The Commonwealth Games boxing tournament starts on Friday in Birmingham and leads directly to the Paris Olympics in 2024 for all of the English, Welsh and Scottish boxers.
On the Gold Coast four years ago, four of Great Britain’s medal winners from Tokyo, won gold medals; Galal Yafai, Pat McCormack, Frazer Clarke and Lauren Price are now lost to the professional game. The GB boxers are in transition and that is why the Birmingham event is so important. Every single one of England’s boxers from the Gold Coast have now turned professional.
It’s not quite the same for the Indian and the Australian boxing squads. The Indians are now, unofficially and arguably, the best boxing team in the Commonwealth.
There are potential clashes between the English, Welsh and Scottish boxers at various weights that might be seen, by the men and women in charge of selecting the GB team going forward, as box-offs to get the first-choice pick for Paris and the Olympic qualifiers. Trust me, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham are far removed from any version of the friendly games. Please say that fantasy.
So many members of the GB squad have lived and fought alongside each other at their headquarters in Sheffield and on the road in various countries; they are friends, teammates, they share rooms and, in this tournament, they are rivals. It is a bizarre system, brutal to tell the truth.
Perhaps the coldest and craziest clash will be a repeat of this year’s European light-middleweight final when England’s Harris Akbar beat Welshman Garan Croft in Armenia in May; Akbar became only the fourth English boxer since 1961 to win the European amateur boxing title. Two British boxers in the final against each other is quite absurd and highlights the quality of the GB squad system. Garan and Harris start as favorites to win gold. Garan’s twin, Ioan, has a real chance at welterweight; Ioan won a bronze at the European championships.
There will most likely be renewed bitter rivalry in the under 70-kilo category when Rosie Eccles from Wales and Jodie Wilkinson from England clash. Eccles has been in this cruel situation before, and lost a wafer-thin decision to England’s Sandy Ryan four years ago in the final. “It’s been a long, long four years,” admitted Eccles, who should have gone to the Tokyo Olympics but her box-off event was canceled due to Covid restrictions; Eccles waited 16-months in hope that a special box-off event would happen, but in the end, in the very shadow of the Tokyo Olympics, she was denied her chance. She has Paris on her mind and Wilkinson in her way of her. They have shared rooms on trips to fights overseas.
In the middleweight division, England’s Lewis Richardson, a silver medal winner at the European championships in Armenia, will have to beat Scotland’s Sam Hickey again. Hickey lost on points in the semi-final to Richardson at that event; their rivalry will be one of the best fights in the tournament.
There is tradition and home-town pride in the super-heavyweight division; five of the last six champions have been from England and four went on and won Olympic medals. Delicious Orie is England’s number one at the top weight and he fights for the Jewelery Quarter boxing club in Birmingham city centre. He is walking in big boots, following Audley Harrison in 1998, Joe Joyce in 2014 and Clarke four years ago.
“I just want to show that you can achieve it if you believe it,” said Orie. “This is the start for me – I will enjoy every second of it.” Orie has been on a brutal fast-track route since last October with appearances at the world championships and a bronze at the Europeans.
A total of 31 boxers from England, Scotland and Wales will weigh-in this week for the start of the boxing on Friday; they will win a majority of the medals. The real stories are the hidden rivalries, the dreams, the fears and the realization that under a fake banner of friendliness, they are all fighting for their future. It has the local pride that is missing when British boxers meet in distant lands and in silent rings.