12 for 2012. No 9: Anthony Ogogu, boxer

Ring a perfect stage for Britain's leading man of the future
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The Independent Online

The thing about boxing is that sometimes you have to take it on the chin, as young Anthony Ogogu discovered in Morocco last week. Hailed as one of the brightest rising stars of the amateur game, the 17-year-old light-welterweight from Lowestoft went to Agadir as the world cadet champion hoping to add the world junior title to his already impressive list of ring accomplishments.

But he ran into a tasty Cuban, one Julio Iglesias Jnr, in the quarter-finals, who, as befits his name, happened to be on song. Ogogu lost on points but, bitterly disappointed as he is, it has not dampened his desire to go one better than Amir Khan - whose own ultimate Olympic dream was blighted by a Cuban - and win gold, if not in Beijing then certainly in 2012.

He says: "It was a fair result, to be honest. I didn't box that well, but the consolation is that the Cuban who beat me on points stopped everyone else he met in the tournament. So if I had had a better draw I reckon I would have got at least a silver medal, but that's how it goes in amateur boxing.

"It was a good learning experience for me and it has made me all the more eager to do well in future competitions and become an Olympic champion. One thing I will do is prepare better mentally before meeting anyone of his class again."

Ogogu is one of the current crop of teeny-boppers who are putting pressure on their seniors for places in Beijing in 2008. According to the national coach, Terry Edwards, they comprise the most exciting crop of youngsters ever produced in this country, and Ogogu is a leading man. "There was certainly no disgrace in losing to the Cuban," says Edwards. "He learned some valuable lessons and he already has a great pedigree, boxing both at junior and senior level, including a victory in a match against the United States. This is a young lad who only really came on to the scene about 18 months ago and has progressed into a really hot prospect.

"He is upright with fast hands and good foot-movement. He's not only a good boxer but a bright lad. The goal for him is 2012, but the way he is coming on he could give some of our other 69-kilo boys a run for their money in fighting for places for the next Olympics."

And should he not make it on one stage, then another career as a leading man beckons. A sixth-former at Kirkley High School in Lowestoft, Ogogu has already obtained three A-levels and is looking to add three more next year. One he has already acquired is in performing arts, for his aspirations are not only in boxing but in acting.

"I want to use boxing as a stepping stone to becoming famous," he says. "I'm really into acting. I don't want to be like Vinny Jones, just playing a hard man, because I think I'm quite a good actor, and I could take all sorts of roles."

He has already played the lead in Macbeth and in works by Bertold Brecht. His favourite stars are Samuel L Jackson and Denzel Washington - "though I don't idolise them on the same scale as I do Muhammad Ali."

The son of a Nigerian father and an English mother, his surname means "hero", and he has four sisters. "When I started boxing I lied to my mum at first because I knew she didn't want me to do it. She used to say: 'I'm not having you have your face mashed up'."

Teresa has come round sufficiently to attend the occasional bout, though he admits she would still rather be watching him play football. "I don't want to sound big-headed, but I think I could have made it as a footballer. I captained Norwich Under-14s when I was 12 and captained the Suffolk team too. I was centre-midfield, the dynamo."

But boxing finally took over his life a couple of years ago. "I actually got into boxing after an argument at school. Two of my best mates had a bit of a fight and the smaller boy beat the big boy up. They were about 12 years old and everyone was cheering him. He told me he'd learned to fight at a boxing club, so I asked if I could go along with him. We went that night and I fell in love with boxing right away. I knew then it was the sport for me, it just came natural, but I knew my mum would be horrified.

"Actually, I had wanted to box six months before that after watching a video of the Ali-Foreman fight at my grandma's house. I just marvelled at Ali, he was amazing. That Rumble in the Jungle - wow! How he defied the odds. I said to my Mum then, 'Can I start boxing?' but she said no, so I pestered her for about a month. After the incident at school I didn't tell her I'd sneaked down and joined the local boxing club [the Triple A] - but she twigged when I bought a gumshield and bandages out of my pocket money."

The next to inspire him was Amir Khan. "I watched him during the Olympics and he was great. It spurred me on all the more, but Ali was my idol, and I wanted to model myself on him, being a classic boxer off the back foot and not getting involved. But I found that wasn't working too well so I changed my style and became more aggressive, doing a bit of head- hunting."

Ogogu came to prominence when he won the world cadet title in Liverpool last year. He also won an Olympic junior title in Texas, when he was voted the tournament's outstanding boxer - as Amir had been the year before. He has boxed in America and Russia, trained at a camp in Cuba, captained England juniors and has lost only a fistful of his 80 or so bouts.

He is not short of Ali-like self-confidence. "Like Ali, I am not a devastating puncher as yet, but I am still growing and getting stronger. I don't knock a lot of opponents out but I stop quite a few. I like to beat them into submission as Ali did."

Ogogu will be 18 in November and eligible to box in the senior ABA championships at London's York Hall on 1 December, when he could encounter one of the most experienced boxers in the land, the England team captain, Neil Perkins. Should he win he would become the youngest-ever ABA champion.

Like Amir, the Lottery-funded Ogogu is a growing lad. At six foot he could well become a middleweight. Although it may not happen because of their weight differences, he would love to meet Amir in the ring should he be tempted down the same pro route if he wins a medal in the Olympics.

"What a fight that would be," says amateur boxing's juvenile lead. "The Battle of Britain."


Keep busy, keep listening - and lap up team spirit

It is important to take part in world championships, both at junior and senior level, as part of preparations for the Olympics, because these are even harder tournaments to win, as Anthony has already discovered. But there is certainly no disgrace in losing to a Cuban. I should know!

He will profit from the experience, as I did with Mario Kindelan. I have sparred with Anthony and he is very strong and clearly has tremendous potential. He needs first to set his sights on Beijing, and what he does there may determine whether or not he goes on to 2012. I hope he does and that my younger brother Haroon is one of his team-mates.

In amateur boxing, training is important but competition more so. The more bouts you have the better, because that is when you really learn the business, particularly at national tournament level. As an amateur I was sometimes six months between tournaments and that was far too long, so Anthony must keep busy. With the funding coming into the sport these days he should be able to concentrate full-time on making it to the top. It is certainly important to get at least one Olympics under his belt.

One other thing - listen to advice, particularly from the national coach, Terry Edwards, who was my mentor in Athens. He's a brilliant coach; he taught me so much. We had a very good relationship and it is important that Anthony develops his with Terry too, because I know they can work well together.

The camaraderie of amateur boxing, being part of a team, also helps. Having team-mates around to help with advice, have a laugh, share experiences and keep your spirits up; that's what I miss more than anything and I hope Anthony hangs on to it as long as he can.

Amir Khan, 19, won the Olympic lightweight silver medal in 2004 and is unbeaten in nine fights as a professional