Boxing: Amateurs have fight on their hands to avoid a bloody nose

Britain's World Championships team still suffering from post-Beijing upheavals
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The Independent Online

Two years ago, Frankie Gavin returned from Chicago as Britain's first-ever world amateur boxing champion. He was one of a 13-strong squad which garnered three medals, his gold and bronze for featherweight Joe Murray and light-welterweight Bradley Saunders. It was to prove a springboard for similar success in last year's Olympics. But since then there has been a major upheaval which has left amateur boxing with a fight on its hands if Team GB's men are not to be given a bloody nose by the ladies who punch in 2012.

When this year's championships begin in Milan tomorrow, Britain will have just seven boxers and only an outside chance of a medal. The best hope, Saunders, is out with a broken thumb and the main hope now rests on the slim shoulders of flyweight Khalid Yafai, the former world junior champion who, with Saunders is one of the two survivors of the top-quality class of 2008. The majority, like Gavin, have turned professional following the axing of popular coach Terry Edwards, whose MBE was followed by his P45.

Of the eight selected for Beijing, six (Gavin, Murray, James DeGale, Tony Jeffries, Billy Joe Saunders and David Price), are now punching for pay and a fistful of other 2012 medal prospects, including heavyweight Tyson Fury and bantamweight Ronnie Heffron, have also defected.

Gavin, who has his fourth professional bout in Liverpool on 30 October says: "After the way we were treated by the ABA it is no surprise. I've certainly no regrets about turning pro. I only wish I had done it after I won the world championships not least because of the problems I had before Beijing (he failed to make the weight on the eve of the Games). It's going to be difficult for the boys in Milan but I'm hopeful that we might see one or two medals, particularly Khalid Yafai (like Gavin from Birmingham) and maybe Luke Campbell (European bantamweight champion). I think Khalid has the best chance and the new lightweight Tommy Stalker isn't bad, either." Gavin admits he's no great fan of Kelvyn Travis, who has succeeded Edwards as head coach. "I don't rate him. He told me when I was a youngster that I would never make it. It was a terrible mistake to get rid of Terry who did a terrific job. I only hope they are treating this squad better than they did us, and if they come away from Milan without a medal, I think there'll be a bit of a backlash.

The 60-year-old Travis, who trained Audley Harrison as an amateur and was in his corner when he won the super-heavyweight gold in Sydney, has had to pick up the pieces after the post-Beijing maeslstrom. He admits it has been difficult. "But I just got stuck into it and I didn't get involved with the politics."

Travis's squad now come under the umbrella of the new British Amateur Boxing Association whose chairman is ex-Sport England supremo Derek Mapp. He recalled Kevin Hickey, 67, national coach 20 years ago, as performance director, who in turn hired Travis, once fired by the ABA following a fracas with a fellow coach. The boxers have state-of-the-art facilities in Sheffield and saw heartening results in the European Union Championships but there is a fear the great exodus has been so damaging that when Britain's women boxers make their Olympic debut in London, they might win more medals than the men.

The squad for Milan comprises five from England and one apiece from Wales and Scotland. Says Travis: "Our target has always been one medal. This is a young mixed side, we've had to regroup after Beijing – three of our boxers have been down with swine flu which has knocked us sideways a bit and there have been some injury problems too. The team we are taking, although it's a small one, is good enough to be a base for the future."

Former coach Edwards, who, along with boxers DeGale and Jeffries, is suing the ABA, says he wishes the team every success but adds wryly: "When I left it was said it was time to move on and progress. Targeting one medal? Is that progress?"

The ones who got away

Frankie Gavin: 23 years old, light-welterweight. Three pro fights, still undefeated

James DeGale: 23, middleweight. Three pro fights, undefeated

Billy Joe Saunders: 20, welterweight. Three pro fights, undefeated

David Price: 26, heavyweight. One pro fight, undefeated

Tony Jeffries:, 24, light-heavyweight. Three pro fights, undefeated

Joe Murray, 22, featherweight. Two pro fights, undefeated

Tyson Fury, 21, heavyweight. Seven pro fights, undefeated

George Groves, 21, super-middleweight. Four pro fights, undefeated

Michael Maguire: 20, super-bantamweight. Four pro fights, undefeated

Ronnie Heffron: 19, light-welterweight. Awaiting pro debut.

Squad: Tommy Stubbs (48kg), Khalid Yafai (51kg), Luke Campbell (54 kg), Andrew Selby (54kg), Thomas Stalker (60kg), Scott Cardle (64kg), Steve Simmons (91kg)