AN Olympic gold medal is the pinnacle of amateur boxing, the highest accolade that can be achieved. Pick one up, and a boxer will be inundated with lucrative professional contracts.
However, it’s not the be-all and end-all. There have been plenty of fighters who represented their country at the Olympics, didn’t return with gold, but still went on to achieve extraordinary things in the paid ranks. Here are 10 such fighters, ranked in chronological order.
10. John H. Stracey (Lightweight, Mexico City 1968)
The loveable Londoner had the misfortune of running into an inspired Ronnie Harris in his second fight of the 1968 Olympic Games. Harris beat him on points and went on to win lightweight gold. Stracey became ABA light-welterweight champion in 1969 before turning professional at York Hall – not far from where he was born in Bethnal Green. After amassing a decent record against limited opposition, Stracey was disqualified in the seventh round of his vacant British welterweight title fight against Bobby Arthur in 1972. He won the rematch a year later.
He travelled to France to win the European title against Roger Menetrey and, in 1975, found himself in Mexico against the brilliant Jose Napoles. With 40,000 Mexicans baying for his blood, Stracey rose from a first-round knockdown to close Napoles’ eye and force a sixth-round stoppage. Carlos Palomino and Dave ‘Boy’ Green both stopped Stracey before he retired in 1978, but his win over Napoles will live long in memory.
9. Wilfredo Gomez (Bantamweight, Munich 1972)
Gomez lost his first and only fight at the 1972 Games but, because of his family’s financial struggles, decided not to wait for the next Games to try and win a medal. After winning gold at the World championships in 1974, Gomez turned professional. After drawing his debut he went on an unprecedented 32 fight knockout streak, the joint longest in world championship history. He beat Dong Kyun Yum for the WBC world super-bantam belt in 1977, defended it several times before moving into a huge fight with unbeaten Mexican, Carlos Zarate. Gomez stopped him in five and went on to defend his title against the likes of Ruben Valdes, Nicky Perez and Carlos Mendoza.
In 1981 Gomez met Salvador Sanchez in a featherweight superfight. Producing an unforgettable battle, Gomez was stopped in the eighth. He moved back to super-bantamweight, before then returning to featherweight and winning the WBC belt against Juan Laporte.
Azumah Nelson stopped Gomez in his next fight before the gifted Puerto Rican moved to super-featherweight and won the WBA belt there.
8. Mike McCallum (Welterweight, Montreal 1976)
The hard-hitting Jamaican was a stellar amateur and travelled to Montreal to represent Jamaica. He won his first two bouts of the tournament before being edged out Reinhard Skricek in the bronze medal match.
Instead of turning over after that exposure, McCallum stayed on as an amateur and won gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, and continued in the vest until 1981.
Three years later McCallum outpointed Sean Mannion over 15 rounds to lift the vacant WBA super-welterweight belt. In his third defence of the crown McCallum handed the dangerous Julian Jackson his first ever loss, stopping him in two.
Successive stoppage wins over Milton McCrory and Donald Curry in 1987 closed out McCallum’s incredible run at 154lbs before he unsuccessfully challenged WBA middleweight belt-holder Sumbu Kalamby.
Four fights later he beat Herol Graham on a split decision to win that belt, which had been vacated, and went on to retain it against Steve Collins, Michael Watson and Kalamby.
He drew and lost to James Toney before leaping to light-heavyweight, where he won the WBC belt to become a three-weight titlist. He lost to to Frabrice Tiozzi and ended his career with consecutive defeats to Roy Jones Jnr and his old nemesis Toney.
With an iron chin, dynamite fists and a fearsome body-puncher, McCallum is one of the most underrated champions in history.
7. Evander Holyfield (Light-heavyweight, Los Angeles 1984)
Holyfield won bronze at the Olympic Games after he was questionably disqualified in his semi-final bout against Kevin Barry. After the referee told both boxers to stop at the end of the second round, Holyfield dropped Barry with a two-punch combination, prompting referee Gligorije Novicic to disqualify him.
Holyfield then turned over, beginning a career that would see him become, arguably, the greatest cruiserweight in history – and a four-time world heavyweight champion.
A fine technician, Holyfield was a warrior at heart, as shown in his terrific scraps with Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Of course, it was Holyfield’s heavyweight trilogy with Riddick Bowe which would cement his impossibly brave legend.
Buster Douglas, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Bowe (who twice beat Holyfield) all suffered defeats to Evander. Back to back wins over a troubled Mike Tyson generated obscene amounts of money before he drew and lost to Lennox Lewis.
He reclaimed the WBA heavyweight belt against John Ruiz, before losing it to him again and then continuing his Hall of Fame career for too long. In 2008 he was unfortunate not to get the nod over Nikolai Valuev, and eventually retired after beating Brian Nielsen in 2011.
6. Kostya Tszyu (Lightweight, Seoul 1988)
Representing the (then) Soviet Union, Tszyu was outpointed by Andreas Zuelow (who he had previously beaten as an amateur) in his third fight of the tournament, though went on to become a World and European (twice) amateur champion.
Based in Sydney, the marauding Russian scooped up the IBF super-lightweight belt before relinquishing it to Vince Phillips. He regrouped and became WBC titlist, seeing off the likes of (an ageing) Julio Cesar Chavez, Sharmba Mitchell, Oktay Urkal and Zab Judah.
He was a pound-for-pound monster who looked unstoppable at his weight. Even when his skills were slightly eroded, he was a huge favourite over Ricky Hatton in 2005, however the inspired Mancunian forced Tszyu to retire after 11 rounds, finishing his glittering career.
5. Ike Quartey (Light-welterweight, Seoul 1988)
Trying to replicate, or better, his brother’s 1960 Olympic silver medal, Quartey came up short in Seoul as Australia’s Grahame Cheney eliminated him before the medal stages.
He turned pro later that year, aged 18, boxing predominantly in his native Ghana and also France before getting a crack at the WBA welterweight belt in 1994. He stopped Crisanto Espana for the title and defended it numerous times, beating Vince Phillips and Oba Carr in the process.
He drew with Jose Luis Lopez before being edged out by Oscar De La Hoya and then also outpointed by Fernando Vargas.
A superb boxer with an incredible jab, Quartey was a stand-out champion in his pomp.
4. Roy Jones Jnr (Light-middleweight, Seoul 1988)
The most infamous gold medal bout in Olympic history – South Korean Park Si-Hun was awarded the decision despite Jones dominating the contest.
While Si-Hun retired from boxing, Jones began a professional career which would see him become the best fighter on the planet – and one of the best in history.
Jones became a middleweight, super-middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight world titlist while defeating the best names in and around those weights in the process.
James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, McCallum, John Ruiz and Montell Griffin were all felled by the peerless Florida native.
Antonio Tarver shattered Jones’ aura of invincibility in 2004 and Glen Johnson added another loss to his record straight away – Jones was never the same again. He fought on, and still does, way past his best and while he may be tarnishing his legacy, the dazzling skills he displayed while dismantling world class opposition will forever see him remembered as one of the greats.
3. Floyd Mayweather (Featherweight, Atlanta 1996)
Mayweather turned the bronze medal he won for the USA into an obscene amount of money. Depending on who you ask, he deserved the nod in his semi-final against Serafim Todorov – having beaten Cuba’s brilliant Lorenzo Aragon beforehand – but now the point is moot – Mayweather turned professional with a lot of fanfare, and quickly shot to stardom.
Mayweather won world belts in five weight classes in total – though not even that figure conveys his dominance. In the lighter weights and earlier in his career, he was actually a punishing puncher who produced some memorable stoppages over terrific fighters like Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales and Carlos Hernandez.
As he moved through the weights and hand troubles dampened his power, Mayweather would be forced to go the distance more – though that did not detract from his brilliance. Arturo Gatti, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and of course Manny Pacquiao were all unable to shatter Floyd’s perfect record.
Though he was selective in choosing his opponents, Mayweather was undoubtedly the best of his generation – and became the highest paid athlete on the planet for several years as a reward.
2. Miguel Cotto (Light-welterweight, Sydney 2000)
Puerto Rico’s Cotto began boxing aged 11, originally just to get himself into shape. He became a standout amateur, though was outpointed by eventual Olympic champion Muhammad Abdullaev in Sydney. He turned over, and after winning the WBO super-lightweight belt in 2004 against Kelson Pinto made the third defence of his title against none-other than Abdullaev. Cotto dominated him before ending things in the ninth.
Paulie Malignaggi was outpointed before Cotto became the WBA welterweight titlist against Carlos Quintana, and then defeated both Zab Judah and Shane Mosley. In 2008, the villainous Antonio Margarito bludgeoned Cotto inside 11 rounds to hand him his first loss. Allegations of cheating followed, but it would be three years before Cotto could gain revenge.
Wins over Joshua Clottey and Yuri Foreman came in between, as did a punishing loss to Manny Pacquiao. Cotto pushed Mayweather hard in 2012 and eventually won the WBC middleweight belt by destroying Sergio Martinez in a catchweight fight.
Cotto lost that title to Canelo Alvarez but remained one of the most popular fighters in the world.
1. Gennady Golovkin (Middleweight, Athens 2004)
The Kazakh wrecking ball had a wildly successful amateur career, though couldn’t claim gold in Athens. He beat Andre Dirrell before being outpointed by Russia’s brilliant Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov – who had previously beaten the likes of Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy as an amateur – in the final.
Golovkin quickly walloped his way through the middleweight rankings, predominantly fighting in Germany before taking his talents all over the world. He picked up a WBA belt, but a trend was setting in – ‘GGG’ just couldn’t get the division’s big names to fight him.
Grzegorz Proska, Gabriel Rosado and Matthew Macklin were all swatted aside and Nobuhiro Ishida was simply destroyed. Martin Murray and Willie Monroe were also stopped before Golovkin added the IBF belt to his haul by dismantling David Lemieux.
His two fights with Canelo Alvarez generated controversy and huge interest. His destructive talents will always earn him a place in the spotlight.