Amateur Feature Premium

Beyond the Games – Britons who reached world level without winning Olympic gold medals

Richie Woodhall
Action Images
Chris Kempson shows that boxers can succeed without winning an Olympic gold medal

SOME years ago around the boxing scene I used to often hear this view, if you win an ABA title, you have a good chance of having a successful professional career, some may well still hold such a view. Similarly, it was viewed that if you won an Olympic medal, not necessarily a golden one, you were also likely to have a good chance of a successful paid career; again a view which may well still abound these days. Opinions and different viewpoints remain the lifeblood of boxing, there is no right or wrong view on such matters. For my view, for what it may or may not be worth, it seems reasonable to suggest that if someone has had a good amateur career, they stand, at least, a chance of making some waves in the paid game but it is by no means a certainty. Never a bad thing I think to win something in any walk of life and the boxing ring should be no exception. What happens thereafter, is for the individual and his/her support mechanism to seek to implement.

Let us take a look at some of our former Olympians who won Olympic medals, not golden ones, indeed some who did not win a medal of any description, who went on to win or at least challenge for world professional titles. I have covered their Olympic exploits, but intentionally for this piece have not listed their professional achievements, other than their world title shots. I have included the various titles they have boxed for which have been described by their various governing bodies as their main world titles and, latterly, I have made mention of Silver Belt contests too. I apologise in advance if any confusion is showing but it is no easy task to include various world title attempts relating to a variety of governing bodies. I also apologise if any boxer who should have been included has been missed out, no discourtesy is intended here whatsoever.

Starting in 1952 in Helsinki, we had, Welsh flyweight, Dai Dower and our very own, to eventually become Sir, Henry Cooper at light-heavyweight. Dower fought that great Argentine flyweight, Pascual Perez, for the latter’s world title and lost inside the first round in Buenos Aires in 1957. Perez was a formidable champion and reigned from 1954-1960, he is still considered by many today to be one of the greatest flyweight world champions of all time. He was Olympic champion at flyweight in London in 1948.

Cooper boxed Muhammad Ali for his World Heavyweight crown at the old Highbury Stadium in 1966, being stopped on cuts in the sixth round. Both Dower and Cooper had won ABA Senior titles. Dower won his first two Olympic contests before losing on points to the Soviet Union’s Anatoli Bulakov. Cooper had a bye in his opening Olympic experience, then he lost on points to another boxer from the Soviet Union , Anatoly Perov.

We move onto Mexico City in 1968, where a Team GB non-medallist went on to challenge for and win a professional world title.

The 1968 Games in Mexico City saw lightweight, John Stracey, win his opening bout on points over Canadian ,Marvin Arneson, only to lose in the next round on points to America’s eventual gold medallist, Ronnie Harris. Stracey was also an ABA champion.

However, the former Repton amateur favourite made a triumphant return to Mexico City in December 1975 when he stopped the ageing Cuban maestro, Jose Napoles to claim the latter’s WBC world welterweight crown in six rounds. John H. Stracey made one successful title defence against America’s Hedgemon Lewis and then along came Mexican-American Carlos Palomino, a very underrated fighter to take John H’s world crown with a victory in the 12th round in June 1976. Palomino made a number of successful title defences before being eventually dethroned by Wilfred Benitez in January 1979. Benitez from Puerto Rico is boxing’s youngest ever world champion, having won the WBA light-welterweight crown at the tender age of seventeen in 1976.

So moving on to Munich in 1972, two GB boxers from these Games were eventually to become world champions in their own right. Maurice Hope and Alan Minter both ruled the world as professionals, with Minter having far more success than Hope in the Munich Games. Hope boxing at welterweight won his opening bout, then had a walkover next and in the quarter final was outscored by Hungary’s eventual silver medallist, Janos Kajdi. Hope won the WBC world light-middleweight title in March 1979, stopping Italian Rocky Mattioli in nine rounds; defended it three times and eventually lost his world title to Puerto Rican legend, Wilfred Benitez in May 1981. Hope did not win a Senior ABA crown, but he certainly blossomed in his paid career and was always, strong and competitive, losing only to the best with and without the vest.

Minter from Crawley won an ABA title and in Munich advanced with three victories to the semi-finals, assuring him of at least a bronze medal. In his semi- final contest he met the host nation’s Dieter Kottsych and was the victim of a very bad decision which went 3-2 in the West German’s favour. Minter won the WBC and WBA world middleweight belts beating Vito Antuofermo in March 1980, successfully defended it against the Italian, only to lose it inside three rounds to America’s Marvelous Marvin Hagler at Wembley Arena in September 1980.

Montreal in 1976 provided the platform for eventual world title tilts for the following: Charlie Magri, Pat Cowdell and Welshman Colin Jones. Flyweight, Magri, who won four Senior ABA crowns had a walkover in his Olympic debut, then he was knocked out in the third round of his contest against the host country’s Ian Clyde to end his Olympic dreams. In March 1983, he challenged the Dominican Republic’s, Eleoncio Mercedes for the WBC world flyweight crown and won it when Mercedes was stopped on cuts in the seventh round. Six months later he lost the crown in his first title defence when he fell victim to cuts in the sixth round leaving the lightly regarded and relatively unknown Frank Cedeno from the Philippines as the new world champion. Magri had a further title shot in February 1985 when he boxed Sot Chitalada from Thailand, for the WBC world flyweight belt, but his last title shot ended in defeat in five rounds.

Midlander Pat Cowdell won a bantamweight bronze medal, winning three bouts on points, before meeting North Korean (PRK), Gu Yong-Ju and losing on points to him, the eventual Olympic champion. The North Korean thus becoming his country’s first gold medallist in the Olympic ring, Cowdell won four Senior ABA crowns and was a great stylist and ring craftsman. He had two shots at world honours: and as with the Olympic champion, Pat did not have easy tasks in his two world title contests. He lost a split decision for the WBC world featherweight crown to Salvador Sanchez from Mexico in December 1981 and then was knocked out in the first round by Ghanaian legend, Azumah Nelson in October 1985 for the WBC world featherweight title. Cowdell was indeed unfortunate to have to box two of the best featherweights in the modern era.

Welshman, welterweight, Colin Jones, did not have a particularly good Games. He won his first bout then he met eventual bronze medallist, Romania’s Victor Zilberman and lost on points. Jones won two Senior ABA crowns and had a fine professional career, in which he boxed three times for world titles. He drew his first attempt and then lost on points and was stopped in his final title tilt. His first opponent, whom, he drew with and then lost to was the American, Milton McCrory. Both these contests in March and August 1983, were for the vacant WBC world welterweight crown. In January 1985, he was stopped on cuts in four rounds by another American boxing legend, Don Curry, the WBA and IBF world welterweight belts were the prize.

In 1984 Scottish flyweight, Pat Clinton, boxed in the Games held in Los Angeles. He won his opening bout then was knocked out in two rounds by the eventual silver medallist, from the then Yugoslavia, Redzep Redzepovski. Clinton had two Senior ABA crowns on his amateur CV.

In the paid ranks, he won the WBO world flyweight crown in March 1992, taking a split decision over Mexico’s reigning champion, Isidro Perez. He made one successful defence and then was stopped in eight rounds by South African legend “Baby Jake” Matlala in May 1993.

We now move to Seoul in 1988, where Richie Woodhall won a fine bronze medal in the light-middleweight division. First, he had a bye then he racked up three 5-0 “shut-outs” to meet one of America’s finest, Roy Jones Jnr, who outscored Woodhall and finished up with a silver medal, when he should have won gold against South Korea’s, Pak Si-Hun , who received a truly outrageous “home decision”, over the United Sates boxer. Woodhall was a fine representative for his country, although oddly enough he did not win a Senior ABA crown

In the paid ranks, he did very well indeed, winning the WBC world super-middleweight title in March 1998 by clearly outpointing South Africa’s Thulani Malinga. An earlier attempt on American Keith Holmes’s WBC middleweight crown in October 1996 had failed, with Woodhall being stopped in the twelfth round. After defeating Malinga, Woodhall made two successful title defences, until Germany’s Markus Beyer outpointed him in October 1999 to take his world crown. A final world title shot followed when Woodhall challenged the legendary Welshman, Joe Calzaghe for the latter’s WBO super-middleweight belt, Joe stopping Richie in the tenth round.

Woodhall was a fine amateur and a composite professional with great dignity and sportsmanship and was and is still someone young pretenders can and ought to look up to today.

Also in Seoul, we had heavyweight, Henry Akinwande.In his first contest, he lost a tight decision 3-2 which went in favour of Arnold Vanderlyde of the Netherlands, an eventual bronze medallist, and his Games were over. He did win two Senior ABA championships.

In the professional ring he won the vacant WBO world heavyweight crown, in June 1996, when he knocked out American Jeremy Williams in three rounds. He made two successful title defences. In July 1997, he challenged, Lennox Lewis for his WBC world heavyweight title and a strangely subdued Akinwande was disqualified in round five for repeated “holding”.

Robin Reid with his film star looks and quick hands and feet strutted his stuff in Barcelona in 1992, to win a bronze medal in the light-middleweight division. Readers will recall that Barcelona was the first Games where boxers had first to qualify, before swapping blows in the Olympic rings.

He won three bouts at the Games, one by knockout and two on points, to meet Turkish born Orhan Delibas representing the Netherlands in the semi-final. Delibas won 8-3 leaving Reid with a bronze medal. The former eventually claiming a silver medal, losing in the final to Cuba’s Juan Carlos Lemus. Reid did not win a Senior ABA title.

Reid had a massive sixteen world title contests, some may say, somewhat unkindly and inappropriately, that he lost the most important shots at the most prestigious world crowns. I for one, do not subscribe to this view. He was a very good Olympian, a bronze medallist and a very good world champion in the paid stakes, where he held three different world championship belts at various times in his career; including initially the WBC version of the super-middleweight title..

He won his first world crown and the WBC belt by stopping Italy’s Vincenzo Nardiello in seven rounds in October 1997. Reid made three successful defences of this belt, before losing it on points in December 1997, to South Africa’s, Thulani Malinga.

Two further world title losses followed. First to the legendary Welsh super star, Joe Calzaghe, who gained a split decision over Reid, when the Welshman was defending his WBO world super-middleweight crown. Some to this day think that Reid had done quite enough to win, but Calzaghe retained his belt. Second ,there was a unanimous points loss at the fists of Italy’s, Silvio Branco for the WBU super-middleweight championship.

Reid’s luck changed in December 2000 when he defeated Salford’s Mike Gormley inside a round for the vacant WBF super-middleweight championship. Reid defended it successfully five times. In December 2003 he lost unanimously on points to Germany’s Sven Ottke who held the IBF and WBA super-middleweight crowns. But Robin was not done for in world title terms as in June 2004 he unanimously outpointed Brian Magee to take the latter’s IBO super-middleweight title.

Reid’s last world title hurrah came in August 2005 when he challenged American, Jeff Lacy for his IBF super-middleweight belt with Robin’s IBO crown also on the line. Reid retired in seven rounds and so the curtain came down on a fine world championship campaign, of eleven victories and five defeats. Not a bad ratio of success in anyone’s book.

Also in action in Barcelona was welterweight, Adrian Dodson, who had competed for Guyana, as Adrian Carew in Seoul. Carew had won an ABA Senior title. In Barcelona he won his first contest, then lost a very tight decision which went 6-5 in favour of Romania’s former 1989 World Amateur welterweight Champion, Francisc Vastag.

Dodson’s first three shots at world titles all ended in defeat and all inside the distance. First shot was at Ronald “Winky” Wright’s WBO light-middleweight title in December 1997 which ended in six rounds. Two further stoppage losses followed against South Afrcan Mpush Makambi first for the vacant IBO middleweight title and then in a first defence by the South African, Dodson losing in eleven and eight rounds respectively. However, Dodson’s world title luck changed in March 2001 when he knocked out Paul “Silky” Jones to win the vacant IBO super –middleweight belt. Dodson lost his title barely a month later when he was stopped in five rounds by Argentina’s Ramon Arturo Britez and that put paid to any further world title shots

Two other Team GB members were also in action in Barcelona and featured in world title matches they were; flyweight, Paul Ingle and Scottish featherweight, Brian Carr. They fared as follows: Carr an ABA Senior Champion, lost in his opening Games contest losing on points to Spain’s eventual silver medallist, Faustino Reyes. In June 199, Carr boxed South African Cassius Baloyi for the latter’s WBU (Original 1995-2004) World featherweight championship and was stopped in10 rounds, thus ending his world title hopes.

Paul Ingle, a top class amateur flyweight, who won Two Senior ABA crowns, won his first contest in Barcelona. Then he met the eventual gold medallist from North Korea (PRK), Choi Choi-Su and lost narrowly on points 13-12 in the impending champion’s favour.

Ingle had four world title shots, winning two and losing the other two. First up, he came across Sheffield’s great Naseem Hamed and lost in 11 rounds when challenging for Hamed’s WBO World featherweight crown in April 1999. However, in November 1999, he dethroned IBF World Featherweight champion, Manuel Medina of Mexico with a unanimous points decision. In April 2000 he added the IBO World featherweight crown to his IBF belt when he stopped America’s Junior Jones in 11 rounds. Tragedy was to strike in his next and last battle when he was stopped in 11 rounds in December 2000 by South African Mbulelo Botile. Paul left the ring that night on a stretcher and spent several long weeks in hospital in intensive care. Happily, over time, he has recovered well, which is indeed a blessing. Injuries, sadly, do happen.

In 1996, in Atlanta, featherweight David Burke lost in his opening contest and his Games were speedily over there and then. He did not win a Senior ABA crown. However, he did win the WBU (1995-2004 original version) World lightweight title in December 2002,when he gained a split decision over the then reigning champion Colin ”The Dynamo” Dunne. This was Burke’s one and only shot at a version of a world crown and he won it.

So we now arrive in Athens in 2004. Amir Khan, from Bolton, won a fabulous silver medal in the lightweight division, just falling short by 30-22 in the final which went in favour of the legendary Cuban Mario Kindelan. Khan boxed four times to secure his final berth, winning two contests by stoppage and two on points. Khan is our youngest ever Olympic medallist at the age of seventeen, no wonder he didn’t win a Senior ABA crown! He is also one of our youngest world champions, winning the WBA light-welterweight title aged twenty-two. Khan’s amateur success followed him into the professional code as we shall see.

Khan won his first world title in July 2009 when he unanimously outpointed Andriy Kotelnik from the Ukraine to land the WBA light-welterweight crown. He made four successful defences of his title and then he defeated America’s Zab Judah for the WBA light-welterweight title and also the IBF light-welterweight title. In December 2011 he lost a very hotly disputed split decision to America’s Lamont Peterson, with both these titles at stake. However, when Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone, he was stripped of his WBA title and Khan was re-instated as WBA champion.

Next time out in July 2012, Khan was halted in four rounds by American, Danny Garcia, the WBA and WBC light-welterweight belts were up for grabs. Khan bounced back, five months later, when he forced Carlos Molina of USA to retire after 10 rounds for the Interim WBC Silver light-welterweight title. After the Molina contest, Khan took a “catchweight “ contest at 143lbs against Mexican, Julio Diaz and took a unanimous 12 rounds points verdict.

Khan’s winning title streak continued for another three contests against American opposition, all of which, were won by unanimous decision. Luis Collazo was bested for the Vacant WBC Silver welterweight belt and the WBA International welterweight title; Devon Alexander failed in his attempt at Khan’s WBC Silver welterweight title; a similar fate awaited Chris Algieri in a defence of Khan’s WBC Silver welterweight belt.

Next time out, in May 2016, Khan stepped up to middleweight to challenge tough Mexican, Saul Alvarez for the WBC, The Ring and lineal middleweight titles and was knocked out in 6 rounds.

Beijing in 2008 saw lightweight, Frankie Gavin and Billy Joe Saunders at welterweight in the Olympic mix. Saunders won his first bout, then lost on points to Cuban, Carlos Banteux, the eventual silver medallist. Saunders did not win a Senior ABA title. Saunders remains undefeated in the paid ranks and in December 2015 he took a majority decision over Ireland’s, Andy Lee, to capture the Irishman’s, WBO World middleweight crown.

Gavin had a less happy Games, he failed to make the weight at lightweight and was ruled out of the Olympic competition. He had a great amateur record as well as being an ABA champion, he became the first English boxer to win a World Amateur title, the lightweight crown, in Chicago in 2007. He challenged Sheffield’s, Kell Brook for the latter’s IBF World welterweight belt in May 2015                         and was stopped in six rounds.

Who will be next in this Olympic category? Time will tell, but it is likely, as with their predecessors in these columns, they will have an interesting ring story to tell. Will they win a Senior ABA title or not, will they gain an Olympic medal or not? Will they get a shot at a professional world title and if they do will they win it? All sorts of permutations await, much as they did with those Olympians mentioned here, there will be no hard and fast rules, things will happen to make the next crop of amateur boxers who enter the paid ranks, just as interesting, perhaps even controversial as some of their predecessors. Sport is like that and boxing is and will be no exception.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment


Boxing news – Newsletter


Current Issue