James DeGale may have garnered the gold and the glory in Beijing yet when boxing’s three musketeers, aka The Olympians, make their pro debut next Saturday, it will be a fighter of equal distinction who is the main attraction at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena. Frankie Gavin may not have the chutzpah of middleweight DeGale or welterweight Billy Joe Saunders but as Britain’s first world amateur champion, the droll southpaw they call Funtime is arguably the most accomplished of the trio and in his home town he will be the one the crowd roots loudest for.
Six months ago, however, it was no funtime for Frankie, sent home in virtual disgrace from Britain’s holding camp in Macau and accused of letting the nation down. The long-time favourite for Olympic gold, he did not even pull on a pair of gloves, failing to make the lightweight limit. Now, with that weight literally off his mind, he looks forward to a distinguished professional career, initially at light-welter, where he believes he can capitalise on the talent which kept him unbeaten for the last three years as an amateur.
“By the time I get in the ring, people will see a new, focused Frankie Gavin,” he says. “I’ve already added a bit to my game. In the amateurs you have to be in and out. People will be shocked how my style has changed – I am already punching a lot harder, I’ve got a nice jab and my defence is good but I am just going to have to stand there and trade a bit more, not so much rat-tat-tat. There will be a good crowd to support me in Birmingham and I’ll give them a real show.”
The Olympic episode was a nightmare. “But I try not to think about it. There was absolutely no chance I could’ve made the weight. I got down to 9st 9lb but I couldn’t have made 9st 6lb. Those 3lbs just wouldn’t budge. Obviously I regret it because I am sure I could have won gold. My consolation is that I won the world title the year before and people say it’s harder to win that than the Olympics.”
Before Amir Khan went to the United States to prepare for his date with Marco Antonio Barrera, he and Gavin briefly resumed their amateur roles as spar-mates. They never actually fought but it is conceivable they could do so should Khan move up to light-welter. “I certainly wouldn’t turn it down,” says Gavin. “I’d thrive on a fight like that and I’d really fancy my chances. We may be friends but boxing’s a business, isn’t it?”
Khan concurs: “Frankie will make a go of it in the pro game because he has got that toughness and can adapt. In some ways he is like me with his fast footwork but obviously he will need to make some adjustments as I did.
“He is very awkward and more of a counter-puncher. He’d make a great opponent because like me he’s tall and quite muscular so eventually there could be a good match-up.”
The former national coach Terry Edwards sings Gavin’s praises. “I’ve kicked his arse a few times but I think he’s got the skills of Amir. To beat the world champion [Alexei Tishchenko], who hadn’t lost for four years, by nine points in Chicago was phenomenal.”
The fight plan is for Gavin, like DeGale and Saunders, to have six to eight bouts this year. He says the defection of himself and his two new stablemates – plus bronze medallists Tony Jeffries and David Price – will be a massive blow to Britain’s Olympic chances in 2012. “If they [the ABA] treat the new kids like they treated us they won’t have a team for 2012.
“What they did to Terry was terrible. He did a lot for me, all of us. I’d had weight trouble since before the World Championships and only he really knows what I went through trying to make it for the Olympics. In Macau I was running for an hour in a sweat suit in the heat across sand, doing sprints when I had nothing in me and hardly eating anything. I was killing myself and finally Terry put his arm round me and said, ‘Sorry son, it’s not worth the risk’. I was gutted and in tears.”
Gavin, 23, who has a three-month-old son, Thomas Michael, with girlfriend Ria, lives in Manchester where he is trained by ex-fighter Anthony Farnell. One disappointment for the avid Birmingham City fan is that he has been banned from playing regular five-a-side games by Frank Warren.
Next Saturday, Gavin’s first pro foe is George Kadaria, of Georgia, while DeGale faces another Georgian, Vepkhia Tchilai. Saunders should complete the knocking-off of eastern blocs against Hungarian Attila Molnar. Gavin will also be sharing a dressing room with an old amateur pal, fellow Brummie Don Broadhurst, 24, who defends his Commonwealth super-flyweight title against Isaac Owusu of Ghana.
On a busy night for boxing, to be shown on Sky Sports 1 from 10pm, the new European heavyweight champion Matt Skelton seems in for a rumbustious bill-topping defence against unbeaten Martin Rogan, the Belfast cabbie who blighted what remained of the career of Audley Harrrison.
In Norwich, another young amateur prospect, the giant heavyweight Tyson Fury, has his third pro fight on the undercard of a European lightweight title defence by the redoubtable 34-year-old Jon Thaxton against the French champion Anthony Mezaache.