Boxing: Golden Boy launch raid on precious medallists
London 2012's finest fighters are being lured by lucre of top US promoter
Sunday 23 December 2012
The Yanks are coming. The American promoters Golden Boy are moving in on the British boxing scene, chequebook open and pen poised ready to buy up the best of British talent.
One Olympic medallist, the middleweight Anthony Ogogo, 24, who won a bronze medal at London 2012, has become the first of Team GB to turn pro, spurning promoters here to join the Los Angeles-based organisation, where he will team up with fellow Briton Amir Khan.
Golden Boy, whose application for a licence to promote in Britain is certain to be approved, say they are also determined to scoop up other British Olympians, including the highly marketable super-heavyweight Anthony Joshua and his fellow gold medallist Luke Campbell, the personable bantamweight who is temporarily swapping ring for rink in Torvill and Dean's New Year ITV series Dancing on Ice.
The reason for Golden Boy's invasion has the smack of another TV reality show about it: Britain's got talent – and currently the United States hasn't. Amateur boxing in the US is down and almost out, with the national Olympic Committee having ordered an inquiry into why American boxers failed abysmally at the London Games, returning without a single men's medal.
In Beijing four years previously the only medal they secured was a bronze, and their last gold was in Athens back in 2004, won by the middleweight Andre Ward.
So Golden Boy are importing young foreign fighters in the same manner as football's Premier League recruits from overseas. They have taken over from the octo- genarian Don King as the world's leading promoter, and their imme-diate focus is on buying British.
Their figurehead is the original golden boy of boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, but the man behind the move is their smooth-talking chief executive, Richard Schaefer, a former Swiss banker instrumental in creating a boxing empire which embraces luminaries such as Floyd Mayweather Jnr, Saul Alvarez, Miguel Cotto, Bernard Hopkins, David Haye and Khan.
Schaefer says he plans to stage four shows a year in this country as well as four in the US, which will feature major world title fights and young British stars. "We want to sign up some who represented Britain at the Olympics, those with the talent and charisma, who we will showcase both there and in the US," he says. "Britain is now our most important market."
While the US raid may be seen as a threat to British promoters, one of them, Frank Warren, is relaxed about it, recognising that the sort of seven-figure fees he splashed out in signing Olympic champion James DeGale after Beijing are no longer feasible.
"Times are changing," says Warren. "What was able to happen four years ago is not happening now because of the economy. I can understand Golden Boy moving in but this is a tough market. I have no doubt they can work with British promoters." Like Golden Boy and others, Warren has met Joshua several times but he says they have not talked money.
Golden Boy's muscle-flexing is tantamount to a declaration of war on the czar of amateur boxing's international governing body, Dr C K Wu, who has instructed that the word "amateur" be removed from the sport in a bid to take control of all forms of boxing. His World Series of Boxing (WSB), in which Britain now has a franchise, the British Lionhearts, offers young boxers a share of $1 million (£620,000) prize money for shedding vests and headguards to fight in a pro-style format. Team GB's Olympic welterweight silver medallist, Fred Evans, has already signed up, along with his 2012 team-mate Andrew Selby and a fistful of other squad members.
Joshua, currently the hottest ticket in boxing, has said he is giving serious consideration to joining them in what could be a pro apprenticeship, but Schaefer thinks he will persuade him and others in the GB team to take the orthodox professional route under Golden Boy's stewardship.
WSB cannot match the millions Golden Boy will dangle in front of big Josh, such is the desperate search for a new heavyweight hope. Yet there is a snag. Joshua has a conviction for a minor drug offence – possession – which could preclude him from obtaining a visa to live or box in the US. However, Golden Boy's extensive influence could prove helpful in this direction.
Britain's impressive performances so far in the WSB tournament, allied to the Olympic achievements, suggest they are becoming the world's most dominant boxing nation, which is reflected in the upgrading of UK Sport funding by 44 per cent, from £9.5m to £13.8m.
However, this is subject to a one-year review because of infighting outside the ring which has been as combative as that inside it, with the individual home nations squabbling over whether the British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA), formed after Beijing, should be in control of financial as well as fistic matters.
Will WSB work here? The problem is an apparent lack of television interest. It needs a more widely watched network than ESPN if it is to capture a bigger public following that will sustain the employment of British boxers.
Which is why Golden Boy, who helped Khan to resurrect his career last week by cherry-picking the light-punching Carlos Molina from their stable as his comeback opponent, could be equally prescient by backing Britain to become Oscar's winners.
Britain's golden boys
Five British boxers have won Olympic gold medals in the post-war years but none so far has gone on to become a professional world champion:
Flyweight, Melbourne 1956
Youngest Briton ever to win boxing gold, aged 18. Former apprentice jockey, became British featherweight champion but never fought for world title. Died this year aged 74.
Lightweight, Melbourne 1956
Voted tournament's best boxer, and also won light-welterweight bronze at Rome 1960. Five times ABA champion, never turned pro. Aged 77.
Middleweight, Mexico City 1968
British and European champ fought American Bob Foster for world light-heavyweight title at Wembley in 1972, losing in 14th-round stoppage. Died in 2009 aged 64.
Super-heavyweight, Sydney 2000
Turned pro with £1m BBC contract and won European title. But was demolished by David Haye in 2010 WBA title fight, and last seen KO'd in 82 seconds by David Price. Aged 41.
Middleweight, Beijing 2008
Won British super-middleweight title after only nine pro fights in 2010, but lost it to ex-amateur rival George Groves. Won European title, which he has relinquished to concentrate on becoming the first British Olympic champion to win a world title. Aged 26.
Other British Olympic medallists who have won world titles:
Alan Minter Bronze at Munich 1972, WBC/WBA world middleweight champion in 1980.
Richie Woodhall Bronze at Seoul 1988. WBC super-middleweight champion in 1998.
Amir Khan Silver at Athens 2004. WBA light-welterweight champion in 2009.
Other British Olympians who have won world titles:
John H Stracey Mexico City 1968. WBC welterweight champion in 1975.
Maurice Hope Munich 1972. WBC light-middleweight champion in 1979.
Charlie Magri Montreal 1976. WBC flyweight champion in 1983.
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