Keighley teenage starlet Muhammad Ali is “stuck in limbo” because of new amateur boxing rules, according to coach Mike Jelley.
Ali bagged his seventh national title at the weekend when he won the 52kg final at the England Youth Championships.
He has been picked for England to box in the Three Nations against Scotland and Wales – with a place in June’s World Youth Championships in Bulgaria up for grabs.
But Jelley, the man who discovered and developed Amir Khan, fears Ali’s progress will be held up because of legislation limiting young boxers to having to face opponents from the same age group.
Under the guidelines just brought in by the International Amateur Boxing Association, the 17-year-old is now blocked from fighting any seniors.
Jelley said: “He has got no competition.
“He’s beaten all the top kids at his age group but he’s not allowed to fight anyone who’s 12 or 18 months older.
“The rule has killed the kids at 17 because they can’t go in senior championships.
“The AIBA are stunting their growth.”
Ali beat a boxer several years older than him – Aaron Hubery – in his first open-age bout before the new rule came in.
The win earned him boxer of the night, underlining the teenager’s potential.
Ali admitted: “It’s frustrating as there are no challengers for me at my age so I can’t get any fights unless they are in the championships.”
Ali beat Brighton and Hove’s Kealon McFadden with a second-round stoppage at the weekend’s Youth finals in Worsley, near Manchester.
It was Ali’s 59th win in 68 bouts as he prepares to tackle top Scot Steven Boyle in Edinburgh on the weekend of March 8-9.
Jelley, who coaches Ali at Bury Amateur Club, added: “Boyle has won a lot of competitions all over the world. He’s one of the best lads in Scotland and it will be a test but Ali thinks he can beat him.
“Ali boxed well in the final but I thought the stoppage was a little bit premature.
“The other lad was upset about it and I can see his point of view. The referee is there to make sure nobody gets hurt but when it’s a national final you want to do your best.”
Ali said: “This was my seventh national title and this one means a lot as it is the first step towards qualification for the World Championships.
“The Sky TV cameras were there which increased the pressure but I rose to the occasion.”
On his up-coming clash against Boyle, he said: “I’ve beaten him before in the Three Nations. He will be out for revenge but I am confident.”
Ali “eats, sleeps and drinks” boxing according to Jelley.
As well as his training in Bury, the teenager works out Monday to Friday at Bradford College’s Boxing Academy where he is on an apprenticeship course under the tutelage of Kevin Smith, Paul Porter and Mally MacIver.
* Action from Muhammad Ali’s win can be seen on “Ringside” on Sky Sports 1 at 6pm tonight. The programme also features interviews with both Ali and Mike Jelley.