• Steve Bunce

Pacquiao & Khan can't save US from Olympic failure

Steve Bunce August 9, 2011
Freddie Roach is promising that Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan will be around to help the US fighters next year © PA Photos

Freddie Roach, who trains Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao, has been given the impossible task of turning the American amateur boxers into the next great Olympic fairytale.

America stunned the world in 1980 when they beat the Soviets at the winter Olympics, a success that became known as The Miracle on Ice. If Freddie manages to come back from London 2012 with more than one US gold medal, it will be the Miracle in the Ring.

Golds at the Olympics are not - and this may sound stupid - won at the Olympics, they're won in international tournaments that take place over the one to four years before. And that's where the Americans are failing - their fighters are highly talented, but they will be far too green to succeed at next year's Games.

Meanwhile, the British have showed tremendous forward-planning by placing the squad in week-long training camps since the last Olympics.

The Americans haven't, because they have their unique boxing trials, which are brilliantly fair but haven't worked at the last three Olympics. Looking at their squad for the World Championships, I reckon eight of the ten have had about 20 top-level international fights between them - and that just isn't enough.

The standout guy in the American team is flyweight Rau'shee Warren, who could provide America's first boxing gold medal since Andre Ward brought one home in 2004. Warren's a good fighter and a serious medal contender, because he has experience - if he makes 2012, it would be his third Olympics and that is an American record.

If you look at British medal successes in the last few Olympics, all were veterans of the amateur trade. Khan had 40 international contests in 18 months leading into the Olympics in 2004; James DeGale had failed at two World Championships, two European Championships and the Commonwealths before striking gold in 2008.

Prior to 2000, Audley Harrison had failed at one World Championship, two European Championships and had competed in 50-odd international fights.

We forget that American legends like Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jnr had both lost at World Championships and in international events before they won their Olympic medals.

I can't stress it enough - it's essential to have fights under your belt, to accumulate some know-how. You win the gold medal on the road to the Olympics, and so Freddie has a really tough task. And he knows it!

Roach has made the promise that American hopefuls will have the chance to spar with Pacquiao and Khan at the Wild Card gym - but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Khan opts out because he's wary of a backlash. How would that look, a British Olympic hero helping out the American guys ahead of a Games in London?

Roach has offered Pacquiao, but about 50 people offer him each day to do something! The idea Freddie is going to get him to help out with the American team at altitude in Colorado is faintly absurd.

Oscar de la Hoya lost at a World Championships before winning Olympic gold © Getty Images

So why has Roach taken the consultancy role? I'll tell you - he's got a massive ego. Freddie knows that at the last three Olympics, Americans have won one gold medal. In London the Olympics will be absolutely massive, with boxing massively popular, so he can really leave his stamp on it.

He's also in the business of training professional fighters and making millions of dollars. If one of the American team wins a gold medal, they're going to end up signing for him - simple. We're in a cold-hearted, financially driven business.

Listen, Freddie will give them an edge, but it doesn't matter what your edge is, because if you're a 19-year-old American having your fifth international contest and you're facing a Bulgarian European champion who has had 200, unless you knock him spark out then you are going to lose.

On the last day of the American trials, there was not one knockout.

I tell you, Freddie would cut his arm off to be in charge of the British team. Our coach, Robert McCracken, has to try and squeeze 35 potential candidates into a final squad of 13, so he's got a problem. There are five or six weights where he's got three high-quality fighters.

At this year's World Championships in Azerbaijan, I think the Brits are going to perform unbelievably, because if the boxers selected don't qualify there for the Olympics there is every chance that they will not get a second bite at the cherry. Amir needed two bites, James DeGale needed three and Audley Harrison needed three.

I'm telling you, I fancy 25 of the 30 in the GB set-up could win a medal in 2012. And come September 1, 2012, the pro game will be buzzing, there will be a huge amount of fighters turning over. A lot of people have been holding off in order to compete at the Olympics.

If that makes the British scene crowded, if it means those kids are forced to have competitive fights, then that's the way it's going to have to be. The days of guys turning pro and being protected for a few years are over.

James DeGale 15 years ago wouldn't have gone near a George Groves, that's a fact. And it's great that in the current climate he has to. He is better fighter now, trust me.

Barely believable
Some amazing news from a casino near Phoenix, Arizona. Apparently there was a sanctioned bare-knuckle fight for the linear version of the bare-knuckle world championship last held by John L Sullivan in the late 19th Century. This is not a joke.

The winner, Bobby Gunn, actually went for a version of a boxing world title and got knocked out in a round by Enzo Maccarinelli a few years ago. Now Gunn is talking about more bare-knuckle fights. He's the bare knuckle champion of the world.

What's alarming about this revelation is that the battle appears to have been sanctioned, and was watched online by just over 800,000 people until it ended in the third round.

There is no doubt that people will want to watch bare-knuckle fighting. There is a thirst for contact violence but this needs to end now before a death - fists are lethal.

I'd like to see this nipped in the bud now. We have historical re-enactments of jousting, battles, and that's where bare-knuckling belongs.

Steve Bunce is co-host of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption show. Click here for more details

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.