Manus Boonjumnong in Athens_Getty
Manus Boonjumnong (R) of Thailand and Ionut Gheorge of Romania compete during the men’s boxing 64 kg semifinal bout on August 27, 2004 during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games at Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall in Athens, Greece. Getty Images

The light welterweight from Thailand was breezing through the bouts, handily beating boxers from Greece, Philippines, France and Romania with his superior ring movement and speed.

The final bout was against Yudel Johnson of Cuba. The tiny Carribean nation was the dominant power in boxing at the time. In fact, they entered boxers in all 11 weight classes and medaled in all but two, including 5 golds. Johnson was expected to win, but Boonjumnong raced to an early lead and then boxed defensively to victory and gold.

While the Johnson quickly complained about the refereeing, Boonjumnong took a phone call from the King of Thailand, praising the boxer’s achievement. Holding a picture of King Bhumpibol Adulyadej in one hand and a cell phone in the other, he listened in awe, taking a call he could only dream of. As he said in this AP report, “I fought for my king, who urged me to be strong in my final bout,” Boonjumnong said. “I dedicate the gold medal to my family and to all the people of Thailand. And, of course, to the king of Thailand.”

And with victory comes the spoils. Boonjumnong returned to Thailand a hero, seeing his six-week old son for the first time, aptly named “Athens”. The hero was also awarded 20 million baht in recognition of his gold-medal achievement.

In 2004, 20 million baht was about US$560,000, which in Thailand, still recovering from the Asian Economic Crisis that began in 1997, would have been an extraordinary amount of money, particularly for someone who came from modest means. In Boonjumnong’s case, the money meant freedom to do as he pleased. In short, the Olympian went on a boozing, womanizing and gambling spree that resulted in scandalous headlines, divorce and a return to modest means.

Still in his mid-20s, his supporters thought he had another round of Olympic glory left in him, but the only way they could get him back into a fighting mindset and ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was to show him some tough love. The Thai amateur boxing president through down the gauntlet, put Boonjumnong on a plane with no money in 2005, and sent him to Vietnam to train and get his act together.

Training away from adoring fans in Thailand, and feeling the heat of the competition, many who gathered from all over Asia to train in Vietnam, Boonjumnong began to re-discover his fighting spirit. At the 2006 Asian Games held in Doha, Qatar, took gold as the light welterweight champion.

At the Beijing Games, Thailand had high hopes for two Boonjumnongs, as younger brother Non competed in the welterweight division. Unfortunately, Non, the 2007 world championship silver medalist fell quickly in the competition, leaving the elder brother to restore family and national honor. And gold was within Manus the elder’s reach, as he made his way through Japanese, Kazakhstani, and Cuban rivals. He was not as dominant as in Athens, and fell to an aggressive lefty from the Dominican, Manuel Felix Diaz.

Manus Boonjumnong in Beijing_Getty
Silver medalist Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand, gold medalist Felix Diaz of Dominican Republic and bronze medalists Alexis Vastine of France and Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo of Cuba pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men’s Light Welterweight; Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Bronze, not gold adorned the now aging boxer upon his return to Thailand. Still, no Thai had, or has since, medaled in two different Olympics. As the 2012 Olympic Games, there were rumors that Boonjumnong would go for gold again in London. But at the age of 31, he said that he lost the fire for amateur boxing, and declined to be considered for a third Olympics. And yet, apparently he had enough fire for professional boxing, claiming his party days were long gone, and that he was aiming for champion Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines

Boonjumnong’s supporters got his professional career off to a wining start, ensuring his

Advertisements
Mayweather on his Victory Tour
Floyd Mayweather, Jr on tour with his million dollar watch

On May 2, 2015, Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao fought in a much-anticipated welterweight boxing championship. Mayweather won “The Fight of the Century” in a unanimous decision, which was also the highest grossing pay-per-view fight in history.

Despite the popular view that the match was mediocre in quality, and a letdown from the hype, Mayweather reinforced his reputation as the best “pound-for-pound” boxer in the sport, perhaps in the history of boxing. After all, Mayweather is now 47-0 in his professional boxing career. The last time he did not win a match was at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, when he lost on points to Bulgarian, Serafim Todorov, in a controversial decision that was heavily protested by the US team. He won the bronze in the featherweight class, but ever since, Mayweather has been golden.

Floyd Mayweather and tiger
Floyd Mayweather, Jr with his pet tiger

After the Pacquiao victory, someone must have put it in his head that more glory and riches were waiting for him on the road, not as a boxer, but as a person’s whose presence people felt compelled to be in. Thus was born the “2016 European Victory Tour”. At these events scheduled throughout England in February, Mayweather charged £70 (USD100) for a picture with the champ, and £600 (USD830) for dinner and a chance to listen to a Q&A session with Mayweather. At this talk, you would have heard how he arrived in his own £40 million jet (USD55 million), or seen the USD1 million watch he bought in Dubai.

You can splurge like that, I suppose, if you’ve earned over three quarters of a billions dollars in an undefeated professional boxing career.

The question is, did he really need to go on tour and charge people a hundred bucks for a selfie?

Here are a couple of interesting articles on the Mayweather tour:

Robinson Leonard Ali
Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in 1977. Both Leonard (1976) and Ali (1960), won gold medals in their respective Olympics before going on to glory at the professional ranks.
In 1988, when tennis debuted at the Seoul Olympic Games, allowing professionals to enter the competition, the gold medalist in individual play was Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia. While he defeated Stefan Edberg, whom Mecir had lost to at Wimbledon that year, the Olympic tournament was missing quite a few stars of the time: Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Boris Becker for example. As I understand it, the Olympics provided no ranking points or remuneration so many of the pro stars were not motivated to be an Olympian.

In 1992, when FIBA allowed professionals to participate in the Olympics, many of the teams were transformed with players from the NBA and other international professional leagues excited to be Olympians. With Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird headlining a team of unprecedented talent, Team USA swept through the competition with ease to win gold.

In May, 2016, the International Boxing Organization (IBO) will vote whether to allow professionals to compete in the Olympic Games going forward. Presumably, the reason is the same for every other international sports governing body – the very best in their sport should compete at the Olympics.

So if the IBO gives pro boxers the thumbs up for the Olympics, will the reaction by the pros be like tennis in 1988, or like basketball in 1992?

The Philippines have never won a gold medal in the Olympics. So why not Manny Pacquiao? Even though he was prepared to hang up his gloves after his next fight with Timothy Bradley in April, he has publicly said that he would step up if asked. “It would be my honor to represent the country in the Olympics,” Pacquiao told Agence France-Presse. “If I would be asked to represent boxing, why not? I would do everything for my country.”

manny pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao thinking about Rio.
Will others pros step up into the ring in Rio?

This isn’t clear yet – some will be bothered by the lack of financial incentives, and others may be enticed by the national glory. But one thing is clear – boxing is a brutal sport. And as pointed out in this discussion board devoted to boxing, people don’t just lose in boxing matches…they can get beat up. And if you’re a pro, you’re sacrificing potentially lucrative but limited paydays to possible injury. If you’re an amateur, you may end up getting battered way more than what a fellow amateur could do to you.

What would a blog be without a list! Here is my countdown to the Top Fifteen Sports Stories of 2015. Over the next five days, I will share three stories each day that involved the Olympic Games, Olympians or Olympians to be. Here are number 13 – 15, featuring Mayweather, Rousey and Kobe.

Manny Pacquiao-vs Floyd Mayweather-2015-Fight-of-the-Century

FIFTEEN – Olympian Floyd Mayweather Defeats Manny Pacquiao: In the long-awaited match in May, Mayweather won the welterweight championship fight in a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Mayweather is a bronze medal winning champion at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Ronda Rousey Holly Holm tale of the tape

FOURTEEN – Olympian Judoka Ronda Rousey loses to Holly Holm: In an attempt to defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship, Holm ends Rousey’s streak of 12 victories in a row in November. Rousey won a bronze medal for the United States in judo (-70kg).

Kobe Bryant USA_Basketball_Dunk_Wallpaper_Olympics

THIRTEEN – Two-time Olympian Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement: Bryant won gold with the US Men’s basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.