By Terence Dooley
Over a month has passed since the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and there is still no sign of a pro debut among Britain’s five medal winners. Anthony Joshua, Anthony Ogogo, Luke Campbell, Fred Evans and Nicola Adams all netted gongs, but have yet to sign professional deals, with Joshua in particular admitting that he needs to pick up more experience before he decides to punch for pay.
Should one or more of Britain’s quintet turn over, there is no guarantee that they will race to world titles and have successful, title-laden careers. Making the transition from amateur to professional boxing is a precarious business and there any many risks along the way as well as internal and external reasons for failing to replicate amateur success once the switch is made.
Firstly, and quite pertinent in the age of easy celebrity culture and temptation, there is always the risk of falling into the same traps that Tyrell Biggs fell into. A former star amateur, Biggs was already addicted to bright lights and drugs when he made his debut in 1984 and his career never quite hit the heights due to his notorious refueling habits.
Dealing with the pressures of instant fame and success has broken many fighters, but 2004 silver medalist Amir Khan, 26-3 (18), believes that staying close to your family and friends is the one of the first rules of success when it comes to bridging the gap.
“What kept my feet on the ground is my faith, being a Muslim helps keep me on the straight and narrow,” said Khan when speaking to BoxingScene about how he dealt with instant fame. “My family also brought me up to be respectful — I always know that if I do anything wrong then I’ve got my family to answer to.
“There’s only a few fighters from the Olympics who will make a name from themselves. I was one of the lucky ones because I walked down streets and saw billboards with myself on them, but I tried to be true to my life. It can get to you. Fighters who went off the rails, I don’t think they’d have had that family support and respect. I don’t have to respect people, I choose to because it is what makes me a better person and other fighters out there like Biggs may not have thought they had to show that respect.”
He added: “Use my example, I get invited to the parties, and I have hung out with celebrities, but it is all about staying focused, knowing that you’re a boxer and never forgetting that boxing got you into that position. People might say: ‘Why aren’t you partying with us’. I have to tell them that I can’t do stuff like that because I have to train in the morning, which youngsters do that?”
Khan also credits his professional team of family and friends — his father, Shah, is a big influence in his career — with helping him avoid the pitfalls of success, arguing that you need a strong support network so you can concentrate on fighting.
“I kept things close to home,” he said. “Maybe I’d have gone of the rails with the money coming in because I was getting world title money from my first fight. You can why people can be easily led or go the wrong way, but I didn’t — I let my family take care of everything and never got involved in that part.
“I’ve kept my family around me and people I trust. I am only 25 and I don’t think any 25-year-old has made what I’ve made, but that’s because I’ve been managed right and am the boss. I still hang out with my friends. I like to be treated like a normal guy. I’ve had the flash cars in the past, but have gone back to basics.”
Khan was Britain’s only boxing representative at the 2004 Games, his success helped rejuvenate the amateur scene here in the U.K.; the home countries produced strong teams in 2008 and 2012 and are reaping the rewards of the seeds that were arguably sown by Khan.
However, the Bolton-born boxer believes that although his success was a spur, the successive teams were spurred on by the desire of the individuals contained within them, who all shared the same dream that Khan had in 2004.
“I get that a lot, but I don’t want to take that credit because the boxers had it in them to do well and get that funding,” said Khan when reminded that amateur funding increased after his silver medal. “Maybe I motivated them to do well, but I’m a humble guy and I wanted to win something for myself and country, through doing that I inspired people.”
Telford’s Richie Woodhall knows all about Olympic success, believe you me, as he scored a middleweight bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics in Korea. Woodhall lost to Jones in that tournament, no shame there, and turned his medal success into a world title winning professional career when netting the WBC super middleweight belt by beating Thulani Malinga in 1998.
Now a top-class pundit and part of Team GB’s setup, Woodhall feels that former star amateurs should not completely overhaul their styles when turning pro and should instead focus on upping their fitness for the rigours of the professional business.
“When you’re boxing four or six round contests then there’s no difference from three-threes, every amateur should be able to do six (rounds) anyway,” said Woodhall. “If you’ve had success as an amateur then don’t dramatically change as a pro. Carry on with the fast hands, fast feet and don’t change your style. When I turned pro, my dream was to be a world champion and a lot of guys, especially in America, learned a lot from coming through that (amateur) system.
“Some boxers make the transition without any problems, some struggle because they try to change their style and don’t just make little improvements. Planting your feet means you’re still there to be hit, you have to adopt a bit more movement from your waist, but still have good feet.”
Woodhall, who retired in 2001 with a 26-3 (16) record, pointed out that a lot depends on fighters realising that there are vast differences between the two codes.
He said: “That’s got to be drummed into them beforehand because amateur boxing is a sport and professional boxing is a sports entertainment industry, it is very different. Before they make that step (into the pro ranks), they have to sit down and decide if that’s what they want. The boxers have to think about what they’re going into.”
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