By Ryan Maquiñana
Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich., is the best female amateur middleweight in the world, with an Olympic gold medal around her neck to prove it.
However, despite having already proven her ability on the grandest of stages against full-grown 165-pound adults almost twice her age, the precocious 18-year-old has been barred from competing at the highest level of the sport.
In an attempt to overhaul the amateurs for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) has implemented many changes—including an age requirement that requires a minimum of age of 19 to compete in the Elite (Senior Open) Division.
No exceptions. Not even for Shields, who must now—believe it or not—face likely overmatched, less experienced opponents in the Youth Division at next week’s U.S. National Championships in Spokane, Wash.
When BoxingScene.com asked USA Boxing if a waiver could be obtained for Shields due to her credentials, the answer exposed the needlessly inflexible nature of the new guidelines.
“Yes that is accurate,” public relations director Julie Goldsticker said via email. “USA Boxing does not have the option of bypassing AIBA rules.”
Imagine if a 20-year-old LeBron James had won the NBA Finals as a rookie, but was then forced to go back to dominating college competition the following year. Shields is essentially being forced to do the same thing.
Another questionable decision by AIBA was to remove headgear from all Elite competition involving the men, but not for the women. Combined with their archaic flirtation last year with mandating that female boxers wear skirts during the 2012 Olympics, as well as the scandalous judging in London, and this recent run hasn’t been AIBA’s finest hour.
To be fair, not all of the moves have been bad. For one, the old computer scoring system that generated so much controversy has been thankfully replaced by a pro-style 10-point must system.
But the fact that USA Boxing’s first major tournament of the year could feature some serious mismatches between girls still physically coming of age and a pure knockout machine like Shields makes you wonder if AIBA will consider some common sense.
Raquel Miller, who won silver as a 152-pound welterweight at last year’s World Championships, has ascended to middleweight and will be among the favorites to win the Elite Division gold at Nationals. But much to the 28-year-old competitor’s chagrin, she would rather have to go through Shields to do it.
“Absolutely, I want to fight the best the sport has to offer and get opportunities to challenge myself whenever I can,” said Miller, a San Francisco native who was Shields’s chief sparring partner in London. “I think they should let Claressa fight. I mean, she’s the Olympic champion.”
Emails to AIBA were not immediately returned.
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.