Steve Bunce on Boxing: Can Luke Campbell beat curse of gold medallist that turns pro?
His decision could start an exodus of Olympic boxers
Thursday 25 April 2013
Luke Campbell has ditched the sequins, quit the ice and turned professional in a quest to become the first British Olympic boxing champion to win a world title.
Campbell will make his debut in early July at an outdoor venue in his beloved Hull and, after years as an elite amateur boxer, he is expected to be fast-tracked to domestic titles inside a year. In 2008 Campbell became the first English boxer to win the European title in 47 years and he made his Olympic glory last year look easy.
In recent months he has been a star on the celebrity ice-dancing show on television, which included him skating at full speed and holding up and spinning a grown woman above his head. Campbell is a bit special.
Campbell will follow the London 2012 bronze medal winner Anthony Ogogo, who was last seen in tiny gold trunks leaving a 10-metre board in Splash!, into the pro ring. Ogogo fights in Sheffield on Saturday, when Amir Khan, a silver medal winner from Athens, returns to Britain on a bill that is dominated by another pair of Olympic medal winners in Audley Harrison, gold in Sydney, and Deontay Wilder, bronze in Beijing. Wilder is unbeaten in 27 fights with 27 knockouts and is considered the best American heavyweight of what is sadly a disappointing generation of fighters. Aud is just Aud and is close to becoming a sporting treasure.
The curse attached to British gold medal winners going one further and gaining a world title does not include the men who have taken bronze and silver. Richie Woodhall, Robin Reid, Alan Minter and Khan have all won proper championship belts but so far Chris Finnegan, a gold winner in Mexico 1968, and Harrison have failed in world title challenges. If Harrison pulls off a shock and beats Wilder he will get another chance and there is also James DeGale, who won gold in Beijing, and could soon be a leading contender for the super-middleweight title. However, it has to be said that DeGale is third or fourth in Britain at his weight right now.
Minter was cruelly denied a gold medal in 1972 during a boxing tournament in Munich dominated by the hidden agendas of the Cold War warriors who were pulling strings, operating drug cartels and dominating the Games from their bunkers in Berlin. The twisted acts that combined to send Minter out at the semi-final stage belong in redacted espionage documents and not the prize ring.
Finnegan was simply cursed with operating at a time when there were just two sanctioning bodies, not the four that are generally accepted now, and there were also some great champions at light-heavyweight. He fell in round 14 to Bob Foster, arguably the best or second-best light-heavyweight in history.
The decision by Campbell and Ogogo to leave the sanctuary of the elite amateur boxing system, where the funding is both a comfort and a barrier against desperation, could be the start of a worrying exodus of Olympic boxers. Anthony Joshua, the gold medal winner at super- heavyweight, is rumoured to be close to agreeing terms and allegedly has Lennox Lewis as one of his advisors. Meanwhile, the Welsh duo of Andrew Selby and Fred Evans, who won a shock silver, are shopping around for the best offer.
There is a shortage of cash in the professional business right now, but clearly still enough out there to make Campbell and Ogogo walk away from about 70 grand each year, drop their vests and try their luck on the heartless side of the game. Campbell is also chasing that elusive world title and is at a weight where shortcuts are normal. I would have a nifty fifty with a bookie if I liked a flutter.
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