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Frank Warren Eyes Big Year For UK's Beijing Squad

By Frank Warren

It may have taken longer than expected but 2014 should finally see the starlets of Britain’s heralded Beijing Olympic squad rise to the fore.

Over the next three month’s middleweight gold medallist James DeGale, ex world amateur champion Frankie Gavin and Billy Joe Saunders – who many predicted would be best suited to the pro code – all feature in fights that effectively serve as world title eliminators.

Given the high profile all enjoyed when they entered the profession, it’s surprising how long it’s taken them to get close to the summit.

Bolton’s Amir Khan was just 17 and received far less central funding when, as Britain’s only representative at the 2004 Athens Games, he returned with a silver gong. Yet despite a harrowing 54 second knockout loss to Columbia’s Breidis Prescott, Amir had captured the WBA light-welter title just four years after his pro debut.

Almost six years on from Beijing, DeGale, Gavin and Saunders are all still waiting to make their first challenge at world level. I invested heavily into all three.

DeGale was a household name when he returned from China and, under my wing, raced to the British super-middle title in just his ninth fight. However, a contentious loss to ex amateur club mate George Groves at the O2 proved costly. ‘Chunky’ did little to ingratiate himself to the sporting public with some crass behaviour in the build-up. 

Though I brought him back with a European title win on home soil, I chose not to renew our promotional agreement and he has flitted between promoters.  Once you acquire a reputation for that, some become reluctant to invest in you.

DeGale is rated in the top four with both the WBO and IBF and if he prevails in an IBF World title eliminator against unbeaten Californian Brandon Gonzales at Wembley Stadium next weekend he may even fight the winner of the main event between Carl Froch and George Groves.

However, with Groves penning a long term promotional deal with the Sauerlands in Germany, it’d be no formality if ‘The Saint’ springs an upset.

Saunders and Gavin remain with me, remain unbeaten and both contest eliminators and European titles on home soil this summer.

They’ll be strongly fancied to secure the victories which will elevate them to mandatory status with the WBO and guarantee them world title shots, hopefully before the year turns.

Both are ranked highly by all four major sanctioning bodies and therefore have options.

Billy Joe was only 18 when he made it to the Olympics and, despite hand injuries, has made steady progress, bagging British and Commonwealth middleweight titles.

A sizzling performance against unbeaten Italian Emanuele Blandamura for the vacant continental strap on the undercard of the Fury-Chisora bash at Manchester’s Phones 4u bash on July 26th will vault him into a WBO title gig with New York’s Peter Quillin –aka Kid Chocolate – who’s a vicious puncher but certainly not invincible.

Six days after, Gavin gets his big break against another Italian Leonard Bundu in Wolverhampton.

Though 39, the Sierra Leone born champion is unbeaten in 32 and a Sydney Olympian who medalled at the world amateur championships.

After self-inflicted problems earlier in his pro career, welterweight Frankie has straightened himself out of late. Nevertheless, he’ll need to be at his absolute best to advance.

The 147 lb class is presently the most star studded, talent laden division in boxing – read Mayweather, Pacquiao, Marquez, Bradley, Maidana, Khan – and the brilliant Brummie can make himself a decent amount of money if he can force his way into the mix.

***

WBC light-heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson is a walking beacon of boxing’s capacity to rehabilitate.

As a teenager, the Haiti-born, Quebec based southpaw served 18 months in prison for managing prostitutes and assault.

Not for the first time the Noble Art provided a lifebelt and last year the remarkably athletic and explosive ‘Superman’ redeemed himself by capturing the world title with an upset first round knockout of Connecticut’s ‘Bad Chad’ Dawson.

Follow-up easy stoppage wins over ex IBF boss Tavoris Cloud and Liverpool’s Tony Bellew earned the 36 year old protégé of the late Manny Steward the accolade of Fighter of the Year with the prestigious Ring Magazine.

Tonight, at the Bell Center in Montreal, Canada, the man who has iced 20 of his 23 victims ahead of schedule confronts the equally combustible Andrzej Fonfara – a Chicago based Pole who has sent 12 of his last 13 opponents for an early shower.

With a lucrative unification bout against WBA/IBF champ Bernard Hopkins awaiting the winner, expect a fiercely competitive shoot-out. BoxNation televise live.

***
Contrary to what you might have seen printed elsewhere, the IBF have given their approval for Stuart Hall’s voluntary defence of his bantamweight world title against Paul Butler.

The highly anticipated civil war takes place at the Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle on June 7th and, with tickets flying out, a full house is expected.

***

Colin Hart wrote recently that Former East End bantamweight Teddy Baldock still holds the distinction of Britain’s youngest ever boxing world champion.

Back in March 1927, aged just 19 and 347 days, ‘The Pride of Poplar’ scalped New York’s Archie Bell over 15 rounds at the Royal Albert Hall.

An all action crowd pleaser, Baldock first punched for pay as a 14 year old and drew five figure crowds during his prime. Though his world title reign lasted barely five months, he later added the British and Empire crowns and lost just five of his 81 fights.

Alas, addictions to gambling and alcohol brought his career to a premature close. He retired as a spent force, aged 24, and died anonymous and penniless in Southend at the age of 63.

However, his grandson Martin Sax worked tirelessly to raise funds so that his memory could be honoured. Last Friday, a statue of Baldock was unveiled in Langdon Park in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to ensure Britain’s sole world champion of the 1920s will never be forgotten.

***

Those keen to portray pugilists as sub-educated thugs might be surprised to learn that Wednesday evening’s British and Commonwealth featherweight championship was contested between Josh Warrington, a dentistry graduate from the University of Leeds and Martin Lindsay who acquired a Bachelor of Science degree in Business, Finance and Investment from the University of Ulster.

This is not uncommon. Former European middleweight king Matthew Macklin once studied law at the University of Warwick, ex world light-heavy champ Nathan Cleverly boasts a maths degree from Cardiff Uni and top talent Tommy Langford has a Sports degree from Birmingham Uni.

For the record, Warrington won the battle of the boffins on points.

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