Photographer: JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Best Boxers Have Little Reason to Fight in the Olympics

  • A rule change would let professional fighters compete in Rio
  • Promoter Bob Arum says he'd pay second-tier boxers to go

A hasty rule change may allow professional boxers to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics. But don’t expect the world’s top fighters to make the trip.

The head of the International Boxing Association is proposing to relax the rules on amateur status and let professional boxers compete in the Olympics. Yet fighting for pride, as opposed to cash, is too risky for the biggest stars, said Ross Greenburg, former head of HBO Sports.

Losing or getting hurt at an Olympics would be an immediate blow to a fighter’s future earnings. At the highest levels, boxers rank among the most highly paid athletes. Manny Pacquiao, for example, will make at least $20 million for his fight with Timothy Bradley in April. Canelo Alvarez is guaranteed about half that much for a May bout with Amir Khan.

For emerging pros earning $50,000 to $100,000 per fight, on the other hand, the Olympics could be "tremendously enticing," said Bob Arum, one of the sport’s biggest promoters. The potential marketing and publicity is valuable, so much so that Arum said he would consider paying his boxers who made the trip.

"I would finance that," Arum said. "If he comes out with that gold medal, he’s worth 10 times more than he is to me now. I think other promoters would feel the same."

The exposure depends partly on NBCUniversal and its willingness to include Olympic boxing in its prime-time coverage of the Games. Both Arum and Greenburg said that if the right boxers are fighting, they’d expect NBC to schedule accordingly. Otherwise, Greenburg said, "there might be little justification to make to the trip."

NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes said the inclusion of professional boxers wouldn’t affect their plans. Boxing is typically not a huge part of Olympic television coverage in the U.S., and some advertisers stay away from the sport because it is violent and fights can end before ads have a chance to air.

At the moment, it’s a hypothetical question. The International Boxing Association has yet to vote on the rule change, and even if it approves, the Olympic team qualification process is already under way.

Young boxers once used the Olympics to launch lucrative professional careers. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya all won gold medals. But the exposure began to wane, and since Wladimir Klitschko won a gold medal for Ukraine in 1996 -- the same tournament where Floyd Mayweather suffered his last defeat, a controversial semifinals loss -- the Olympic winners have been largely unknown.

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