IT’S been really tough. It’s been a massive adjustment because when you do a sport like boxing, it’s more than just a sport. It’s more than something you do. It’s something you become. No matter what, when you retire from what you do and you’ve done it religiously, diligently for 18 years like I did, it’s hard anyway. But when that decision has been taken away from you… I wasn’t approaching my peak. I wasn’t at my peak yet and then I hurt my eye and I had to retire.
When the Olympics happened and my mum was really ill, thankfully she survived and she pulled through and she’s making a great recovery still eight years on. I wanted to turn pro because I wanted to leave the Olympics in the past, because I’d intertwined my mum’s illness with the Olympics together, they became one thing for me. I wanted to cut that cord and just move on. All that desire for the Olympics I repackaged as a professional fighter. It was just frustrating that I had some amazing moments in boxing but I never had that one career defining moment. Had I won the gold medal in London, I could look back and say at least I became Olympic champion in my own city, I’m not bothered about my pro career. Or had I been a pro and won a world title which I thought I was going to do, I could have gone at least I got my world title. But I didn’t get either. I didn’t get either, without sounding bitter, when it wasn’t really my fault. I was good enough to, I worked hard enough to. That’s the thing that’s hard to take because I’ve always been of the belief that if you want it hard enough and you’re prepared to work for it, you’re going to get it. No one can question my desire for it and I’ve worked harder than anybody I’ve ever known and it still wasn’t meant to be.
I do look back fondly on it, it’s just I never quite got that one moment which I yearned for.
The one thing I can look back on and say is I gave it everything. I spent £100,000 on four operations. I had nine all together. Five were over here. Four on the NHS, one was privately over here which I paid for monthly. Then four expensive ones in America. I didn’t even earn a hundred grand in my boxing career. I had to remortage my house. I sold my Range Rover to pay for the surgeries. I gave everything to it. In the faint hope that I’d get back to do my thing and be able to compete again. Financially I gave it my all. I gave it my life, not just in the three years I was trying to get back in the ring, but all the years training before.
Other people got hit more than me and their eyes returned to normal. I trained hard. I done my diet right. I could not have been any more diligent in my career and then one punch has done me.
I struggled for a number of months. I’ve got an amazing wife, she helped me through it. She gave me a cuddle when I needed it early on and then she gave me a kick up the arse when I needed that because I would have kept sulking if it wasn’t for her inspiring me to go out be better. I just didn’t want that for the rest of my life. I was waking up in the afternoon, I was drinking beer for breakfast. I was in a bad place. I was miserable and I was bitter. I was thinking it ain’t fair Anthony Joshua’s earning millions of pounds and I’m skint. [I was thinking] how am I riding a bloody bus when Anthony Joshua’s a multi-multi-multi-millionaire, Callum Smith’s a multi-millionaire, driving fast cars or whatever?
The Callum Smith parallel is he moved up a weight category because Rob McCracken would rather send me to the Worlds and the Olympic qualifier… It’s because my results proved I was winning medals and Callum wasn’t winning medals.
Callum is a tremendous fighter, a real good fighter. On the Great Britain team he was my number two. I’m not saying he’s done this, therefore I would have done that. I’m not saying that because I know things work out differently. But back then I was better than him.
I don’t know Rocky [Fielding] as well but how he’s become a world champion and I didn’t even win one belt as a pro… I’m not knocking him, he’s a decent boxer but he got blown away in round one with Callum Smith.
It’s just frustrating. Watching people go off and live my dream has been a bit disheartening.
I was really bitter. I was becoming a person that I didn’t want to be. I want people to do well in life because I want people to want me to do well in life.
But I sulked through it for a number of months, I was in a real bad place for a while, sulking and pointing the finger and saying why him and not me. That’s not going to get you anywhere in life. I’d just become bitter. If I did that without moving on I’d be that bitter guy in the pub in 10 years’ time saying it could have been me or it should have been me. I refuse for that to be my boxing legacy, being a bit a bitter guy in the pub, I want to move on and do some tremendous things in life.
I buried my head in the sand for a while. I ignored boxing, pretended it wasn’t even a thing and tried to find something that I could channel this … passion, I guess you could call it. And this passion was coming out in a negative way, i.e. bitterness, jealousy and that’s not me. That’s not an attractive trait to have.
31 is still a young man. You can do anything you want at 31. It’s all about looking for positives when you suffer setbacks and the reasons why it happened. A positive to retiring from boxing at 30 last year, I’m young enough to do something totally different.
I’ve got things I want to achieve in my life and I’m young enough now to start again in a whole new world and crack on.
I’m now a professional wrestler signed to AEW over in America. People don’t want to sign 31 year old people who are still wrestling because it’s too old. Most people start as teenagers or early twenties. I’m not dumb. I know I’ve been given this opportunity because I am an Olympic medallist, I have done all these great things in boxing. So my exploits in boxing, although I didn’t get the gold medal or the world title that I so yearned for, it’s still opening doors for me now, eight years on from my Olympic success.
I’ve got an amazing story to tell, because of the setbacks I’ve suffered and the things I’ve achieved and that alone is a master key which opens so many doors that other people don’t get the opportunity to open. I am really fortunate in my boxing career. I’m happy I achieved what I achieved in spite of the adversity I faced.
I had to direct this passion elsewhere, in a positive channel I guess, and that’s what I did. I found a new career that I wanted to do, that I enjoyed, that I think I’ll excel in and I’ve channelled it in that arena. Had I not have done that then that passion would have turned to bitterness, to jealousy. That would have eaten me up and I’d have become that prick in the pub in 10 years’ time saying why, why not me. And I want more from my life than that.
What wrestling is is the perfect combination of professional combat sports and acting. It’s an amalgamation of those two entities. It’s nice and it’s fun and it’s exciting and when I get back over to the US, when coronavirus is done, I’ll be on TV each week in America, ITV in the UK every single week. So hopefully my stock will rise continually. And hopefully, which I’m sure it will be, it’s going to be loads of fun.
When you’re young, you think you’re going to live forever. You think nothing’s going to go wrong because you’re so enthusiastic and optimistic. But what I always say to other people, because I didn’t do this enough in my professional career, enjoy the moments along the way. I never did that.
My pro debut was the best night of my professional career. Which is rubbish, because injuries and stuff curtailed my career [but] the point I’m making is I should have enjoyed it. I should have enjoyed that night. Because those nights, they’re not a given. I thought they’d be a given but they weren’t a given and you never know what’s around the corner.
If you’re going to make a journey to the top, you can be really committed about getting to the top but stopping along the way sometimes, turning around having a look and enjoying the view along the way, that view can be equally as good as the view from the top. Or as in my case, you might never get to the top, something happens out of your control, never got to the top and you never got a view at all along the mountain. And that’s what I wish I’d done. I wish in my pro career I’d enjoyed the moments along the way more. Because I look back on my boxing career and think there’s not many moments I really enjoyed. Because I was so focused on the next thing I let the end goal determine whether or not I had fun along the way. It shouldn’t be that way. You should have fun along the way. If you get to the top, bonus. But if you don’t get to the top at least you can look back and go you know what I had a great journey. And I didn’t have that great journey.[However] you’ve always got a second chance and this next chapter in my life I want to make sure I enjoy the moments. The small moments, the big moments, every moment along the way, really enjoy it.