USA Boxing’s reigning World champions – Maryland featherweight Jahmal Harvey, Massachusetts lightweight Rashida Ellis and Nevada light heavyweight Rahim Gonzales – have all decided, albeit for different reasons, to remain elite Olympic-style amateur boxers rather than join the professional ranks.
Harvey is following his dream, Ellis taking care of unfinished business, and Gonzales has proven to be a model of perseverance.
“With three world champions currently on the team, USA Boxing is in a great position on the road to Paris 2024,” commented Matt Johnson, USA Boxing’s High Performance Team Director. “We have a nice blend of boxers, such as Rashida and Rahim, who bring years of experience to the table having been on the team throughout the previous quad. When you combine that with the younger talent of someone like Jahmal, it makes for a very well-balanced squad with several leaders that can show what it takes to be a world class boxer.”
Today, more than ever, elite boxers are remaining amateurs because of the USA Boxing program. American boxers receive room and board on the USA Boxing campus in Colorado Springs, Colo., where they train at the state-of-the art United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, under the guidance of a world-class coaching staff led by Billy Walsh. The athletes also have a strength-and-conditioning coach, nutritionist, and even a publicist. In addition, they receive a comfortable monthly stipend, and some international events now offer purses for the top three finishers, up to $100,000 to the winners of the World Championships.
Like many boxing teams from foreign countries, USA Boxing now provides all the incentives for boxers to remain and continue developing, rather than turning pro simply for money to pay the bills.
Harvey, 19, has been tabbed by many as America’s next great boxer. He became the first American gold medalist at the World Championships since Demetrious Andrade in 2007. Last November in Serbia, Harvey shutout 2020 Kazakhstan Olympian Serik Temirzanov, 5-0, in the championship final.
“It was great preparation for me in Paris in 2024,” Harvey spoke about his invaluable experience gained at those World Championships. “I was away from home for the first time, two months. I fought in an arena, had a walkout, and fought for the first time without headgear. I think that makes you more defensively sound, because you can see punches coming from your peripheral. All the media attention I received there and afterwards will make me better, too.”
Harvey, of Oxon Hill, Md., had an opportunity to go pro, of course, and receive a lucrative signing bonus, but he is following his dream to be the first American male to capture a gold medal in Olympic boxing since Andre Ward in 2004.
“I really want to be an Olympic gold medalist and build my resume,” Harvey explained. “It (Olympics) happens every four years. I’ll probably turn pro after 2024; I’m not sure about 2028, if there’s Olympic boxing, but it would be at home in America (Los Angeles), so I could be persuaded to stay for another cycle.
“It’s always about money. I’m living a stable life right now, but I want to work on my legacy. Getting a name before I turn pro (by winning Olympic gold) with my resume, I’ll make even more when I turn pro and be able to retire faster. I’ll probably fight at 126-130 as a professional.”
Often compared to Terence “Bud” Crawford and the late Aaron Pryor, Harvey figures the top contenders in his weight class for the 2024 Olympics is from the same group he’s fought at the World Championships or the 2022 AMBC Elite (Continentals): Gabriel do Nascimento (Brazil), who defeated (4-1) Harvey (had won first two matches vs. Nascimiento) in the championship final of the 2022 AMBC Elite Tournament, 2020 Olympic No. 1 seed Mirazizbek Mirzakalilov (Uzbekistan), and the silver and bronze medals winners at last year’s Worlds, respectively, Temirzanov (Kazakhstan) and Samuel Kistohuray (France).
Ellis, 27, is the product of a fightin’ family in Lynn, Massachusetts. Her brothers, undefeated welterweight Rashidi (24-0, 15 KOs) and super middleweight Ronald (18-3-2, 12 KOs), are successful pro boxers.
Unlike most of her 2020 USA Olympic Boxing Team members, Rashida decided almost immediately after she suffered a questionable loss in the opening round of the Olympics in Tokyo, to go for gold in Paris.
She became the first female American boxer to win a gold medal in an Olympic weight class at this past May’s World Championships in Turkey since the great Claressa Shields in 2016, taking a 3-2 decision from her arch-rival, Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira, who recently defeated Ellis, 4-1, at the 2022 AMBC Elite Tournament in March.
“I feel like I deserved it because I’ve been doing this a while and had suffered a few upsets in finals,” Ellis talked about her gold medal performance in Turkey. “I fought my game, using my experience, and I was more confident. I knew from the jump I was going to win the Worlds. She (Ferreira) is my rival, and we knew we’d be there at the end. I boxed and moved, she likes to get you on the ropes and man-handle you. When you box and move, she’s in trouble because she’s flat-footed, and then she gets frustrated. Everybody there knew I had won because I had landed more punches.
“The Worlds was an opportunity to see who is in our division. I knew it would be me and her. Unless something shocking happens, it’ll be me and her for the Olympic gold in Paris.”
Ellis has been fighting for 16 years and she could have turned pro after her disappointing finish in Tokyo. She figured that her resume will be even more impressive in 4 years, especially if she’s wearing an Olympic gold medal, and the timing to go pro wasn’t right for her.
“Honestly, after the Olympics, I made a decision to stay an amateur, because I’m going to get that gold in Paris,” Ellis added. “Today, women boxers are making that much money as pros. Instead of turning pro and fighting a few times a year, I figured 4 more years in the amateurs, and I will have a better resume to jump to the pros. It will change my life. I’ll need to get a good manager when I turn pro and probably move to California, where a lot of the top boxers are. I can’t wait to go to Paris! I’ve never been. If we don’t get a chance to see enough there, I’ll stay a few extra days to enjoy Paris.”
A resident of the boxing capital of the world, Las Vegas, the 26-year-old Gonzales is the lone American to win gold medals at last year’s World Championships and the 2022 AMBC Elite Tournament in Ecuador. He edged Aliaksei Alfiorau (Bulgaria), 3-2, at the World Championships, 4-1 over Isais Ribeiro (Brazil) at AMBC Elite.
“It (winning a gold medal) was really great because I went through a lot with COVID and not competing in the (2020) Olympics,” Gonzales commented. “I went to the World Championships to compete, experience the Worlds, and then go pro. I never thought I’d win and just wanted to put it on my resume. To win it all was a dream come true. Something in my gut said, don’t let there be any regrets if I turned pro.
“The main reason I started boxing was to be an Olympian. I figured that, if I won the Worlds, I could do it at the Olympics. I’m more confident after those championships and I learned how to get the job done. If I can work hard, I can do it; I know what to do. I’ve now fought under the bright lights and go the job done. When I do go pro, I’ll be 28, but I won’t need a lot of fights. I think I can start at 8 or 10 round fights and go for a title early. I’m fighting pros now. A lot of fighters from overseas, especially in Europe, are already pros.”
Gonzales is a grinder who has overcome several disappointments that would have derailed other boxers who would have already turned pro.
“The first time (he could have been an Olympian),” Gonzales remarked, “I wasn’t focused enough or as focused as I am now or in 2020. I was just 19. The second time (2020 Tokyo), I won the Olympic Trials, but I didn’t have enough international points, and the Qualifiers were canceled because of COVID. We couldn’t leave the country to compete because the United States was in a red zone. And my father made me take courses (instead of competing in other tournaments to earn points). He did motivate me for the World Championships, saying: ‘When you lose what’s the excuse?’ It took me a while to understand, I took it personally wondering why he’s said that to me. But it was like a metaphor…..I figured it out that he was really saying don’t let there be any excuses.
“Right now, I’m training at evaluation camp to be on Team USA in 2023. If I can win the Worlds (2022) and Pan American Games, maybe a few other international matches, I’ll have enough points to qualify for the Olympics (2024 in Paris). Everybody is good at this level, and I have a target on me because I’m number 1. Now, I have to remain number 1.”
The easy move for any one of these gifted boxers would have been turning pro, grabbing a signing bonus, and fighting tomato cans for a couple of years to build their records.
Harvey, Ellis, and Gonzales, though, have taken the advantages offered by USA Boxing, accepting the challenge to remain in Olympic-style boxing, benefit from fighting opponents from around the world against their diverse styles, and eventually jewelry shopping in Paris for gold.
Two of USA Boxing’s “Terrific Trio” are scheduled to compete in the USA Boxing International Invitationals starting today (September 12-15) at Pueblo Convention Center in Pueblo, Colorado. Top elite boxers will compete from 6 different countries including the United States, China, Germany, and Philippines, featuring Olympians and World Championship medalists.