WSB offers boxers salary, Olympic shot
Two-time Olympian Rau'shee Warren has been torn between cash and country since a demoralizing defeat at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Turning pro offered the prospects of a lucrative payday.
Just as attractive, though, was attempting to earn a spot for the 2012 London Games, which would make Warren the first three-time Olympian in U.S. boxing history.
Dollars or distinction?
So when a chance came along to pursue both, Warren jumped on board.
Warren is one of a handful of U.S. boxers who have agreed to participate in the World Series of Boxing (WSB), a newly formed league set to start in November that allows fighters to compete in a modified pro setup and still maintain their Olympic eligibility.
Initiated by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the team-oriented competition featuring five weight divisions is a way to bridge the gap between Olympic boxing and the pro ranks.
This will definitely have a pro feel, too - no headgear will be used, bouts will consist of five 3-minute rounds and scored according to the 10-point ''must'' system.
Even more, this is a paying gig. Maybe not as much as a pay-per-view title bout, but lucrative nonetheless with salaries ranging from between $25,000 and a ceiling of around $300,000 per year. A fighter can also earn an extra $5,000 per win during the 12-match schedule. There will also be a playoff to crown a winner.
If that wasn't incentive enough, the five individual weight champions from the inaugural season will earn berths to the Olympics.
''It's great, because they're saying boxing is losing a lot of fans,'' said Warren, who's taking part in the USA boxing national championships this week in Colorado Springs. ''Once fans see this, they might step back into boxing. Nobody's fighting bums - there are a lot of people fighting world champions.''
Warren will be bringing his potent punches to a team based in Los Angeles. There are also squads in Boston, Miami and Mexico City, along with franchises scattered throughout Europe and Asia.
''This is such a win-win situation for everybody,'' said Ivan Khodabakhsh, the chief operating officer for the Switzerland-based WSB. ''It will inspire athletes to come into boxing.''
As fate would have it, one of Warren's teammates will be South Korea's Lee Ok-sung, the boxer who stunned Warren with a 9-8 win in Beijing.
''We can't fight each other because we're on the same team,'' said Warren, smiling. ''But there's going to be a lot of sparring.''
Other U.S. fighters scheduled to take part in the WSB include 2009 light heavyweight national champion Robert Brant and Olympian Raynell Williams, who will both box for Boston. Sijuola Shabazz (Miami) and Javier Torres (Los Angeles) also will participate.
All but Williams were on hand this week for U.S. nationals, even if this summer's event is pretty much for bragging rights since it doesn't go toward selecting the Olympic team.
''I wouldn't miss this for the world,'' said the 19-year-old Brant, who's from St. Paul, Minn. ''I love the title of being the No. 1 in the nation.''
Warren has been able to boast about being No. 1 in the nation quite a bit - except for last summer.
A three-time national champion, Warren dropped a close decision to Jesus Magdaleno in the semifinals in 2009, prompting Warren to storm out of the ring and proclaim, ''I can't go through this no more.''
Time has healed those feelings of frustration.
''I always learn something from my fights,'' said Warren, who's from Cincinnati.
The lesson from that one?
''Have to do more,'' he insisted.
It's all part of Warren's evolution as a fighter, a career filled with highs ('07 world champion) and lows (stinging Olympic losses).
Warren was the youngest male Olympian in any sport at the 2004 Athens Games, where the 17-year-old dropped his opening bout.
Then came the heartbreaking loss to Lee in Beijing. Thinking he was up a point, Warren danced around in the waning seconds.
Only he wasn't up, and broke into tears after the bout.
Warren said the Olympic experiences will serve him well should he make the team for London.
''First time, I needed experience,'' Warren said. ''Second time, I relied on the judges, left the fight in the ring.
''This time, I've got to take over.''
That's why he's been intensely training in the gym, adding power to his furious jabs.
He also has a little training buddy, his 2 1/2-year-old son, Rau'shee Warren Jr., following him around, mimicking his every move. The youngster frequently slips on gloves and saunters over to the punching bag.
''He likes to set up the jab,'' Warren said with pride. ''It's in him already.''