Commentary

The best, worst and wackiest from boxing in Beijing

If you think the glory days of Olympic boxing were spent in Beijing, allow Eric Raskin to knock some sense into you with his list of the best, the worst and the weird from the '08 Games.

Originally Published: August 26, 2008
By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com

David PriceAP Photo/Murad Sezer"You can wake up now, David Price. The Games are finally over."
With only one bronze medal, no silvers and no golds at Beijing, this was the worst U.S. Olympic boxing team ever.

That's a fact.

This was also the worst overall Olympic boxing competition ever.

That's just an opinion. But it sure feels like a fact.

The computerized scoring system has not only led to wildly unpredictable (or sometimes predictably unfair) results; it has also bled all entertainment value out of the sport.

But just because the boxing in Beijing was rarely thrilling and frequently frustrating, it doesn't mean that it wasn't interesting. From the controversies to the upsets, to the glimpses of future professional champions, there was always something to talk about.

So here are some of the best, the worst and the just plain weird of the 2008 Olympic boxing competition:

The top three American pro prospects: This might surprise people, but I'd rank featherweight Raynell Williams first, with the more highly touted welterweight Demetrius Andrade second and heavyweight bronze medalist Deontay Wilder third.

[+] EnlargeRaynell Williams
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireHe might lack pop, but Raynell Williams is one of the more refined American boxers to emerge from the Olympics.
The slick Williams dominated his opening match 9-1 and was equally dominant in losing a mystifying second-round 9-7 decision to France's Khedafi Djelkhir. Williams controlled all four rounds of the fight, seemed to land twice as many clean punches as Djelkhir and just couldn't get any points from the judges. He might lack the pop of Andrade and Wilder, but hey, Floyd Mayweather didn't hit nearly as hard as some of his Olympic teammates either.

Andrade, meanwhile, is an athletic boxer-puncher in the mold of '04 Olympians Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell, and he should be moved slowly and allowed to develop and adjust to the pro game the way Ward and Dirrell have been. Peter Manfredo might be "The Pride of Providence," but Andrade is the Rhode Island capital's best bet for a world champ.

Wilder will have to be moved even more slowly than Andrade, but a 22-year-old, 6-foot-7 American heavyweight with a medal and a tear-jerking story about a baby daughter with spina bifida, is a dream project for a promoter.

The top three foreign pro prospects: The No. 1 spot is a no-brainer. Ukrainian featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko has it all. He possesses magnificent timing, throws the straightest, sharpest punches seen in Beijing and came through a tough draw to win a gold medal, capping it off with a TKO in the final. The 20-year-old southpaw has the speed, mobility and skills of a prime Johnny Tapia, with some power to boot.

[+] EnlargeVasyl Lomachenko
AP Photo/Rick BowmerJump for joy: Ukrainian featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko captured gold in Beijing.
The second-best foreign prospect was also the most exciting fighter of the Olympiad, and light heavyweight Bastie Samir of Ghana could've gone deep in the tournament if landing clean, effective punches had meant anything. Squat, sturdy and relentless, Samir looks like a potential Dwight Muhammad Qawi in the making.

The No. 3 spot is a tossup. It's hard not to be intrigued by the potential of super heavyweight Roberto Cammarelle of Italy (who stopped his opponents in both the semifinals and final), but I'm a bit more enamored of Mexican featherweight Arturo Santos, who gets inside, bangs the body, does none of the things Olympic judges like -- and still reached the quarterfinals.

Most overrated pro potential: Ireland's Darren John Sutherland might have a "pro style," as we were reminded every time he entered the ring in Beijing, but his offense is far too predictable to imagine him succeeding against elite opposition. Also, his hands-high defense is difficult to score on in the Olympics, but it won't have the same effect on pro judges, who give credit for partially landed punches.

Best overall team: Even without a single gold, it has to be Cuba, with four silvers and four bronzes. The "B" team they fielded after the latest round of defections still showed up everyone else's "A" team.

Most underachieving (or robbed) overall team: When Russia lost seven of its 11 fighters before the quarterfinals, the hammer and sickle seemed to have this category locked up, but the Russians rallied to bring home two golds and a bronze. So, sadly, this one goes to the once-proud USA boxing program.

Andrade and Williams both deserved better from the judges, but still, one medal? And it's only a bronze? When the U.S. can't outperform Mauritius or Moldova, something is clearly wrong.

Most overachieving (or the opposite of robbed) overall team: How does a country like China go from winning one bronze medal in '04 to winning two golds, a silver and a bronze in '08? Maybe it dramatically improved its boxing program in four years. Or maybe it hosted the Olympics.

As NBC analyst Teddy Atlas said on several occasions, the judges' fingers just somehow seemed to work better on the keypads when the Chinese were fighting. Eventual light flyweight gold medalist Zou Shiming might not have reached the quarterfinals if not for some friendly scoring, and featherweight Yang Liu's un-penalized grappling in his second-round match with Ecuador's Luis Porozo enabled him to hang on -- literally -- for an infuriating 6-5 win.

Plus, in the two bouts involving Chinese fighters that ended in tie scores, the crowd favorites prevailed under the mysterious "countback" system, where total punches recorded by the individual judges are supposedly tallied up, but the numbers are never revealed. It doesn't get much fishier than light heavyweight Zhang Xiaoping celebrating his semifinal fight ending in a tie, as if the announcement that he'd prevail in the tiebreaker was a mere formality.

Most bizarre back story: Whether he deserved gold or not, Zou Shiming deserves to have a movie made about his life. That is if it's true that his mother thought he looked like a little girl and once made him wear a dress, which led him to the boxing gym to forge a new identity.

Fight I wish CNBC had shown in its entirety: Light heavyweight Dzhakhon Kurbanov of Tajikistan was disqualified in the quarterfinals for biting Yerkebulan Shynaliev of Kazakhstan, and all we saw was a clip of the bite, with no indication of what happened to that point to cause Kurbanov to snap. Is CNBC really telling us there wasn't a single humdrum jab-and-grab affair from the day they could have cut to make room for this?

Best overall action fight: The featherweight quarterfinal between Djelkhir of France and Santos of Mexico gets the highest possible praise -- it looked like a pro fight. At least something good came out of Djelkhir getting a gift against Raynell Williams a fight earlier.

Most under-the-radar, back-to-back, gold-medal haul in history: Lightweight Alexey Tishchenko of Russia became the only fighter to win gold in both Athens and Beijing. Frankly, he did so pretty in forgettable fashion -- I have no clear recollection of watching any of his first four fights (and his gold-medal match never aired on American TV). But he deserves to be mentioned somewhere in this article.

Fighter I hope I never see again: If running, holding, potshotting and showboating are what attract you to boxing, then Thailand's light welterweight silver medalist Manus Boonjumnong is your man. (From the way the judges consistently gave him points, however, he has clearly mastered the art of clean, effective showboating.)

Most likely to be mistaken for Ali G when he opens his mouth: Was I the only one who expected British middleweight gold medalist James Degale to end his interviews with Jim Gray by dedicating his victories to "me Julie"?

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.

Eric Raskin (@EricRaskin) is a former managing editor of The Ring magazine and is the editor-in-chief of ALL IN magazine. He co-hosts the twice-monthly boxing podcast Ring Theory.