• Steve Bunce

Olympic expectations

Steve Bunce February 18, 2014
Olympic champion Luke Campbell remains unbeatin after seeing off Chuck Jones © PA Photos

This Saturday in Hull, a boxer called Luke Campbell has his fifth fight and continues on his journey inside the boxing business to become the first British Olympic gold medal winner to win a legitimate world title.

In the last sixty years, Chris Finnegan, Terry Spinks and Audley Harrison all failed to add one of the sport's world championship belts to the elusive gold medals they won.

Finnegan was brutally chopped down by Bob Foster, arguably the best light-heavyweight in history, in the 14th round in 1972 and Harrison was done in three rounds by David Haye in 2010. The east end idol Little Spinks never went beyond the domestic title during his torrid career.

Finnegan would win a version of the world title now and I still believe Harrison's career fell short and that had he developed differently he would have won a version of the heavyweight world title.

Buncey's Vaults

Joe Cortez "allowed Riddick Bowe one final assault on Evander Holyfield" © AP
  • Let me take you to Las Vegas in 1995 and the third fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.
  • It ended in round eight with Holyfield out on his feet in a "disturbing finale". Holyfield had just survived a knockdown and the referee, Joe Cortez, let it continue: Hundreds at ringside screamed, 'Stop it, stop it!' Sadly, Cortez ignored them.
  • Bowe had been over in round six, it was a heavy knockdown but he managed to beat the count and with his two-stone weight advantage was able to survive the round.
  • Lennox Lewis was ringside and after the fight he was "stunned into silence" when Bowe verbally assaulted him and called him "a bitch, a faggot and variety of other street names."
  • There were no official championship belts on the line and they fought for a truly tacky belt hastily made by a New York newspaper. It would be funny were it not for the disturbing image of Holyfield swaying helplessly moments before Cortez allowed him to risk his life by permitting that final Bowe assault.
  • It was time for Holyfield to announce his retirement. I also wrote that Lewis and Bowe were moving closer to a fight. I was wrong on both counts; Lewis never fought Bowe and Holyfield had 23 more fights, including two wins over Mike Tyson, and last fought in 2011.

Little Spinks found himself keeping elite company on the home front from the very start of his pro career and his failure to progress remains a sad story. However, British world title challengers were rare in the 1960s, champions even more so.

The landscape shifted in the seventies and John H. Stracey, Richie Woodhall, Robin Reid, Charlie Magri, Paul Ingle, Henry Akinwande, Amir Khan and Alan Minter were all part of Olympic teams. Some even won a medal but not a gold, and they all went on and won versions of the world title.

At present Campbell is joined in the hunt for the elusive British double by Anthony Joshua, who won gold with him in London, and Beijing gold medal winner James DeGale, often overlooked in the last year or so but very much a leading contender.

"I want to be the British boxer that pulls it off and I'm just two fights away right now," DeGale tells me. "I have a final eliminator waiting and then I get the world title chance and I will win it, make no mistake."

DeGale has gone 12 rounds in five of his last eight fights and his mind is now right - it probably needed tweaking after the instant glory of his gold-rush days.

DeGale, who lost a wafer-thin decision to George Groves in 2011, has been ordered to fight Las Vegas-based Swedish-Gambian Badou Jack, who sounds like a bad guy in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. The purse bids for the WBC final eliminator have to be lodged at the WBC's bunker in Mexico City by March 14. Badou has Floyd Mayweather backing him and the fight could end up taking place in Las Vegas.

"I have no problem going on the road to get my opportunity," DeGale insists. "I have boxed alongside Jack at the Olympics and other international tournaments - all I need is a ring and the chance to do what I do best."

DeGale will fight on March 1 in a necessary warm-up when he meets former Georgian Scrabble champion Gevorg Khatchikian over ten rounds. If he beats Gevorg and then Jack, he will meet WBC super-middleweight champion Sakio Bika in September; DeGale will beat Bika and the wait will, I think, be over.

Meanwhile, Campbell and Joshua will keep winning, keep learning but that is not as easy as you think.

"Fighters try that bit harder against a gold medal winner and everybody has it in for an Olympic champion," Campbell, who is unbeaten in four fights, says. "I'm under a bit of pressure and I like that."

DeGale has also had to endure the pressure and it made life tricky. He warns: "I'm keeping my head down right now but when I win the world title you will hear my big mouth again."

I hope so, I miss him.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.