“It’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me in boxing,” Frazer Clarke recalls. Here he is, sitting in a studio in London, yet mentally the heavyweight is back in a ring in Tokyo, in the summer of 2021.
“I lost the fight, the referee stopped it, my Olympic gold-medal dream was over, and I realised when they raised his hand: ‘This is the last time I’m going to wear this vest and represent this country.’ I had a moment.”
The nature of the moment took Clarke by surprise. Fighting for Team GB, he had watched through the stream of blood trickling over his right eye as Bakhodir Jalolov took home a silver medal for Uzbekistan, yet there was little room in his mind or heart for disappointment. “It was just crazy,” he explains to The Independent, “because he had won the fight – his team were clapping and celebrating – but I looked up at all the Team GB boxers, staff, coaches, then at my corner... and I was just elated with happiness.
“Everyone was so proud. We Brits made more noise than anyone in there. There was Covid, so there was no crowd, but there was about 15 of my teammates, staff, coaches and friends. There’s a picture online somewhere of me with open arms, looking up at them. I was just so elated, because it was the end of a big chapter in my life and I feel like I’d done myself proud, I’d done Burton-on-Trent proud, and I hope I’d done everyone in the country proud.”
Clarke had done just that, endearing himself to the public back in Britain and joining the unique pool of athletes to have secured eternal legacies by competing – and winning a medal – at an Olympic Games.
“There’s a great saying: You’re not just an Olympian for an Olympic Games; you’re an Olympian for life,” the 31-year-old says. “Someone explained it to me well: If you were to put everyone in the world in one place and colour in the Olympians, you’re a small minority – you’ve done something fantastic; then you do the medalists a different colour, you’re an even more special minority. It’s something I’m extremely proud of, and it’s good for myself massively, don’t get me wrong, but I think to give inspiration to children or other people with a dream who probably think, ‘It ain’t going to happen for me...’ I was that person.
“I wasn’t athletically blessed, I wasn’t the toughest, fastest or fittest, but I had a really good determination and learned to keep good people around me. It also took me to the dreamland; it took an overweight kid who was unconfident, to walk into a boxing gym, to be in Tokyo in front of the eyes of the world and live his dream. Special moments.”
And while such moments await boxing hopefuls in Paris next summer, they might be erased entirely come 2028, when the Olympics emanate from Los Angeles. Despite encouraging signs this week, boxing will still not – as it stands – feature at the 2028 Games, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accused the International Boxing Association (IBA) of governance issues and alleged corruption. The IBA typically runs boxing at each Olympics, though the IOC did so in Tokyo amid the IBA’s ongoing suspension.
Asked about the prospect of boxing being omitted from the 2028 Olympics, a crestfallen Clarke sighs: “I think it’s a tragedy, I really do.
“You take the boxing away, and the boxers, and that’s taken a lot of character out of the Olympics. Anyone that’s been at the Olympic Games, in the Olympic Village, they know about the boxers – they know what boxing brings. It brings excitement, it brings an unbelievable skill, and people are quite fascinated by what [we] have to go through.
“And remember, this sport inspires kids. It keeps kids safe, it saves so many lives every single year, it will save generations. To take the Olympic dream away – not from the people in this cycle, but the eight, nine or 10-year-olds who are joining boxing clubs now... They’ve got to keep it in the Olympics. Simple as that.”
It is a passionate plea from Clarke as he looks into the future, but his focus is quickly pulled back to the present, where he will face his toughest test yet as a professional on Friday.
At London’s York Hall, the 6-0 Briton (5 knockouts) takes on resilient Polish heavyweight Mariusz Wach, a man who has fought the likes of Dillian Whyte, Alexander Povetkin, Wladimir Klitschko and Jarrell Miller. Still, he is not the foe whom Clarke originally eyed, with “Big Fraze” left frustrated last month when a British title fight with Fabio Wardley fell through.
“There’s been a lot of controversy with my career over the last eight weeks, probably more than ever with the British title situation, so I think it’s good to not worry about anyone else, what people are saying online or in papers and magazines. Strip it back, do what you do best, be in the gym and be aware that this is your toughest fight to date.
“I feel like with myself and boxing, there’s always a story,” Clarke adds. “There’s always some form of drama.” On Friday night, he will hope the story is a short, simple one – ending with another knockout in his favour.
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