(ATR) Boxers danced, dodged and jabbed as International Boxing Association (AIBA) president Ching-Kuo Wu suggested that the sport is primed for a renaissance.
Wu said he believes the sport could return to the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s, when dominant, charismatic and engaging fighters like Muhammad Ali and Teofilo Stevenson captured the imagination of the sporting world.
“I want to really bring back the ‘golden age’ of boxing,” Wu told Around the Rings
during an interview at the Crystal Palace boxing venue in Baku. “During the '70s with Muhammad Ali, boxing was number one in the world.
Boxing president C.K. Wu (ATR)
“There were so many brilliant stars during that era and I want to bring back this golden age to make people in boxing very proud of this sport.”
Wu believes that the 12-day competition at the European Games in Baku – with the home nation Azerbaijan comprised of a deep and capable contingent of fighters and Olympic medalists and world champions from other nations in the field – can grab headlines here at the inaugural European Games in Baku.
“Azerbaijan has a long tradition in boxing and it is one of the most popular sports in the country,” Wu said. “You can see it at the venue – there are so many fans coming to support it with all its history. We have a very high level of competition here.
“Like other martial arts sports here, we have a good opportunity to promote boxing at these Games.”
A total of 220 men and 66 women will compete across 15 weight classes in Baku, five of which are dedicated to women. Having made their Olympic debut in London 2012, women will box in three classes at the 2016 Rio Games.
“We just finished the world youth women’s championships in Taipei in my country and the level of competition you couldn’t believe – sometimes even stronger than the men,” Wu said. “Women’s boxing is now very popular everywhere in the world, and you will also see it here in Baku.
“Now, I have the pleasure of trying to get more categories into the Olympic Games,” he said. “The growth since London is very promising.”
Next summer’s Rio Olympics will mark another milestone for AIBA as professional fighters will be eligible to compete at the Games for the first time. In order to do so, they’ll need to qualify through the World Series of Boxing and AIBA professional boxing, associations created and developed by Wu in recent years.
“It is the first time ever in the history of Olympic Games,” Wu said of the professional boxers inclusion. “IOC accepted the proposal from AIBA, taking the best qualified boxers from the APB and WSB.
“It will be absolutely new.”
Wu is excited for Olympic boxing at Riocentro next year. (Getty Images)
Wu said he is more than satisfied with preparations for 2016, where boxing will be staged at the Riocentro venue in the Barra cluster.
“I have visited Rio regularly and boxing is a very popular sport in Brazil also,” said Wu, a member of the Rio 2016 evaluation commission. “Like here, we will have a venue with an overlay concept to save money.
“Everything in my mind is in good order so we are looking forward to the Rio Games.”
As the 69-year-old Taiwanese boxing leader and IOC executive board continues to try and develop his four-year plan, he emphasizes that attracting more women and youth to the sport is essential for its long-term success.
Wu’s vision for growth also includes expanded worldwide television coverage and exposure. He seeks to develop the sport, which was contested as part of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece in new, non-traditional, untapped markets.
Assisting Wu in pursuing these ambitious goals is new executive director Karim Bouzidi, who was promoted to the position last week following the dismissal of Ho Kim, the result of a revolt by AIBA staff members.
Next year will mark the 10-year anniversary of Wu as AIBA president. When the longstanding IOC Executive Board member from Taiwan eventually steps down, he aims to leave his future predecessor in a better position than when he began.
“I don’t want to see endless terms for one person, I’d like to see more younger people come up, and I will concentrate on these reforms,” Wu said. “With my term as AIBA president, I just want to lay the good changes accepted by every national federation.
“It will increase the athletes’ possibilities in the Olympic Games.”
Albanian Boxer Suspended for Doping
Rexhildo Zeneli of Albania has been found to have committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under EOC Anti-Doping Rules and has been suspended from participation at the Baku European Games.
Boxers from Ireland and Croatia square off at Crystal Hall on Wednesday. (Getty Images)
Zeneli provided a urine sample on June 13 in association with his participation in Baku, as part of the EOC’s out-of-competition testing program. The sample was sent to the WADA-accredited laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, for analysis, where it was found to contain the prohibited substance furosemide.
The EOC issued the announcement on Wednesday, June 17, prior to Zeneli’s first match. It is the first doping violation at the inaugural European Games.
Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Brit
Chants of "Ali, Ali, Ali," reverberated throughout Crystal Hall when the British boxer of the same name as the U.S. legend fought on Tuesday.
Muhammad Ali, the 2014 World Youth Championships Flyweight bronze medalist, was a convincing winner over Moldova’s Alexander Riscan.
To no great surprise, the two-time Olympian can’t escape from being asked about his legendary namesake who won Olympic gold in Rome 1960 and declared himself “The Greatest.”
“He was a great guy – not just as a fighter, but as a human being,” the young Ali said. “He stood up for what he believed in.”
Regarding why he was named after the legendary fighter, Ali says: “You’ll have to ask my dad that.”
Written by Brian Pinelli in Baku
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