LOS ANGELES — Unbeaten light heavyweight Artur Beterbiev is the latest professional boxer to decide he won’t try to win a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The two-time Russian Olympian announced his decision through his Canadian promoter, Yvon Michel, on Wednesday.
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) recently voted to allow professional fighters to compete for spots in the Rio field, but the Olympic sport’s governing body is finding very few interested pros outside of AIBA’s in-house professional competitions.
The Dagestan-born Beterbiev (10-0, 10 KOs) fought as a light heavyweight in Beijing and as a heavyweight in London, losing to the eventual gold medalist each time. He turned pro in 2013 and moved to Montreal.
The 31-year-old Beterbiev strongly considered taking a third Olympic shot, but ultimately decided against it.
“After analyzing all situations, we came to the conclusion that the current situation was not favorable,” Michel said. “The short-term goal for Artur Beterbiev is to become world champion in the pro ranks. He will be back in the ring in September.”
Beterbiev joins a growing list of pros who have decided they won’t crash the Rio Games for numerous reasons. AIBA already has ushered in major changes to the Olympic sport since London by removing the men’s headgear and introducing a pro-style scoring system, but the fighters in Rio apparently will be almost entirely from the Olympic-style sport.
The Rio tournament’s daily weigh-ins, frequent fights and Olympic-style fighting have combined with the short time frame to keep most pros away. What’s more, most national governing bodies, including USA Boxing, already have a set Olympic team, and they’ve declined to change their qualifying rules for Rio.
Several prominent professionals who have already turned down the short-notice opportunity to attempt to qualify include Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir Klitschko, Sergey Kovalev and two-time gold medalists Vasyl Lomachenko and Zou Shiming.
Other pros have yet to declare their intentions, but they’re nearly out of time: More than 200 of the 250 men’s Olympic berths have already been claimed, and only two qualifying tournaments remain. The AIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament begins Thursday in Azerbaijan, and a final qualifier for AIBA’s own professional boxers is in Venezuela in July.
Britain’s Amir Khan initially expressed interest in fighting for his ancestral Pakistan, but the Athens silver medalist was knocked out by Canelo Alvarez last month, likely making his medical eligibility problematic. Press Association reported Wednesday that Khan has decided against pursuing a Rio spot, which could have led to a two-year suspension by the WBC, the sanctioning body that has outspokenly criticized AIBA’s pro ambitions.
Boxing Canada President Pat Fiacco has said his team will attempt to send pros to the Venezuela qualifying tournament. Other nations without full teams are likely to do the same, but those pros are unlikely to be prominent prizefighters.
The Rio decision was AIBA’s latest attempt to bring boxing onto the level of most Olympic sports, in which pros already compete, while creating a more attractive television product.
While most professional fighters apparently aren’t interested in Rio, Lomachenko and others believe the field for the 2020 Games in Tokyo will be studded with older professional fighters.
AIBA already pays many fighters through its World Series of Boxing and APB fighting series, but most are from nations without an established professional boxing structure.