A 'glamorous' rescue mission

Clemente Russo, Italy's 2008 Olympic heavyweight silver medallist, is the biggest name in the Milano Thunder franchise which will battle it out with teams such as the Beijing Dragons and the Miami Gallos.

The worldwide tournament, which starts on Nov 19 and runs until the finals in Macau in May next year, blurs the lines between amateur and professional boxing. Fighters will be paid and headguards have been dropped.

With professional boxing struggling for media exposure given the dominance of the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Vladimir, and lack of drama, Russo believes the World Series could be the next big thing.

“So many good boxers in Italy and abroad, don't become professional, there's not so much money around these days. This could be a good launchpad towards professionalism,” Russo said at Milano Thunder's glitzy gym.

“Who knows, maybe within two years all the teams will have become professional.”
Russo will use the World Series of Boxing as qualification and preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. After that, the option of turning properly professional and maybe taking on a Klitschko remains.

“After London we'll see, it could even be the time to stop at 30 years old. But I always have my ears open to every proposal,” added the 2007 world amateur champion, donning a silky, dark blue Milano Thunder dressing-gown.

The idea of a World Series franchise team event, packed with razzmatazz and fun team names in imitation of North America's National Football League (NFL), was born two years ago and now 12 city teams are lined up in three continental conferences.  “We have realised a dream,” Italian boxing federation president and amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) executive committee member Franco Falcinelli told Reuters.

Teams in each conference play each other twice at home and twice away during the regular season with points awarded for bouts won. Istanbulls, Paris United and Kremlin Bears join Milano Thunder in the European conference while Astana Arlans, Delhi and Baku Fires compete with the Beijing Dragons in Asia.

The Miami Gallos are set to face so far unnamed teams from Mexico City, Memphis and Los Angeles in the Americas with the top team from each conference plus the best second-placed franchise making the finals where individual awards also await.
To make the tournament even more global, teams must field between three and six fighters who are not from their home nation or any other franchise country in their squads of 10-20 boxers.

Milano, who will box in an 8,000-capacity arena, boast Ukrainians, Croatians, a Montenegrin, a Latvian, the enormous Benjey Zimmerman from the Dutch Antilles and Mongolian lightweight Enkhzorig Zorigbaatar.

Finding interested broadcasters has been one challenge while Italy's super heavyweight Olympic champion Roberto Cammarelle is not involved. Teething problems do not worry Russo, a policeman by trade. “The doubts come from the fact that it's a totally new project,” he said.

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