By Nick Halling
After a frustrating few months, Lowestoft middleweight Anthony Ogogo is back to full health and preparing for big things in 2014. A bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympics, Ogogo turned pro in April this year, racking up three wins in quick succession. He was particularly impressive last time out in July, stopping the normally-durable Gary Boulden.
Ogogo looked set for rapid progress, along with his Olympic teammates Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell. However, a long-term lower leg injury has put a brake on his development.
“It’s been pretty frustrating,” he admitted. “I’ve had this problem going back to my time with the GB squad, and through May, June and July, it just kept getting worse and worse. I couldn’t run any more than the bare minimum, really struggled if I was up on my toes, and couldn’t really spar beyond eight rounds.
“That’s not me at all. I’m very structured in my training, so something had to be done. I found a new physio, he diagnosed the problem almost immediately, and now fingers crossed, things seem to be OK. I’m pain free for the first time I can remember.”
The injury was the main reason why the Golden Boy-promoted Ogogo had to pull out of the Mayweather/Alvarez superfight, where he had been given a spot on the undercard. It also meant he missed out on being on the bill when Joshua made his pro debut in London.
“I could have boxed six or eight times this year,” he said, “and I’ve had to sit out some big shows. But hopefully things will pick up from here. I’ve been back training for the past two weeks, and hopefully Golden Boy can get me on the Matchroom show in London on 14 December. That will be a great way to finish the year.”
Ogogo has certainly made up for lost time since being given the medical all-clear. He has been sparring with Carl Froch and Darren Barker, where his speed and movement have made him a valuable training partner.
“That’s been great. I really missed sparring. I can do 15 or 20 rounds now, and I certainly couldn’t do that before” he said. “And now that I am able to train and spar without being inhibited by pain, I can really move forward. I’m hoping to fight five or six times in the UK next year, and maybe be on three big shows in the US too. That would be ideal. I’ve spoken to (Golden Boy CEO) Richard Schaefer, and he wants to keep me busy.”
Ogogo hopes that a successful and active 2014 will see him in British title contention by this time next year. With a fully-healthy body to work with for the first time in years, expect him to start making up for lost time quickly.
One of the main attractions on the Carl Froch/George Groves undercard sees former British lightweight champion Anthony Crolla attempt to regain his old crown from the incumbent, Martin Gethin.
Given the size and depth of the bill, this one has flown under the radar up until now, but it could shape up to be the fight of the night. Crolla hopes home advantage could swing things his way.
“For me as a Manchester lad, it doesn’t get much better than this,” said Crolla. “I’m in my home town, it’s at the Manchester Arena, high up on the bill, boxing for a British title on a pay-per-view show. It’s going to be a special occasion.”
Crolla lost the title in surprising circumstances in April 2012, when he was stopped in six by the then-underdog Derry Mathews. “As much as it hurt at the time, that loss was a blessing in disguise,” Crolla now admits. “I did just about everything wrong that night. I forgot my boxing skills, overlooked my defence, the importance of working behind the jab, just about everything. I learned a lot of lessons that night, and I learned them the hard way. I’m a much better fighter because of it.”
Crolla has rebuilt from that loss, earning a draw with Mathews in the return, then outpointing former European champion Gavin Rees. That earned him his shot at Gethin, who is considered the underdog, perhaps because he lacks the profile Crolla has been able to generate.
“I’ve met Martin a few times, and he’s a great lad,” said Crolla. “He’s very under-rated. He did a really job on Ben Murphy (when he won the title in January), who’s one of those avoided boxers, and although he lost to Ammeth Diaz (in an IBF lightweight eliminator in May), he certainly wasn’t disgraced. And Diaz had beaten Ray Beltran, who gave Ricky Burns such a hard time.”
Crolla has been mentioned as a possible opponent for current WBO boss Burns in 2014, but for now, the focus is simply on regaining the domestic title. “It would mean the world to me to get it back,” he said. “The Lonsdale belt is the nicest belt in world boxing, and I can honestly say I have missed it. I want it back, hanging on my mantelpiece in time for Christmas.”
The sudden and unexpected retirement of Southern area lightweight champion Liam Shinkwin means a second, totally unexpected opportunity at the belt for Essex crowd pleaser Ryan “Crash Bang” Taylor. The pair met for the title in March, with Shinkwin outworking Taylor to take the decision.
Taylor begged for a rematch, and thought he had one, only for Shinkwin to decide to walk away from the game instead of going through with the return. “Fair play to Liam, we’re good mates, and he called me to tell me that the hunger isn’t there any more,” said Taylor. “He didn’t have the motivation, and just decided to retire.”
Taylor will now face Fareham’s Floyd Moore for the vacant belt on the Matchroom show at the ExCel Arena in London on 14 December. In theory, Taylor should have home advantage, but Moore is a promoter’s dream, selling plenty of tickets, and a large contingent of supporters are expected to make the trip up from the South Coast.
It’s a chance for the popular Essex fighter to rebuild his career, which had shown early promise, before suffering a first reverse against Shinkwin, soon followed by another in a Prizefighter tournament in July, when he was floored and outpointed by Danny Connor. Taylor took time out after that to consider his options.
He has moved his training base to Leeds, where he works with Martin Williams, whose client list includes former British super featherweight boss (and Ricky Burns conqueror) Carl Johanneson. However, he still maintains good relations with former trainer Tony Sims, and will use the Sims nutrition specialist Mike Jones during preparation for next month’s return.
“I did the weight all wrong for the Shinkwin fight,” said Taylor, “but this time I’ll be using Mike Jones, who all the guys at Tony’s gym seem to use, including Darren Barker. I’m gutted I wont be able to go out and see Darren box Sturm, because we’re really good mates. But thats just a week before I face Moore, so it’s about getting the priorities right.”
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.