshua’s professional career, it’s been well known that Rob McCracken, GB Boxing performance director, has been involved in the IBF heavyweight world champion’s training. Tony Sims was the lead trainer, but McCracken was around and Joshua would and still does regularly go up to Sheffield to train at the Team GB facilities.

Only just recently was it officially announced that the man who led Carl Froch to stardom would be taking over as Joshua’s head trainer.

Rule 16.1.2 of AIBA’s Technical Rules states:

“Any Coach active in professional boxing will not be allowed to be a Coach and/or Second in AIBA
Competitions at any level unless this Coach has resigned from any involvement in professional boxing for a period of at least six (6) months and is certified by AIBA as a registered Coach.”

AIBA introduced the rule banning professional coaches from involvement in the amateur ranks in March of 2011. McCracken was initially banned due to the sudden introduction of the rule and still doesn’t work the corners of his fighters to this day.

It seems odd that such a rule would still be implemented considering that professional fighters are now literally allowed to compete in AIBA Olympic boxing fights, which will just be referred to here as amateur for familiarity reasons. Of course it also must be considered that AIBA wants to keep everything under its own banner and spread their influence across the sport, even at the professional level. That’s part of why the Olympics have been opened up to pros and why they have their own “pro” leagues.

The inclusion of and opportunity for pro boxers to qualify for the Olympics opened up a whole new can of worms. While some pros had already been competing in AIBA through World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing, they had made a complete switch and stopped competing outside of the AIBA banner.

Things have changed drastically this year, however. Fighters are going back and forth between professional and amateur fights, mostly in countries and under national federations that play ball with AIBA. It’s not happening in places like the USA or GB and likely won’t anytime soon but there have been cases in China, Kazakhstan and Serbia. That’s not including participation in the Olympics of Olympic qualifying tournaments.

The most notable case would be Kazakhstan’s Rio Olympian, Zhanibek Alimkhanuly. The Kazakh made his pro debut on October 29 and then less than a month later fought at and won the Kazakhstan National Championships tournament. To date, he still hasn’t decided whether or not he will stay in the amateurs and the Kazakhstan Boxing Federation now wants to know if and when fighters are turning pro in order to assess the funding being provided.

Quite a few fighters in China have made pro debuts and then went back and fought in the amateurs shortly after. This happened in particular on a July 30 card in Xinjiang, under the League of Fists banner that Top Rank and SECA run.

Geard Ajetovic, a former Olympian from Serbia with 44 pro fights to his name, entered the Olympic qualification tournament in Venezuela in July of this year, failing to qualify. But Ajetovic has continued fighting in the amateur ranks, recently participating in an international tournament in Serbia last month.
Shavkat Rakhimov, a 2012 Olympic from Tajikistan, entered the Olympic qualification tournament that took place in June in Azerbaijan. At the time he had five pro fights under his belt. This tournament was not the one that professionals were supposed to participate in, but there he was.

Just recently on December 7, AIBA released a statement that included clarification on the inclusion of pro boxers in its events, leaving it up to the national federations to consider their options in regards to the inclusion of pro boxers on their squads:

“All National Federations have been informed of the full list of rule changes in order to disseminate them to their members as the next Olympic cycle gets underway for Tokyo 2020. It was ahead of the Rio 2016 games that the ground-breaking vote to allow non-AIBA pro boxers to compete at the Olympic Games was made, and that decision has now been taken to its natural conclusion, with National Federations henceforth empowered to select from a wider pool of boxers, including those from other organisations, providing standard eligibility AIBA requirements are met.”

Last year, James Riach of The Guardian detailed how Rule 16.1.2 was negatively affecting grassroots boxing in England by preventing any crossover between professional and amateur trainers, making them choose one or the other. There are and have been cases to this day of professional trainers cornering fighters at AIBA events, so it’s a wonder if AIBA has just stopped caring about the rule or if they just haven’t been privy to what’s going on.

The same trainer that cornered Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela cornered him in a pro fight in May and then in another one less than a month after the tournament but wasn’t allowed to do so at the Olympics by the Cameroonian federation, interestingly enough. Eduard Kravtsov cornered Radzhab Butaev twice earlier this year and then was cornering and working as a second for the Russian national team at the Olympics.

It just seems strange how Rob McCracken has had to go about his work - staying out of the corner and not officially training Joshua - while at the same time there are pro fighters and trainers participating in regular AIBA events, even outside of its own leagues which have pros that have made the switch.

With pros now being allowed to cross over and fight under AIBA, it would only seem right that the trainers should be allowed to as well. Nevertheless, McCracken has made it work at GB Boxing on both sides of the equation, turning the squad into one of the top countries in amateur boxing and is now poised for even more success on the other side of the coin with Anthony Joshua, starting this weekend in Manchester.