The London Olympics was an undeniable success for the host nation. Finishing third in the medal table, Team GB produced performances that ensured the public could be proud to call themselves British. Yet one sport in particular – boxing – provided great success. Super-heavyweight Anthony Joshua took home the gold medal and immediately faced the prospect of a grand professional career.
However, Joshua has recently hinted as his desire to remain away from the paid ranks, despite promotional offers that are bound to make him a very wealthy 22-year-old. Having only taken up the sport at age 18, Joshua has proven himself to be a naturally talented fighter, and surely has all the physical and marketable features necessary to progress into the professional domain.
Yet his reluctance has sent alarm bells ringing about the nature of the British professional game. Essentially, we see our current boxing stars under too much pressure to be invincible. This in turn leads to promoters guiding British boxers through a career of easy fights, which invariably leave our man unstuck in the big occasions.
A clear example is seen when one looks back at the career of Amir Khan. Silver medalist in Athens at 17 years of age, Khan was thrust into the world of professional boxing – with his young face becoming instantly recognised by every Brit on the street. However now we see Khan left facing calls from some to actually retire from the sport – at the age of 25.
The absurd levels of pressure put upon British fighters is to blame. So often in Khan’s career he has walked over opponents, skipping past tough domestic rivals like Kevin Mitchell and John Murray, preferring to face a faded Marco Antonio Barrera. Having found himself with two losses back-t0-back – firstly to Lamont Peterson and followed more recently by Danny Garcia – Khan has now found himself under fire to hang up the gloves.
Yet to me this just sums up the nature of boxing in this country. Khan, who is unbelievably talented, has been wrapped in cotton wool through his career. Although he has faced and overcome the heavy hitting Marcos Maidana, contests with the light punching Paulie Malignaggi have helped cushion his journey to light-welterweight glory. Subsequently, Khan stepped into the ring with the likes of Peterson and Garcia with a chance of victory, but not as much of a chance as boxing critics made out. Many expected a walkover for Amir ‘King’ Khan, yet he now finds himself with two more defeats to add to his record. That comfortable ride to glory seems unhelpful now.
Kell Brook, a rising star in the welterweight division and fighting out of Sheffield is another example. His undefeated record looks to some as proof of star quality. Indeed, Brook is an exceptional talent. But this desire to market him as a great fighter whilst keeping such a record in tact has left him untested. Therefore it should have come as no surprise that he faced a rough night against American Carson Jones in his last contest – a fight many felt Brook would dominate.
It appears that for British boxers, losing is unimaginable. Of course, no boxer seeks out certain defeat against men whom he cannot overcome, yet the radical alternative of a sheltered guide through perpetual mismatches does more harm than one or two losses. James DeGale, Olympic gold medalist in Bejing was undefeated before he faced bitter domestic rival George Groves in May 2011. He was beaten, and has since slipped off the radar – almost as if a loss was such a horror that it would be better for him to be hidden away until we all forgot about him. He now finds himself a European champion at super middleweight, yet is hardly marketed as much as he was before his loss.
With this current climate of pressure to win and a fear of losing an undefeated streak, coupled with our boxers being put into fights with top class ability without being truly tested leaves me wondering. Should I really be surprised if Anthony Joshua avoids the professional ranks?
The solution is for the British boxing media and promoters to reassess the way in which fighter’s careers are handled and structured. Less pressure on remaining undefeated; testing fights rather than easy rides and a less negative attitude when defeat does come, may indeed remedy the situation and make fighters like Joshua leap into the paid ranks.
However, more worryingly it seems the problem lies with the nature of professional boxing. God fighters – to the laymen – have undefeated records, good fighters sell tickets, tickets sold equates to money, and money makes boxing tick.
I hope that boxing – the ultimate of individual sports – can alter its ways; especially in Britain. It would be nice to see time given to fighters, who aren’t pressured into hard fights on the back of an easy career. Maybe then we shall see the Anthony Joshua’s of the world dive into the professional domain. If not, we may see talented fighters like Joshua turn down the chance to dominate the sport of professional boxing.