By Matt Bevan (@MBevs68)
Next Thursday marks the beginning of the Olympic qualifying process for the GB fighters, as the World Series of Boxing returns to these shores at the York Hall.
The British Lionhearts franchise has once again been launched in the UK, as the top amateur boxers from England, Scotland and Wales aim to secure their places on the plane to Rio for next summer’s Olympic Games.
The WSB has grown in stature each year it has taken place and now entering its fifth season, the significance of the competition has grown from a straight forward international team competition, to a genuine Olympic qualifier.
Two places will be on offer to the top two ranked boxers at the end of the season in all 10 weights, with the two lucky fighters that clinch those places immediately safe in the knowledge they will be in Rio, but also knowing they will be one of the clear cut favourites for a medal at the most prestigious boxing tournament.
Last time the Lionhearts competed in the WSB, they were eliminated at the quarter final stage by the Mexico Guerreros, who they will once again come head-to-head with, both home and away in the group stage.
In all they will have at least 14 fixtures home and away, each week from next Thursday right up to the end of April, before the top four will go into the knockout stages, until an outright winner is named in June.
The Lionhearts will not only face Mexico, but have the daunting prospect of taking on reigning Champions, the Cuba Domodores, as well as WSB regulars the Russian Boxing Team and the Ukraine Otamans.
Rounding off the group are the Algeria Desert Hawks, the Morocco Atlas Lions and finally the China Dragons, who they will begin their campaign against at the York Hall next Thursday.
It is a competition that is filling the GB squad with plenty of excitement, especially with the added incentive of Olympic qualification places on the line, as well as national pride and the honour of representing your country.
The Lionhearts can boast a strong squad that includes recent Commonwealth Games gold medallists Antony Fowler, Joe Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald, but also Qais Ashfaq and Sam Maxwell, who both also medalled in Glasgow.
Young prospect Jack Bateson will be looking to help his ever-growing reputation build further still, whilst Andrew Selby returns to a format he has excelled at in the past and put his Commonwealth woe’s firmly behind him.
Fowler said: “I think that the five round format of the WSB is made for me, as I always finish my fights strongly and I punch very hard, so the longer any fight goes, the better the chance of me getting that all important victory. We’re in a very tough group with the likes of Cuba, Russia and Ukraine, so there won’t be any easy fights, but I’m ready for each and every one of them.”
Maxwell added: “The Olympic qualifying places are a huge incentive for all of us and I feel that I’m one of the favourites at my weight which is a big motivation for me. I’m in the top 20 or so in the world, so if I want to be in the big tournaments, I have to go out and win these fights, so I’m looking forward to being able to showcase my skills to everybody.”
Selby concluded: “I think the WSB brings the best out of me. Five rounds is better for me, because I don’t think three rounds is enough for me to think what I’m doing. But I’ve done well in the WSB in the past and I’m going in with an undefeated record of 9-0 which I’m looking to preserve.
“You have to finish ranked either one or two in the world at the end of the season to secure your place in Rio next year, which for me is the hard part because once you actually get out to the Olympics it is all on the draw to see who you are going to fight and hopefully at the end of it you pick up a medal.”
This is sure to be a tremendous tournament and a brilliant showcase for the top amateur boxers in the UK. They will open their campaign at the York Hall in London, but there is hope to move fixtures to different parts of the country to boost its profile and gain the fighters more exposure.
The WSB will also provide fight fans with their first opportunity to see many of the fighters who will be hoping to claim the coveted Great Britain vest and represent the whole country at the Olympic Games in Rio next summer.by