TO nobody’s real surprise, Frankie Gavin, 2007 World amateur champion and beaten by Kell Brook in a world-title challenge in the pros, has retired at 33.
The signs had been there for a while that Gavin was losing interest.
He pulled out of a headlining fight in Birmingham a couple of years ago that he saw as a possible steppingstone to a match with former amateur roommate Amir Khan.
And in what would prove to be his last fight, Gavin was more than four pounds overweight when challenging Kerman Lejarraga for the European welterweight title in Spain in November, 2018.
Gavin still had the skills to keep the Spanish puncher under control early on before being counted out in the fourth.
That was his fourth defeat in 30 fights and boxing being boxing, it is the losses to Leonard Bundu, Brook, Sam Eggington and Lejarraga that may well define his career.
On better nights, Gavin, a mischief maker known as “Fun-Time Frankie” took the British title off 37-year-old Junior Witter and went on to win the Lonsdale belt outright.
He also held the Commonwealth belt.
“Obviously I underachieved,” the slippery southpaw with the sad eyes told Boxing News. “It didn’t go as planned.
“I was world No 1 as an amateur and sometimes I think that once I turned pro, I fell out of love with it.
“I still won the British title and fought for the world title, but I should have done more.”
Gavin reached the pinnacle as an amateur, winning the World championships in Chicago in November 2007.
David Haye (silver), Carl Froch (bronze) and Neil Perkins (bronze) were the only men to have ever won medals for England in a championship that started in 1974 and Gavin struck gold with six wins in 10 days.
True, the Cubans weren’t there, but Aleksei Tishchenko was and, at the time, the 23-year-old Russian was rated possibly the best pound-for-pound amateur in the world.
He had won Olympic gold in 2004 and the World championships the following year but found Gavin unfathomable in the semi-finals and was beaten 19-10.
In the final, Gavin outpointed Italy’s Domenico Valentino and ahead of the Beijing Olympics, Gavin looked to be one of Britain’s best hopes for gold.
The news that Gavin had to pull out because he could no longer make 60kgs was national news and a swarm of photographers were waiting for him when he arrived home.
“Nobody was to blame,” said Gavin weeks later when the dust had settled. “I just grew too much.”
Daniel Herbert wrote in Boxing News: “If anything is to blame, it’s the Olympic qualifying procedure. That began nine long months ago with the world championships.”
In his absence, Tishchenko, beaten by Gavin in the last four at the World championships, won gold.
Gavin turned professional after 120 wins in 128 amateur bouts and trainers found him hard to control.
He started out with Anthony Farnell before switching to the Tibbs,’ the father-and-son team of Jimmy and Mark, who, for all their years in boxing, were left open mouthed by Gavin’s brilliance in the ring and crazy behaviour out of it.
The final straw was when Gavin pulled out of a fight with hard French southpaw Frank Horta in October 2011 on the day of the fight without giving any explanation.
Gavin went back to Birmingham to work with Tom Chaney, his former amateur coach and a father figure.
Chaney was in Gavin’s corner when he lost narrowly to Bundu in a European-title challenge in August 2014, a fight Gavin and a handful of ringside reporters thought he did enough to win.
He still got a shot at world honours the following May and his challenge for Brook’s IBF title went pretty much as expected.
Never known as a puncher, Gavin boxed well without ever putting a dent in the champion and was stopped in six.
There were still hopes in the Midlands Gavin could work his way back up.
He spoke – optimistically – of setting up a match with Khan, but Gavin’s career collapsed as he ran into more trouble with his trainers.
Gavin doesn’t speak too fondly of the business he leaves behind. “You go to shows and see people who are turning up to lose, get paid and then lose again the next week,” he said. “I know it’s part of the business, but I never did like it.”
He seems happier in the amateurs, training boxers alongside Chaney at the Hall Green gym where he would run to three nights a week as a boy because he couldn’t afford the bus fare.
Chaney was at Small Heath ABC when Gavin first walked through the door as a 12-year-old.
“Frankie just walked in off the street – he didn’t have a kit bag – and the first thing he said was: ‘Are we sparring tonight’?” remembered Chaney.
“Frankie was a straggly, baby-faced kid. They would look at him and think they could destroy him. But they couldn’t catch him.”
Chaney says the tactics were “punch, move, punch, move – and we worked endlessly at it.”
Under the points scoring system, Gavin flourished, winning the Commonwealth Games in 2006 along with two ABA titles and the EU championship gold.
Away from the ring, he was an uninhibited prankster with the deadpan demeanour of silent comic Buster Keaton and the street smarts of a Dickensian pick pocket.
“There isn’t a bad bone in Frankie,” said Chaney once, “but there are plenty of daft ones!”
Consequently, Gavin was a good ticket seller.
There were thousands there to cheer him when he made his professional debut at the National Indoor Arena in February, 2009, alongside Olympians James DeGale and Billy-Joe Saunders.
Gavin didn’t reach their heights as a professional, but at domestic level, he was too good for Denton Vassell, David Barnes and Bradley Skeete.
He concedes that, as his career went on, self-discipline became more of an issue.
Gavin was also heavy for an all-Birmingham clash with Sam Eggington in October, 2016.
Gavin fought his heart out before being stopped in eight.
We may see Gavin in a ring again – but without gloves.
He is tempted by the chance to join the growing bareknuckle boxing circuit. The Wembley Arena is booked for a show in November and there’s a chance Gavin could be on it.
“I’ve watched it on television,” he said, “and it could be good.
“You don’t want to get hit in a bareknuckle fight – and that was always my game. Technically, I would be the best they’ve got.”
Former professional gloved boxers John Wayne Hibbert and Travis Dickinson have found the transition to bareknuckle tough, while ex-English champion Tyler Goodjohn has been able to see the punches coming from the ex-kickboxers and MMA fighters he’s been facing and his defensive smarts have had more than one million internet views.
Gavin says a possible target for him is Curtis Woodhouse, who he outpointed on a majority points vote in Liverpool in July 2011.
“I’m just going to get back into training, start enjoying it again and see what happens,” he said.