Is ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson hurting the U.S. Olympic boxing team?

Kevin Iole
Boxing Experts Blog

If Team USA doesn't perform well in boxing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson might have to take some of the blame.

That, at least, is the opinion of USA Boxing president Dr. Charles Butler, who released an open letter to Tyson today after Tyson's company, Iron Mike Promotions, signed touted amateur Erickson Lubin to a promotional deal on Tuesday, his 18th birthday. The company also signed 6-foot-1 Puerto Rican featherweight Dennis Galarza.

Lubin announced the signing on his Twitter page early Wednesday. He wrote, "Officially signed to Iron Mike Promotions, my pro career starts now," and released a photo of himself.

That prompted a lengthy missive from Butler, whose task it is to turn around the fortunes of the country's moribund Olympic program. In the last three Olympics, the U.S. team has won a combined three medals. In 2004, Andre Ward won a gold and Andre Dirrell took a bronze. In 2008, Deontay Wilder won a bronze, and the 2012 team was blanked. Claressa Shields won a gold in 2012 in the inaugural women's Olympic tournament.

Lubin was competing at light welterweight for USA Boxing and was a highly regarded prospect who won the 2012 National Police Athletic League title in his weight class. The national PALs are one of the top events of the year in amateur boxing.

In February, not only did Lubin win gold at the Independence Cup in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, but he also defeated 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Yasniel Toledo Lopez of Cuba in the semifinals.

The U.S. needs all of the top-rated amateurs it can get, and its 2016 chances are diminished by not having Lubin around.

In his letter to Tyson, published on Team and released to the media, Butler referred to Lubin as "our best hope."

Iron Mike Productions is offering money to our best athletes to turn “professional”. Many of these youngsters are living in poverty. These young boxers are foregoing their Olympic hopes and the hopes of our nation in exchange for a professional boxing contract now. You are offering these athletes pennies on the dollar of what they could be worth with an Olympic medal, or even potentially just being an Olympian. You are also undermining the next United States Olympic Boxing Team in the process.

Mike, USA Boxing does not have the funds to compete with your offers. If you have money and would like to assist these young athletes and the sport, you should donate for athlete stipends to support the training of these boxers and help your country regain its prominence on the medal stand. Please do not take them from us. If they win a medal for their country, you can always sign them to professional contracts at that time.

We have heard that you were waiting for early October so that our best hope, a 17-year-old athlete, can turn 18 and be of age to sign a contract with you. We have offered him a spot in our resident program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center where he can train in a safe environment and we can provide for his education. The facilities and support services at the Olympic Training Center are unmatched and would benefit him and his future in boxing greatly.

Tyson couldn't be reached for comment and a Tyson spokeswoman declined comment. Henry Rivalta of Rivalta Management, which works closely with Iron Mike Promotions, had harsh words for Butler. He said the company did not approach either fighter and that the boxers and their families made the first contact.

"[Butler] shouldn't be writing a letter to Mike Tyson telling him what to do or what not to do," Rivalta said. "Mike is not trying to hurt the Olympic team. He loves Team USA, as we all do, and he wants them to win the gold all the time. And he's not trying to tell these kids what they should do, but it's up to them and their parents to make those decisions, not [Butler], with all due respect to him.

"There are high school kids every year who are drafted in baseball. They sign and go pro right away and they go to A ball. Some of them move up, to Double A and then Triple A and then the majors, but a lot of them fizzle out and don't make it. Nobody has a problem with that. They're young athletes with a dream, just like these kids are."

Rivalta raved about both fighters and said he believes Lubin will be a star. They will make their professional debuts on Nov. 15 at the Seminole Hard Rock in Sunrise, Fla., he said.

"I've been in boxing for 14 years and this is the best kid I've ever seen," Rivalta said.

Lubin's signing, and the signing last month by DiBella Entertainment of Junior "Sugar Boy" Younan, a 17-year-old prodigy. Younan won an enormous amount of amateur titles, including two national Junior Golden Gloves titles and three national PAL championships.

It's a calculated risk on the part of both the fighters and the promoters who signs them before they compete in the Olympics. At 17 and 18, few are physically mature enough to succeed as pros, and they face a higher than usual risk of burnout. Additionally, their marketability would be greatly enhanced by an elite performance in the Olympics on the world's biggest stage. But many fighters have turned pro early and succeeded, with a notable example recently being Canelo Alvarez, who turned pro at 15.

But if either or both turn out to be pro stars, the choice will likely turn out to be the right one for them.

Still, if Team USA slogs its way through the 2016 Games without another boxing medal, Tyson is going to get some of the blame, particularly if Lubin goes on to do big things.

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