Commentary

No purse, just pride: Which pros take home gold in Beijing?

What if professional boxers could lace up the gloves, slip on the headgear and fight for the pride of their country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing? Don Steinberg gives you: The Pro-lympics.

Originally Published: August 5, 2008
By Don Steinberg | Special to ESPN.com

David HayeJohn Gichigi/Getty ImagesWere he eligible, David Haye would be a favorite to bring home gold in Beijing.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will lead the U.S. Olympic basketball team this summer. The Swedish hockey team that won Olympic gold in 2006 consisted of 26 professionals from the NHL and Sweden.

What about boxing? What if every nation sent its best pro boxers to Beijing this August?

Sure, it would never really happen -- what top boxer, spoiled by pay-per-view and cable TV purses, would fight for free? But it's fun to imagine. What would Olympic boxing Dream Teams look like if the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Joe Calzaghe and Kelly Pavlik competed? How would individual and team medals go?

Our fantasy gets intriguing fast.

The 11 amateur weight divisions are different from pro weight classes, and each country can send only one boxer in each division. The Olympic welterweight limit is 152 pounds, so that means American welterweights such as Paul Williams would compete for a spot on the team against junior middleweights such as Oscar De La Hoya and Verno Phillips.

Could Floyd Mayweather be coaxed out of retirement? Well, we know how much he likes gold -- and he might want to avenge his last loss, which was at the 1996 Atlanta Games. But when you consider the competition -- Mexico would sent Antonio Margarito to the Pro-lympics, and Puerto Rico would send Miguel Cotto -- it seems that American Williams makes a pretty good matchup there. We'll keep Mayweather retired.

Olympic scoring is different, too. So in our professionalized games, we'll imagine they use pro scoring rules. Hey, it's our dream.

The actual Olympics surely will have a very different outcome from the team scores in our final tally at the end of this bout sheet. (For starters, China isn't even represented in this pros-only fantasy). But here's how our imaginary tournament goes down:

Super heavyweight (over 201 pounds)

Nigeria puts up a fearsome entry with Samuel Peter. Still, Peter hasn't shown he can get past Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko and has to settle for silver. (Klitschko won gold in 1996, and Peter was eliminated in the Olympic quarterfinals in 2000.)

Does the USA have a chance for a bronze? Let's see: the last two U.S. boxers to compete at super heavyweight, Calvin Brock and Jason Estrada, are pros now. But the American fighter above 201 with the best chance to make an impact today might be Chris Arreola. He's not medal material yet, though. In Olympic boxing, two bronze medals are awarded in each division. In these Games, bronze medals go to Russia's Alexander Povetkin and Cuba's Odlanier Solis, who both were 2004 Olympic gold medalists (Povetkin at super heavyweight, Solis at heavyweight).

Gold: Wladimir Klitschko (Ukraine) Silver: Samuel Peter (Nigeria) Bronze: Odlanier Solis (Cuba) Bronze: Alexander Povetkin (Russia)

Heavyweight (201 pounds)

These are pro cruiserweights, and despite David Haye's desire to fight for heavyweight money professionally, he competes in this division in these fake-O-lympics -- and wins gold for Great Britain. America's Steve Cunningham captures a silver, and Tomasz Adamek of Poland and Jean-Marc Mormeck of France polish up Le Bronze, edging Germany's Firat Aslan, Jamaica's O'Neil Bell, and the Czech Republic's Rudolf Kraj.

Gold: David Haye (Great Britain) Silver: Steve Cunningham (USA) Bronze: Tomasz Adamek (Poland) Bronze: Jean-Marc Mormeck (France)

Light heavyweight (178 pounds)

Final medal count standings

Country Gold Silver Bronze Points
United States 2 3 1 13
Mexico 2 3 0 12
Great Britain 3 0 0 9
Philippines 2 0 1 7
Japan 0 2 1 5
Puerto Rico 1 0 1 4
Ukraine 1 0 1 4
Canada 0 0 3 3
Thailand 0 0 2 2
Germany 0 2 0 2
Indonesia 0 1 0 2
Nigeria 0 1 0 2
Cuba 0 0 2 2
Russia 0 0 2 2
Argentina 0 0 1 1
Denmark 0 0 1 1
France 0 0 1 1
Ghana 0 0 1 1
Hungary 0 0 1 1
Poland 0 0 1 1
Panama 0 0 1 1
Venezuela 0 0 1 1
Colombia 0 0 1 1
The key at light heavyweight is Great Britain's strategy. Wales boxes on the British team, and the question in this fantasy is whether Calzaghe fights at 178 pounds or tries to make the Olympic middleweight limit of 165. Let's keep him here (sorry, Clinton Woods, you're off Team Britain.) In the USA, the best fighter near 178 pounds might be Chad Dawson (sorry, Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver). Calzaghe outpoints Dawson for more British bullion.

Gold: Joe Calzaghe (Great Britain) Silver: Chad Dawson (USA) Bronze: Zsolt Erdei (Hungary) Bronze: Adrian Diaconu (Canada)*

* A note on Canada: Many of Canada's top resident boxers were born elsewhere. Diaconu and Lucian Bute are from Romania; Joachim Alcine is from Haiti; and Herman Ngoudjo is from Cameroon. Canada's willingness to turn athletes from elsewhere into naturalized citizens to aid its national teams is well-documented. Lennox Lewis (born in England) boxed for Canada in the 1984 Olympics, and Canada naturalized Samuel Dalembert (born in Haiti) last year to play on its national basketball team. So we'll put all Canada-based pro boxers on Team Canada.

Middleweight (165 pounds)

The world's best pro middleweights and super middleweights compete together in this loaded division. Just making your national team is tough. In the USA, no super middleweight beats Pavlik. For Colombia, we'll give Alejandro Berrio the team jacket over Edison Miranda. We'll let Lucian Bute fight for Canada and Armenia-born Arthur Abraham fight for Germany, where he is a citizen. Mikkel Kessler steps up for Denmark, Sakio Bika for Cameroon and Librado Andrade for Mexico. None beats Pavlik.

Gold: Kelly Pavlik (USA) Silver: Arthur Abraham (Germany) Bronze: Mikkel Kessler (Denmark) Bronze: Lucian Bute (Canada)

Welterweight (152 pounds)

Here's another insanely packed division, combining the best pro 147- and 154-pounders. At one time, we thought Puerto Rico's Cotto was a shoo-in for the gold medal. Seeing how he lost to Mexico's Margarito on July 26, however, things have changed. Margarito has lost to Williams of the USA. So that's how it goes here, too. That still leaves Joshua Clottey (Ghana), Joachim Alcine (Canada), Joel Julio (Colombia) and other talented qualifiers scrapping for the second bronze.

Gold: Paul Williams (USA) Silver: Antonio Margarito (Mexico) Bronze: Miguel Cotto (Puerto Rico) Bronze: Joshua Clottey (Ghana)

Light welterweight (141 pounds)

This is a relatively light field. The U.S. team slot is a toss-up between Timothy Bradley and Paulie Malignaggi. Andreas Kotelnik, a 2000 Olympic silver medalist, steps in for Ukraine. But Ricky Hatton makes the weight and takes the gold -- the third top prize for Great Britain in these exciting but fake games.

Gold: Ricky Hatton (Great Britain) Silver: Paul Malignaggi (USA) Bronze: Andreas Kotelnik (Ukraine) Bronze: Herman Ngoudjo (Canada)

Lightweight (132 pounds)

There's brutal competition here, as pro lightweights and 130-pounders merge. Nate Campbell qualifies over Juan Diaz for Team USA. Amir Khan is back for the U.K. Juan Manuel Marquez suits up for Mexico, Joan Guzman for the Dominican Republic, Edwin Valero for Venezuela, Joel Casamayor for Cuba, Michael Katsidis for Australia. Wow. Oh yeah -- Pacquiao represents the Philippines and blows away the field.

Gold: Manny Pacquiao (Philippines) Silver: Juan Manuel Marquez (Mexico) Bronze: Nate Campbell (USA) Bronze: Joel Casamayor (Cuba)

Featherweight (125 pounds)

The Olympic tilt toward lower weights starts here, and medal contenders from the USA and Europe start becoming rare. Israel Vazquez's first tough task is making Team Mexico in a fierce qualifying bout against Rafael Marquez. Once he does, Vazquez takes gold to score vital team points for Mexico in its race for the overall points lead against the United States. Asian fighters start pushing into the picture at this point, as well.

Gold: Israel Vazquez (Mexico) Silver: Chris John (Indonesia) Bronze: Jorge Linares (Venezuela) Bronze: Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Thailand)

Bantamweight (119 pounds)

The USA's Jose Navarro lost in the Olympic quarterfinals in 2000. In these imaginary games, he becomes the lightest qualifier from the States -- and again, he fails to medal. Mexico's Cristian Mijares soars. He defeats Alexander Munoz of Venezuela (a repeat of their May bout), and exposes Japan's Hozumi Hasegawa to win the gold-medal bout. Mexico is making its run.

Gold: Cristian Mijares (Mexico) Silver: Hozumi Hasegawa (Japan) Bronze: A.J. Banal (Philippines) Bronze: Anselmo Moreno (Panama)

Flyweight (112 pounds)

Nonito Donaire also does the Philippines proud, relegating Japan to a silver medal -- again. Argentina gets on the scoreboard, courtesy of an Omar Narvaez bronze. North American teams won't make it to the winners' circle this time around.

Gold: Nonito Donaire (Philippines) Silver: Daisuke Naito (Japan) Bronze: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Thailand) Bronze: Omar Narvaez (Argentina)

Light flyweight (106 pounds)

Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon waves the flag of Puerto Rico to celebrate his gold medal, avenging his early elimination from the 2000 Olympic games.

Gold: Ivan Calderon (Puerto Rico) Silver: Ulises Solis (Mexico) Bronze: Yutaka Niida (Japan) Bronze: Cesar Canchila (Colombia)

Final medal count standings

The British have plenty to be proud of in these fake international games. Haye, Calzaghe and Hatton have made the queen proud, bringing home three gold medals -- more than any other nation. Brilliant! But that's all the side gets. Great Britain finishes third in the world standings. The Philippines, with Pacquiao and Donaire taking gold and Banal winning bronze, finish fourth overall. Japan, on silvers by Naito and Hasegawa and a bronze for Niida, surprises the world by landing fifth overall, edging out Puerto Rico and Ukraine.

It comes down to Mexico versus the United States for the spot as top pro boxing team in the world. The USA medals in every weight division from 132 to 200 -- six in all, with Pavlik's gold at middleweight and Williams' top badge at welterweight leading the way. Mexico makes a strong run behind the fists of medalists Margarito (silver), Juan Manuel Marquez (silver), Vazquez (gold), Mijares (gold) and Ulises Solis (silver). In the end, the USA edges Mexico by one point overall for the world title.

Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.