• Steve Bunce

Joshua walking in some very big boots

Steve Bunce July 8, 2014
Buncey's Boxing Podcast: Harrison, Skelton, Flanagan, Gomez Jr

This Saturday in Liverpool the reigning Olympic super-heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua moves closer to the edge when he fights veteran Matt Skelton.

Johsua is walking in some very big boots but since 1952 only five Olympic heavyweight champions have turned professional and won the world heavyweight title.

Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin all won gold and all won versions of the professional title; they left behind other medal winners in their glorious slipstream.

Joshua is a work in progress, a serious young man with a burning desire to translate amateur gold into professional millions. However, he is treading where others have failed and the list of Olympians falling short is as glorious as the list of the men that have made the journey in style.

In 1952 the heavyweight final at the Helsinki games was a farce. The American Big Ed Sanders, fresh from 3 knockout wins, won the gold when Sweden's Ingemar Johannson was disqualified for not fighting: "I was not running," claimed Johannson. "It was part of my tactic to make Sanders tired."

Sanders was eventually allowed to turn professional after a delay; he was refused as first because he was serving in the navy. His pro career was odd, there seems to have been little fanfare and after just his ninth fight in 1954 he died: He was 24 at the time. Johannson was eventually given his silver medal in 1982; he also turned professional and did win the world heavyweight title when he knocked out Floyd Patterson in 1959.

The 1956 Olympic champion was Peter Rademacher and his passage from the podium in Melbourne to innovator of three-wheeled bikes for the elderly is a bit mad.

Rademacher won gold and in his first pro fight he challenged for the world heavyweight title against Patterson. He dropped Patterson before being bludgeoned to the canvas a total of six times and stopped in the sixth round. His life inside the ropes never improved and he was matched incredibly hard before retiring in 1962. After the ring he developed a special bike with three wheels and lives, as far as I know, a happy life. I will get him a guest soon on the podcast.

In 1960 in Rome the local heavy idol Franco De Piccoli won gold. He was feted, he had models hanging off his elbow and he turned pro. Sadly, he never cracked it and after a few years of ultra careful matchmaking he retired without any glory and a record of 37 wins and four defeats.

Anthony Joshua is walking in some very big boots © PA Photos

In 1964 Joe Frazier won and in 1968 George Foreman won. They made the transition. Muhammad Ali was Olympic light-heavyweight champion and Patterson actually won Olympic gold in 1952 at middleweight. Frazier was the first Olympic heavyweight champion to become world heavyweight champion as a professional.

In 1972, 1976 and 1980 Teofilo Stevenson won gold. He refused the millions on offer from American promoters and died as Fidel Castro's favourite revolutionary fighter. Don King maintains that he was close to getting Stevenson out of Havana to fight Ali.

Two of Stevenson's American victims from the Olympics did turn professional and there was considerable hope attached to their careers. One, Duane Bobick, was the last Great White Hope.

In 1972 Bobick, who had previously beaten Stevenson, was stopped in the third by the big Cuban in the Munich quarter-finals. Bobick turned professional and there was a lot of bold talk. He was 38 and zero, most wins by stoppage, before Ken Norton delivered a stunning reality check in just 58 seconds when he knocked out Bobick in the Madison Square Garden ring.

In Montreal in 1976 Big John Tate was stopped by Stevenson in the first round of their semi-final. Tate did go on and win the world heavyweight title but he was a troubled man. His last fight, incidentally, was at York Hall in London's Bethnal Green against Liverpool's Noel Quarless. Now, here's a bit of trivia because the following year Quarless fought for the last time back at York Hall when he was stopped by Olympic champion Lennox Lewis.

In 1984 the Olympic movement introduced the super-heavyweight division and the first champion became one of the most spectacular gold-medal failures. That, however, is for next week.

In this week's edition of Buncey's Boxing Podcast, Audley Harrison speaks about the British heavyweight boxing scene and why he wants to step into the ring with Eddie Chambers. Click here to listen

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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.