(Some members of the British 2008 class)
With the fat lady still echoing around the Olympic Stadium at the culmination of London 2012, Great Britain’s Olympic boxing squad can expect the wooing process to begin in earnest. Contract offers will already be in transit as promoters bid to prise them away from performance director Robert McCracken before introducing them into the jungle of the professional ranks. But, should the likes of Anthony Joshua, Anthony Ogogo, Fred Evans and Luke Campbell gamble their national hero status in order to turn pro? Here’s a look at how GB’s class of 2008 (Olympic weight class in brackets, followed by current professional records) have fared since the flame went out in Beijing in a bid to uncover what might lie ahead for the men following in their wake.
David Price (Super Heavyweight) 13-0 (11 KOs)
After securing bronze in China, Merseyside’s 6’ 8” colossus turned over under the stewardship of veteran promoter Frank Maloney. After two years spent picking the wings off journeymen, throughout which Price barely took a punch back in anger, Maloney began dealing the popular Scouser a selection of domestic ranked opposition. Price blossomed under the change up and laid waste to Tom Dallas, John McDermott and Sam Sexton in destructive fashion. 29 last month, Price is now acclaimed as one of the finest prospects in heavyweight boxing. One note of caution: both he and rival Tyson Fury must resist the Herod-like overtures of Wladimir Klitschko, for the time being at least. While culling the division’s younglings would likely extend Klitschko’s championship reign, a failed harvest could prove ruinous for the prospects of the heavyweight division.
Tony Jeffries (Light Heavyweight) 9-0-1 (6)
Sunderland’s Jeffries also chose to deal with Maloney, who based an entire operation around the bronze medal winner in the north east of England. A popular sort boasting his own regular column in a regional Sunday newspaper, Jeffries has struggled with the rigours of the paid game. A susceptibility to cuts along with recurring hand injuries haven’t aided “Jaffa’s” cause. Questionable stamina has also hampered him, along with an absence of imagination — even devil — in his work. His only blemish came against journeyman Michael Banbula (an eight round drawn verdict) who was subsequently reprimanded for the use of anabolic steroids. Jeffries relocated to L.A. to train under Tommy Brooks in a last-ditch bid to kickstart his career. The 27-year-old light heavyweight is currently sidelined as he recuperates from an operation to transfer bone marrow from his hip into those troublesome mitts.
James DeGale (Middleweight) 12-1 (9)
DeGale was hailed as Britain’s golden boy of the ring after he defeated Cuban Emilio Correa 16 points to 14 in the ’08 middleweight gold medal match. The abrasive Harlesden man landed an MBE in ’09 as a result and quickly romped to a Lonsdale belt victory at super middleweight in only his ninth paid start. His prodigious whitewash of the battle-hardened Liverpudlian Paul Smith marked him out as a can’t-miss-star-of-tomorrow. DeGale then took a wrong turn when rounding upon his similarly talented nemesis George Groves. Londoner Groves used DeGale’s venomous pre-fight barbs to fuel a needle-filled decision win that wedged a huge spanner in the Olympic champion’s works. Despite rebounding to lift the European crown, contractual disputes have left him floundering somewhat. He is the only one of the octet to have sampled defeat.
Billy Joe Saunders (Welterweight) 14-0 (9)
Harlesden traveller Saunders went down 13-6 in the second round to Cuban Carlos Banteaux Suarez and returned home from the Olympics under a cloud, suspended by the ABA for allegations of lewd behaviour pertaining to an incident that had occurred months prior. Saunders argued that the claims had been blown out of all proportion and were in fact an insidious attempt to undermine team coach Terry Edwards. It was a karfuffle that forced Saunders out of the amateurs and into the pros where the Romany portsider has marched to a middleweight Commonwealth title. Looked upon initially as the poor relation alongside fellow Warren acquisitions DeGale and Gavin, there are some who believe Saunders could eclipse both.
Bradley Saunders (Light Welterweight) 3-0 (2)
South Durham’s Saunders, along with flyweight Yafai, were the only ’08 alumni to retain their amateur status, Saunders after a surprising second round exit in a desultory campaign. Controversy followed in the aftermath after Bradley referred to his elimination as a “big weight off his shoulders” and was then arrested on suspicion of dealing cocaine after a stash of the drug was discovered in the garden of his Sedgefield home in 2007. Saunders professed to have been the victim of a set up and the charges against him were eventually dropped in April 2009. A gold medal followed at the 2009 European Union championships in Odense, however, injury blighted his Olympic qualifying campaign. After losing the light welterweight berth to Tom Stalker, Saunders, 26, accepted an offer from Frank Warren to switch codes, and made a promising debut splash earlier this year.
Frankie Gavin (Lightweight) 13-0 (10)
Many were scornful of Gavin after his failure to make weight at the GB training centre in Macau resulted in him blundering out of the games just days before the opening ceremony. The gold medal favourite from Birmingham, an amateur world champion, remains an enigma, one who has disappointed more in his stuttering professional career than any other of the bunch. Despite remaining unbeaten thus far, the 26-year-old welterweight has switched training teams repeatedly, infuriated promoter Warren after going AWOL on the eve of a televised bout, seems ill at ease under the bright lights and has performed dourly against less able fighters such as Young Mutley and Curtis Woodhouse. A British title tilt against Junior Witter could be next for the talented southpaw who may never fulfill the promise he exhibited in a vest and head guard.
Joe Murray (Bantamweight) 12-0 (5)
Hatton Promotions snapped up “Genius” Joe and the 25-year-old — kid brother of lightweight contender John — has climbed steadily up the domestic featherweight rankings. Dismissed in the opening round in Beijing, the Levenshulme man has appeared frail at times and looked a case of arrested development last time out against Venezuelan Jose Luis Graterol. His ambitions to best home rivals Stephen Smith, Lee Selby and John Simpson look fanciful on current form. After only three bouts in 18 months, the kid from Moss Side needs to get active and quick.
Khalid Yafai (Flyweight) 1-0 (0)
Yafai, then only 19, proved too green for Cuban foe Andry Laffita in the 52 kg Round of 16 and so opted to make another run for gold in 2012. Despite grabbing silver at the 2010 European Championships in Moscow, Yafai was pitted against Welshman Andrew Selby in a best-of-three box off to settle the argument over which one of the pair (Selby won gold at the same tournament a year later) would represent Great Britain in London. Selby took the opening contest 26-12 and after Yafai failed to make weight prior to their rematch, it was the Welshman who clinched his place in the squad. Diminutive Midlander Yafai, 23, moved across last month as a super bantamweight and has aligned himself with Matchroom Sport.