Top boxing stories to watch in Rio
With the 2016 Rio Games just days away, here are five stories to keep an eye on when boxing competition gets underway.
Can the U.S. men's team end their gold medal drought?
Days 1-16 (Aug. 6-21)
The U.S. men's boxing team has historically been a powerhouse in boxing, but medals have proved elusive in recent years. The team has not won a gold medal since 2004, when Andre Ward accomplished the feat, and in 2012, the team did not earn a medal of any color for the first time. In Rio, the U.S. men will have a boxer in six of the 10 weight classes. The strongest gold medal contender appears to be 19-year-old bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (pictured above in blue), who is undefeated (23-0) in international competition. The team also includes 2015 Pan American Games champion Antonio Vargas at flyweight, as well as light welterweight Gary Russell, light flyweight Nico Hernandez, lightweight Carlos Balderas and middleweight Charles Conwell.
Adams, Taylor return to defend Olympic titles
Days 7-15 (Aug. 12-20)
Women's flyweight (112 lbs), lightweight (132 lbs)
Women's boxing was added to the Olympic program in 2012 and immediately produced some of the most popular stars. Chief among them were Ireland's Katie Taylor, the reigning lightweight gold medalist, and Great Britain's Nicola Adams, the reigning flyweight gold medalist. Both boxers had strong cheering sections due to their fans' proximity to the London Olympics, and both will be favored to defend their Olympic titles in Rio. Adams captured her first world title in May and looks strong, but Taylor has suffered a pair of losses this year (once in a continental qualifier, then in the semifinals of the world championships) since accruing a five-year winning streak.
Claressa Shields favored to repeat as champ
Days 9-16 (Aug. 14-21)
Women's middleweight (75kg/165 lbs)
Claressa Shields already made history in 2012 when she became the first American female to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing. The 21-year-old prodigy nicknamed "T-Rex" could add to that legacy in 2016 by becoming the first American (male or female) to win gold at back-to-back Olympics. Among the boxers in the middleweight field whom she may have to fight is Great Britain's Savannah Marshall, the only woman to win a bout against Shields. Marshall defeated Shields at the 2012 World Championships (which took place shortly before the London Games), but Shields is undefeated in the four years since then and is the odds-on favorite to win in Rio.
Despite new rules, only 3 pros will fight in Rio
The lead-up to the Rio Olympics was filled with speculation about whether or not prominent professional boxers might compete at the tournament. Olympic boxing has traditionally been open only to amateurs, but the sport's governing body made it known that they intended to open it up to pros, and that officially happened in June. While fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Wladimir Klitschko reportedly tossed around the idea at one point, it never really worked out, and many of professional boxing's biggest international organizations threatened sanctions against active pros who participated. In the end, only three pros will be in the field in Rio: light heavyweight Hassan N'Dam of Cameroon, lightweight Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand and Italian lightweight Carmine Tommasone.
Olympic boxing moves closer to pro-style boxing
The International Boxing Association made several changes to Olympic boxing for Rio that have brought the sport closer to pro-style boxing in certain regards. The scoring system has been changed to use the "10-point must system," the system that most boxing viewers are familiar with, rather than the previous scoring system which was based on counting punches. Another notable change is that the men will fight without headgear for the first time in more than 30 years. The AIBA has cited studies claiming that the removal of headgear will lead to a decrease in concussions. It also improves the fighters' peripheral vision, which has led many boxers to praise the move, though the decision has not been unanimously endorsed by the athletes. The main drawback is that fighters will be more prone to cuts. Female boxers will still wear headgear in Rio.