• Boxing

Joshua on right road to greatness

Steve Bunce July 15, 2014
Anthony Joshua defeated veteran fighter Matt Skelton in Liverpool last Saturday © Getty Images

Anthony Joshua won again last Saturday to keep alive his quest to join George Foreman as an Olympic and then professional heavyweight champion of the world.

It will not be easy for Joshua, that is for sure, and since 1956 only five of the 15 gold medal winners at heavyweight and at super-heavyweight, which was introduced in 1984, have graduated to glory, the millions and honour as professional fighters.

In 1984 Tyrell Biggs, from Philadelphia, beat Lennox Lewis in the quarter-finals and then future WBO champion Francisco Damiani in the final. There were no Cubans at the 1984 Games but in 1982 Damiani had beaten the Cuban idol Teofilo Stevenson at the World championships; Damiani then, incidentally, lost to Biggs in the final.

At the time Biggs was the real deal, make no mistake. In the build-up to the Olympics Biggs had been selected at the new weight of super-heavyweight and that meant that Mike Tyson was forced to fight in the lighter heavyweight division; Tyson lost in the trials to Henry Tillman, but it was Biggs he hated. "If I don't kill him, it don't count," Tyson said before his pro fight against Biggs in 1987, which was a nasty massacre and ended with Biggs badly beaten in the seventh round of his only world title fight.

Wladimir Klitschko won Olympic gold in 1996 © Getty Images
Biggs turned professional but was booed after his debut. The big lad took it hard and, having already had help for his crack-cocaine addiction, he vanished into the Philly night. He was in drug rehab just a few months after his Olympic glory and, sadly, his story did not improve. He did put together some good wins and there is no denying that he was an exceptional fighter but his demons won in the end.

By 1988 Canada's Lennox Lewis had improved enough to win the gold medal and beat American Riddick Bowe by a stoppage in the final. Lewis turned professional with Frank Maloney in London, where Lewis had been born, after he was rejected by the American promoters. It looks now like one of the craziest mistakes in boxing's history.

Bowe and Lewis never met as professionals and that missing fight will forever remain as an awkward asterisk next to both of their glittering careers as world heavyweight champions. It should also be pointed out that Cuba missed the 1988 Seoul Olympics; it's important because Cuba's Robert Balado won the World amateur title in 1991.

In Barcelona at the 1992 Olympics Balado added Olympic gold to his portfolio of riches, the Val Barker trophy for best boxer and then refused all the offers from professional promoters. Balado won two more world championships but was killed in a car crash in 1994 when he was still only 25.

It was Wladimir Klitschko's turn in 1996 to win gold and he is still the dominant world heavyweight champion. In Sydney it was big Audley Harrison and he still believes that he can achieve his dream. The winner in Athens in 2004 was Alexander Povetkin and he held a version of the world title and remains a leading contender. Wlad continued a tradition with gold medal winners and beat another gold medal winner when he made $13 million (£7.6m) last year for bashing Povetkin all over the ring in Moscow.

In Beijing Roberto Cammarelle from Italy won gold. He is still an amateur and lost a slender decision on countback to Joshua in London in that superb summer of 2012. Joshua is better than some of the success stories and not as talented as some of the failures; it's going to be a great journey.

© 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.