Rio Olympics 2016: Should Team GB's boxers turn pro?

Nicola Adams, Joshua Buatsi and Joe Joyce
Nicola Adams, Joshua Buatsi and Joe Joyce have all come away from Rio with Olympic medals

Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Gennady Golovkin and even the great Muhammad Ali used the Olympic Games as a springboard for boxing superstardom.

Glory and grounding. Fight for medals, learn your craft. The stage marries pressure of the here and now with a gateway to a professional future.

British fighters know the pathway only too well - consider 2008 Olympians James DeGale and Billy Joe Saunders, both now professional world champions.

The latest off that conveyor belt, IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, thinks Britain has a "unique" fighter waiting to make the transition to the pro ranks.

Here, with the help of Joshua, former Olympic bronze medallist and WBC super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall, and BBC Radio 5 live pundit Steve Bunce, we take a look at the decisions facing Great Britain's 2016 Olympians.

A professional artist

Super-heavyweight Joe Joyce will leave the comforts of the state-of-the-art British Boxing training base in Sheffield as an Olympic silver medallist, braced for life as a pro, dreaming of emulating the success of previous gold medal winners in his weight class Wladimir Klitschko, Lennox Lewis and Joshua himself.

"Joe Joyce is unique," says Joshua of the fighter who holds a degree in fine arts.

"He's very intelligent, he's experienced different things, you can see he is a really solid athlete. He has got people eating out of his hand. He has so much energy."

Anthony Joshua celebrates becoming world heavyweight champion
Anthony Joshua beat Charles Martin in April to become world heavyweight champion

Joyce, 30, is quietly spoken to the cameras but ultra-confident in the ring. A competitive swagger perhaps supported by 2014 Commonwealth Games gold and European Games gold in 2015.

He didn't start boxing until he was 22, following a chance introduction to the sport while at university. He is also a part-time model and unsuccessfully auditioned for a role in the James Bond film, Spectre.

"He is most suited to turn pro out of the 12 in the GB squad at this time," says Woodhall, who turned pro after the Commonwealth Games in 1990. "At his age, his engine is more developed. I say that from my own experience as I recall how I felt at say 22 compared to when I was Joe's age. My fitness was more developed for the 12 rounds."

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Why the rush?

Joyce is the oldest male fighter in the British squad. Time is of the essence if he is to attain the Las Vegas dreams those in the fight game seem to universally harbour.

The pro move fascinates, we seem to obsess over it. At virtually every news conference in Rio came the question "will you now turn pro?"

In June, the contentious decision was made to allow professionals to compete. However, it is not as simple as it may seem with the IBF stating in advance of the Rio Games that any boxer competing in Brazil would be stripped of their title.

The IBF claimed it was a safety risk for professionals to face amateurs.

"If I'm to be perfectly honest, I don't think there's anyone apart from Joyce that's ready for the pro game because they are all very young," added Woodhall, who works with GB's amateurs twice a week.

Luke Campbell and Anthony Ogogo
Great Britain won five boxing medals at London 2012 and three in Rio

"The more international experience you have in amateur or Olympic boxing, the better you are prepared for the pro game because you are experiencing so many styles of fighter. Too many of our amateurs turn pro far too soon."

Six of the seven male British fighters from London 2012 have now had a pro bout. Britain's Rio 2016 elite were a fresh crop, delivering three medals as a squad, while Cuba led the way in the ring with six.

"The Cubans, the Kazakhs, the Russians, the Ukrainians, they all keep their guys from four years ago," said Bunce. "It's quite absurd. If only we could keep ours, persuade them not to go chasing the money, the money will be there [in the future]."

Is it worth turning?

Promoters may promise big fights, big cheques, progression to domestic and world titles, yada, yada. The amateur game can sometimes be painted as a poor relation, not the sacred test many would argue it is.

A Team GB fighter can earn up to £28,000 a year in basic funding. They can have food, physio and costs of living four days a week in camp covered, while training at a centre often visited by rival nations on research missions, such is its standing.

"When you turn pro you're funding yourself, you become your own boss," added Joshua, gold medallist at London 2012.

Luke Campbell takes a punch to the face from French boxer Yvan Mendy in December 2015
Luke Campbell lost the WBC International Lightweight Championship against French boxer Yvan Mendy in December 2015

"You have to find a nutritionist, a physio, training grounds and it all comes at a cost. You have to look at the whole idea of being left to your own devices and finding good people to work with.

"You have to look at the system that made you successful and try to use it as a professional."

Life on the other side offers an allure often too strong to resist, but there can be struggles. Audley Harrison - Olympic super heavyweight champion in 2000 - found pro life tough, Luke Campbell has tasted defeat in the paid ranks. Gold medals do not stop punches.

But Joshua's 30-month march from pro debut to heavyweight champion provides hope of glorious transition. He remains the only class of 2012 fighter to even contest a world title. Will the bright lights among which he now lives come calling for the 2016 team?

Bigging up Buatsi

"He's made for the pro game," says Bunce of Joshua Buatsi, a bronze medallist at light heavyweight in Rio.

Buatsi - still only 23 - displayed knockout power in Brazil. The St Mary's University student showed desire for a finish rather that the point-snatching style which historically shines in Olympic boxing.

"He fights like a pro," Bunce added. "These Olympics have been more pro minded than any Olympics since 1980. These guys are having rows. The new scoring system means a return to old style blood, guts and thunder Olympic boxing which anyone above the age of 35 will remember falling in love with when they were younger."

Buatsi could fall in love with offers from promoters post-Rio, although Joyce is still the only GB fighter to state he will certainly go over.

Woodhall hopes for an amateur stay for the Ghana-born fighter, who claims Floyd Mayweather said he was "a future world champion" during a chance meeting in Rio.

"To win bronze here with the international experience he has had which is very little, then another four years into Joshua Buatsi and you'd probably see him winning gold," added Woodhall.

A golden era

So have we seen our Anthony Joshua moment at Rio 2016? Have we seen a star born?

The desire is there but how greedy are we? Great Britain is home to 14 world champions. British Boxing did not choose 12 fighters to go to Rio, they delivered 12 for a maximum of 13 spaces in tough qualifying. These are heady times.

Nicola Adams did what Nicola Adams does to take gold and eight of the 10 male fighters in Brazil were under the age of 25.

"We hit our medal target and should retain our funding," added Woodhall. "There's more to come from this team. I'm pretty sure we will win more than three medals in Tokyo."

How Team GB's boxers have got on at the Rio Olympics
Light flyweight: Galal YafaiLast-16
Flyweight: Muhammad AliLast-16
Bantamweight: Qais AshfaqLast-32
Lightweight: Joe CordinaLast-16
Light welterweight: Pat McCormackLast-16
Welterweight: Josh KellyLast-16
Middleweight: Anthony FowlerLast-32
Light-heavyweight: Joshua BuatsiBronze
Heavyweight: Lawrence OkolieLast-16
Super heavyweight: Joe JoyceSilver
Women's flyweight: Nicola AdamsGold
Women's middleweight: Savannah MarshallLast-eight

Joshua added: "I think the guys that didn't manage to medal gained valuable experience and if they stay on until Tokyo we will see these guys shine."

It may hurt British Boxing bosses a little to see only Adams, Buatsi, Joyce and Savannah Marshall progress past the last-16 stage, but young fighters will "develop power and learn from mistakes" as their journey progresses, according to Joshua.

So switch now, or soak up more knowledge?

Bunce added: "All 10 of the men will win British titles. As many as six or seven will end up winning a version of the world title."

That's expectation and with it comes pressure. We wait to see if anyone can reach greatness from boxing's Olympic springboard.

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