However, with the 2012 Olympics just around the corner, casual fans of the sport must keep one thing in mind: Although amateur and professional boxing have many similarities, there are several weighty differences that make these two pugilistic endeavors, in some ways, very, very different.
As with most sports, the money factor is a key differentiator with respect to the skill levels of professionals and amateurs. Athletes who get paid for competing, regardless of sport, are usually more skilled and far more experienced than those who don't - And boxing is no different.
As in tennis and American football and basketball, a step-up to the pro ranks in boxing often represents a step-up in class and level of competition. Professional pugilists will, on the average, be older, savvier, stronger and more polished than their amateur peers.
Can an Amateur Boxer Compete With a Pro in a Prizefight?
Unlike most team sports, there is no threshold for becoming a professional boxer. There's no draft or formalized recruitment process and an individual can turn pro with relative ease and without any amateur experience. Failing a physical is the biggest obstacle a young person may have en route to obtaining a pro license. As a result, a top-level amateur with solid experience could conceivably compete with and even dominate a novice pro with a limited amateur pedigree and/or minimal professional experience.
But all things being equal, a well-trained professional boxer with solid experience in the pro ranks is in a different class altogether.
In the amateurs, head gear is always worn during a match while in the pros, the use of head gear is primarily reserved for sparring. Head gear is supposed to reduce the impact of blows and help minimize the occurrence of cuts over the eyes, forehead and cheek. And in addition to giving the ears a little added protection, headgear is also supposed to reduce trauma to the head after a fall.
Can headgear keep a fighter from being badly hurt, knocked unconscious or sustaining brain damage? The answer is a resounding, "No!"
A precautionary count during which the referee allows a boxer time to recover from a heavy blow or series of blows is customary in amateur boxing and the Olympics. Although standing-eight counts were sometimes employed in the pro ranks as late as 1999, the Association of Boxing Commissions outlawed in its 'Unified Rules of Boxing' in 2001.
There are no set rules for the size of a boxing ring in the pro ranks. However, amateur rings have a minimum size of 16 x 16 feet and a maximum of 20 x 20 feet.
Number of Rounds
In professional matches for men's boxing, rounds are three minutes long and the bouts can be scheduled anywhere from a minimum of 4 rounds to a maximum of twelve rounds.
But in the Olympics/amateurs, bouts are scheduled for 3, three-minute rounds for men and 4 two-minute rounds for women.
Olympic Boxing - Objective and Scoring
The old adage, "Hit and don't be hit" is boxing's second golden rule and it always applies, regardless of rank or pedigree. Of course, "Protect yourself at all times," is the first.
However, the criteria for how punches are scored is entirely different, Olympic/amateur vs pro.
Computer scoring was introduced to the Olympics in 1992. Five judges use an electronic counter to keep track of the number of legal scoring blows by each boxer. One device is used for each boxer. At the end of the round, the number of scoring punches is added up and at the end of the bout the boxer who scored the most legal punches is declared the winner. Hence, in the Olympics, a fighter can lose two close rounds but still win the bout by dominating one.
Also, a scoring blow in Olympics/ amateur boxing must land directly with the knuckle part of the closed glove on the front or side of the opponent's head or body and must also be above the belt.
In addition, in the Olympics/amateur ranks, a soft right jab that lands cleanly is worth every bit as much as a pulverizing left hook. Amateur fighters aren't given any additional credit for hard-punching, knockdowns, effective aggression or for staggering or wobbling an opponent.
Simply put, landing more clean punches than your opponent over the course of three rounds should make you the winner in the Olympics.
N.B. Computer scoring is reserved only for Olympic competition. Non-Olympic amateur competition abides by the same standards only without the use of computer scoring.
Prizefighting - Objectives and Scoring
Prizefighting utilizes a 10-point system by which the winner of the round must be given 10 points, while the loser of the round must be given nine or fewer. There are 3 judges instead of 5 and there is no computerized-tallying scoring system.
Fighters can hit each other anywhere above the belt as long as it is on the side or front of the head or body. And as in the amateur game, it's illegal to strike an opponent below the belt or on the back of the head and in the kidneys.
In stark contrast to Olympic boxing, prizefight scoring is open-ended and scores are rendered purely based on the judges' opinions using four criteria: Effective Aggression, Defense, Ring Generalship, and Clean and Hard punching.
Essentially, an effective aggressor is the fighter making the fight happen. He's effectively pursuing and throwing punches while his opponent is backpedalling or on the defense. In order to be "effective" one must have success landing consistently while moving forward.
In prizefighting, as in the amateurs, the ability to hit the opponent without being hit in return is key. Defense may include ducking, dodging, bobbing and weaving, parrying, blocking, slipping, and sidestepping, as well as effectively utilizing the clinch. In prizefights, judges are impressed with fighters who can protect themselves well in the heat of battle.
Thefighter who dictates the tempo of the bout or is seemingly in control of the action is the ring general. An effective ring general makes his/her opponent fight their fight instead of their opponent's.
Clean and Hard Punching
A "clean" blow is one that lands flush without being partially blocked or parried. Pros are rewarded for knockdowns and are given extra credit for landing harder punches and/or staggering or wobbling an opponent.
Because damaging blows and their true value are difficult to assess, scoring a prizefight can be highly subjective. Last year, for example, many viewers believed Juan Manuel Marquez should have been awarded a decision victory over Manny Pacquiao despite landing fewer punches than PacMan. Marquez's shots, according to some, were cleaner, more eye-catching and much harder than his opponent's.
Expect a Faster Pace
Since amateur fights are scheduled for only three rounds, bouts are fought at faster pace than in the pro ranks. Prizefighters, on the other-hand, must pace themsleves to go 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 rounds.
Secondly, because the pro game rewards fighters more for hard, jolting punches, professionals tend to 'sit on their punches' a lot more than amateurs thus slowing the pace of the pro game even more.
Pure Boxers vs Brawlers in the Olympics
Don't expect to find many Rocky Marcianos in the Summer Games. As previously stated, amateur boxing favors the classic hit-and-don't-be-hit style of fighting. Technique, speed, punch volume and precision will be far more important than punching power, brute force and durability.
Amateur boxing is aptly suited for fast-starters and slick stylists like Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr, Pernell Whitaker and Amir Khan. Needless to say, fighters with styles like Marcos Maidana, Arturo Gatti, Marvin Hagler and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr are few and far between in the Olympics.
And while fighters with plodding styles can have abundantly successful amateur careers and win Olympic Gold, slick, technical boxers tend to have much greater success as world class amateurs and Olympians.
The Caveat: The Heavyweight Puncher
Despite their brawling ways, heavyweights George Foreman, Joe Frazier and David Tua had success in the Olympics without being classic hit-and-move stylists but all three pugilists had one thing in common... Devastating punching power.
A heavyweight with explosive, one-punch knockout power is "pure gold" at any level.
After all, knockouts, fear and intimidation are very much a part of the amateur and pro games.
Furthermore, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and David Tua, like most Olympic medalists who became top contenders or world champions on the pro level, competed at lower weights as amateurs and threw more punches versus their glory days as professionals.
If you're going to be a brawler in the Olympics, being a heavyweight certainly gives you your best chance for success.
Had Khan vs Garcia earlier this month been an amateur contest, the bout may have been stopped in the second or early in the third round.
In the Olympic amateur ranks, a boxer cannot trail by more than 20 points (15 for women) at anytime without the bout being stopped. It's called an "RSCOS" (referee stopped contest for outscored opponent). Although its not ruled a knockout, its somewhat similar to a "soft" technical knockout in professional boxing.
In the pro ranks, of course, there is no mercy rule. A fighter can be dominated round-after-round yet be allowed to continue to fight.
So don't forget... amateur boxing and even Olympic amateur boxing is, in many ways, altogether different than prizefighting.