Olympic boxing enters a controversial new era when the action in the ring begins on Saturday in Rio with professionals involved for the first time in a vastly revamped competition.
Significant changes also include a new points-scoring system while male boxers will no longer be sporting clunky headguards, as Olympic boxing attempts to move closer into line with professional bouts to boost its appeal, particularly in the United States.
While the decision to dump the headwear and the unpopular punch-counting system was mostly positive, the AIBA (International Boxing Association) courted stern criticism by opening the Olympic competition to professional boxers for the first time.
Compounding matters, the decision came in June, just two months before the Games, so too late for most pros to start planning a tilt at gold.
The result is that only three professionals will compete in Rio and they are not names that even boxing fans will have heard of — Hassan Ndam Njikam of Cameroon, Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng and Italian Carmine Tommasone.
The AIBA says that exhaustive studies found there are fewer concussions without headguards, although women boxers — competing for only the second time in the Olympics — will still wear them.
Critics say there will be more cuts without the guards, and with so many fights packed into a fortnight, fighters will struggle to get enough time between the bouts for their wounds to heal.
‘Kill or be killed’
Some boxers have voiced concern it could mean opponents intentionally headbutting to get a stoppage for a cut.
Lawrence Okolie, a British heavyweight, says he is expecting the changes to make for some brutal bouts for the 13 golds — 10 for men and three for women — up for grabs.
“Kill or be killed,” he said.
“At the end of the day, my opponent is trained to destroy me. Same as I’m trained to destroy him. So just make sure I don’t get destroyed.”
Britain topped the boxing medal table on home ground four years ago and are expected to be strong contenders again.
Nicola Adams, who made history as the first female to win Olympic gold in boxing, returns to defend her crown for Team GB.
Also boxing for Britain is Muhammad Ali — a young flyweight whose name has added poignancy after the heavyweight legend died in June aged 74.
Ali — then named Cassius Clay — first announced his name to the world with gold at the Olympics in 1960.
The United States has a rich history in Olympic boxing and is still the most successful country in both overall medals and gold medals since the sport made its Games debut in 1904.
Cuba also has a proud amateur boxing record and is expected to be strong, as are Ireland, whose medal hope Michael O’Reilly faces being sent home after failing a dope test, according to Irish media.
The Olympics has been a launchpad for some of the biggest names in American boxing — Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather to name just a few.
But the last American to win boxing gold was in 2004 with Andre Ward and the men’s team failed to win a single medal in London.
Supremely confident teenager Shakur Stevenson is fancied to bring that barren spell to an end in the bantamweight class.