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Manny invited to box in Rio Olympics

Manny Pacquiao

MANILA, Philippines - Manny Pacquiao has been invited to compete in the coming Rio Olympics and AIBA president Dr. Ching Kuo Wu is reportedly agreeable to offer the Filipino boxing icon a wildcard ticket straight to the main draw without going through qualifications.

The idea to participate in Rio was broached to Pacquiao by Dr. Wu during the AIBA World Championships in Doha last October. Pacquiao flew to Doha on Dr. Wu’s invitation and spent less than 20 hours in the Qatar capital before leaving. He was at ringside to witness Filipino lightflyweight Rogen Ladon’s win on points over Mexico’s Joselito Velazquez Altamirano in the Round of 16, took time out to be with the Filipino community and met with Dr. Wu, Qatar Boxing Federation president Yousuf Ali Al Kazim and Qatar Olympic Committee secretary-general Dr. Thani Abdulrahman Al Kuwari in the whirlwind trip.

“When Manny entered the tournament venue, he was mobbed not just by the spectators but the fighters themselves,” said a witness. “Dr. Wu was amazed at Manny’s popularity. Fighters from different countries stopped what they were doing to go to Manny and take pictures. It was pandemonium. The Filipino fans naturally went to Manny who motioned to his security to give him space to be with them. Manny told his security he wouldn’t be what or where he is now without the support of the people so it was his way of giving thanks.”

Dr. Wu, a Taiwanese who has been an IOC member since 1988 and an IOC executive board member since 2012, recently declared that AIBA would allow pros to compete in Rio. Boxing was the only sport where pros were not allowed to compete at the last Olympics in London. When wrestling returns to the Olympic program in 2020, it will be another sport where only amateurs are allowed to participate.

Dr. Wu said it’s the IOC view to bring the world’s best athletes to the Olympics. Basketball welcomed NBA players to the 1992 Barcelona Games, signalling the start of the open era in Olympic hoops. Dr. Wu said it’s time to do the same for boxing.

“We want the best boxers to come to the Olympics,” said Dr. Wu. “It is AIBA’s 70th birthday and we want something to change, not after four years but now. It is an IOC policy to have the best athletes in the Games and of the international federations, AIBA is probably the only one without professional athletes in the Olympics.”

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But Dr. Wu’s revolutionary move has been severely criticized in pro circles. WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said AIBA has no clue as to what boxing means and represents and foresees “dangerous mismatches” if pros compete in the Olympics. British Boxing Board of Control general secretary Robert Smith called it “farcical” and former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan of Ireland described the move as “bizarre.”

A source close to Pacquiao said he’s not closing the door to accepting Dr. Wu’s offer. The Philippines has never won a gold medal in the Olympics and if Pacquiao decides to box in Rio, he could make history.

In men’s Olympic boxing, there are only 10 weight categories, compared to 17 in the pro ranks. If Pacquiao fights in Rio, he’ll enter either the lightwelterweight (64 kilogram limit or 141 pounds) or the welterweight (69 kilogram limit or 152 pounds) division. In Rio, male fighters will box three rounds of three minutes each in a bout without headgear. Scoring will be on a 10-point must system like in the pros but there will be five judges with the tallies of only three counted as selected by a computer at random.

AIBA launched its version of a pro league through the World Series of Boxing (WSB), a club competition, in 2010. Two years ago, it started the APB or the AIBA Pro Boxing where fighters battle for “world” championships. Initially, AIBA said it would allow existing pros to fight in the WSB, APB or the Olympics only if they had logged up to 15 or 20 bouts. Additionally, they were required to sign a document binding them to AIBA for the rest of their careers, leaving no option to return to fight in bouts sanctioned by pro governing bodies like the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF.

With Dr. Wu’s latest pronouncement, it appears that AIBA will no longer set limits as regards pro records. Pacquiao, for instance, has figured in 64 pro fights so far. Whether AIBA will require pros to sign waivers or not isn’t certain. Pacquiao, 37, is within the age limit for Olympic boxing where the range is 19 to 40.

The Rio Olympics are scheduled on Aug. 5-21. By then, the Philippine elections will be over and Pacquiao may be a Senator.

In Olympic boxing, fighters are weighed in the morning of every bout, a departure from the pro practice where the weigh-in is on the eve of a bout and boxers may recover overnight before competing. At the 2012 Olympics, it took five wins to capture the gold medal in welterweight boxing over 15 days. Welterweight fights were scheduled on July 29 and August 3, 7, 10 and 12. On the day of each fight, boxers weighed in at 7 a.m.

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