Bunce on Boxing: 'Funtime' is over... now Frankie Gavin means serious business

Gavin is the only British boxer to win the world amateur title

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The story is that Frankie Gavin dropped his trousers, pulled his old fella out and nudged his mate Billy Joe Saunders during a photo-shoot at the House of Commons a few weeks before the Beijing Olympics.

Barry McGuigan, for so long the fighter wheeled out as an example of all that is pure and good in the noble art, kept smiling for the camera, aware that the Birmingham lightweight, and world No 1, was half-naked just a foot or so behind him in the group picture. It was a highlight of an otherwise boring visit and it is true.

Gavin, you see, was a very special talent and was excused the brief exposure and other stunts. He had qualified for the Beijing Olympics by winning the world amateur title in 2007, beating the seemingly invincible Russian Aleksei Tishchenko on the way to gold. Tishchenko was unbeaten in more than five years and was the reigning World and Olympic champion. Gavin remains the only British boxer – more than 150 have tried – to win the world amateur title since it started in Havana in 1974.

"Frankie was on a different level to everybody else after Chicago and going into Beijing he had the gold firmly in his sights," said Terry Edwards, the national coach at the time.

However, there was some confusion, a few mishaps and Gavin failed to hold the lightweight limit, lost at the scales and never fought in Beijing. Tishchenko won his second gold medal and Gavin returned anonymously to Birmingham, where his desire was being questioned and not his antics.

"I had some thinking to do, some issues that I had to get straight in my head," he admitted.

Gavin, alongside Beijing gold medallist James DeGale and Saunders, turned professional in 2009 with Frank Warren. DeGale has won and lost the British title and holds the European version now, while Saunders is the Commonwealth champion. Gavin, meanwhile, has been on a regional tour of bedsits, used various gyms and worked with assorted trainers during a confused boxing mission that has looked perilously close to collapsing on several occasions.

Now Gavin is back with Tom Chaney, the man who trained him when he was a boy in Birmingham, and there is, at last, a calm surrounding him; he has also dropped the "Funtime" name tag, which always seemed to me a kind way of calling him a lunatic – loveable lunatic, but a lunatic all the same.

On Thursday, at York Hall in London's East End, Gavin will fight the veteran's veteran, Junior Witter, for the British welterweight title. Witter is 38, has held proper world titles and has served the business of boxing like a quiet ambassador for 15 years. The fight has the potential to be a little bit special.

Witter still has a savage chip on his shoulder from the years when he was overlooked by Ricky Hatton, and therefore denied a hefty payday; Gavin has been given the "last chance" chat a couple of times; some recent verbal skirmishes have only added to the night.

Gavin is unbeaten in 13 and his best has only been glimpsed in blurred snapshots, most often when he is finishing a fight with a power that many believe he lacks. Witter might just know too much but, for all of Gavin's travelling and ongoing domestic aggro, there is nothing truly damaging in his history. Gavin has not been ravaged by a boxer's real enemies: drugs, prison and booze. Gavin can be a pain in the bum, annoying, frustrating and quite brilliant, but he is not a junkie or a drunk.

It is the unknowns that make prizefights such spectacles and on Thursday night, in the old York Hall ring, a question or two will surely be answered.