Anthony Ogogo (left) poses with his pro debut opponent, Kieron Gray, who he faces on the Amir Khan-Julio Diaz undercard on Saturday in Sheffield, England.
In 2012, Great Britain gathered arguably its finest ever boxing team to compete in the London Olympics and annexed the nation’s largest medal haul in over one hundred years.
Much like the celebrated U.S. team that competed in 1984, at home in Los Angeles, these young athletes captured the public’s imagination and their professional odysseys are eagerly anticipated by the boxing world at large.
Anthony Ogogo, from Suffolk, was highly touted before he released a punch in the Olympics. Clean cut with bags of charisma, and the talent to match, the young middleweight received a well-earned bronze medal in the Summer Games but it was his backstory which proved impossible to ignore.
Anthony’s mother suffered a brain hemorrhage in June 2012 and she was gravely ill as her only son prepared himself for the biggest challenge of his boxing career. Understandably devastated the 24 year old was ready to quit Team Great Britain to be by his mother’s side as she convalesced following a lifesaving operation.
The fighter was on the ropes and emotionally drained but he was encouraged by a close family unit to compete in his mother’s honor and dutifully rose to the occasion. Anthony now has a mother on the mend, an Olympic medal and a plethora of commercial endorsements and television opportunities which he could only have dreamed of.
Ogogo meets his first professional opponent, Kieron Gray, in a six-round contest on the undercard of Amir Khan vs. Julio Diaz in Sheffield tomorrow night. Golden Boy Promotions will guide him as a professional at home, and in the United States, in an unprecedented business maneuver designed to transform Olympic glory into world titles within the middleweight ranks.
Ring TV.com spoke to Anthony Ogogo about his future plans and aspirations.
RingTV.com: At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a professional fighter and why was that the career for you?
Anthony Ogogo: I like the idea of emulating heroes like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard but over the last few years I’ve been so focused on the Olympics that I didn’t give it much thought. The turning point was when I returned to Sheffield to train with Team GB and the coaches were discussing an up-coming tournament which I had won in 2011. In the Olympics I had fought in front of ten thousand people and now I was faced with the prospect of returning to Bulgaria to compete in an empty hall against the same old opponents. I didn’t fancy another four years of that so I signed with Golden Boy Promotions who have the same vision as me. We want big nights and huge crowds like we had in London last year.
RTV: Your Olympic success has led to so much media exposure already. How important is it for you to have crossover appeal and make a name for yourself outside of the ring?
AO: It’s very important to me because it’s my personality and I like to think of myself as more than just a boxer. I don’t appreciate the stigma attached to the sport that it’s thuggish or the stereotype that boxers lack intelligence or intellect. Boxing is frequently talked about in a derogatory fashion but it’s an amazing sport which teaches kids to be respectful and I like to think of myself as an ambassador who represents the sport properly. There are so many nice people involved in boxing.
RTV: Early exposure of this nature can produce amazing success stories but it has been known to backfire. What attributes do you possess which will make Anthony Ogogo a success as a professional?
AO: I’ve got great mental strength and toughness. I proved at the Olympic Games, when my mother was very ill, that I can fight through adversity. There was a point where I wasn’t going to compete but I turned it around, won a medal and came through some very tough fights. I’ve got a burning desire to be the best whether it’s running in the morning or being the best in the gym – it’s my goal to be the best. I want to learn and I’ll never rest on my laurels. That combined that with my physical talents will lead to a successful career. That’s the plan anyway.
RTV: Golden Boy Promotions are elated to have signed you. They want you out eight times in 12 months and you will potentially appear on some of the biggest fight cards in world boxing. How will you handle that kind of pressure and the huge expectations?
AO: I’m very level headed and I’m just a normal guy. When I’m not in training I’ll be in the pub with my mates, watching football and having a lemonade. The big boxing shows excite me but I’m not the type of person to get over awed by that. This is my opportunity to go out there, perform well and show people how good I am. Sure I want the public to talk about me but I won’t get ahead of myself. I’ll take each step as it comes.
RTV: You’ll be competing as a middleweight but do you have aspirations to go beyond that weight class?
AO: Potentially I’ll go beyond 160 pounds but right now I make middleweight easily and I’m only a couple of pounds over the limit which is great. I eat three times a day but I train extremely hard and middleweight is my favorite division. The likes of Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard competed at 160 and Britain has had some fantastic middleweights like (Nigel) Benn, (Chris) Eubank and (Alan) Minter so I would love to have my name thrown in to that mix. The division also encapsulates that perfect blend of speed and power and I can’t wait to get going.
RTV: What route would you like to pursue in terms of your professional development. Will you target the traditional path – British, Commonwealth and European titles or have you got your own game plan in that regard?
AO: That’s what I’m after. I’m a traditionalist and I’m very proud to be British so that would be an ideal route for me. Having said that it’s out of my hands because I’ll fight whoever Golden Boy Promotions tell me to fight. For my debut I selected the best opponent from the choice I was given and I also decided to fight a six rounder because I want to be challenged. I would love to win a British title outright because Ricky Hatton told me it’s the one regret he has, is not winning a Lonsdale belt outright. Ricky actually went out and bought one (laughs).
RTV: The current British scene at middleweight is as good as it’s been in over 20 years. Who impresses you most in the UK at middleweight?
AO: There are some really impressive names. Darren Barker has turned a corner after being injured and did very well against a great fighter in Sergio Martinez. I thought both Martin Murray and Matthew Macklin beat Felix Sturm so either of them could have been a world champion by now. Just below them you have Billy Jo Saunders who I rate highly as well as John Ryder so British middleweight boxing is buzzing right now. Hopefully they stick around and we could have some big fights in the future but they’re all way ahead of me at the moment.
RTV: Because of your standing as one of the best amateurs in the world you have spent a lot of time around active world champions and professionals. Who has impressed you most and why?
AO: Carl Froch impressed me most because he always fights the best and I respect that. Andre Ward beat him comfortably and Carl could have taken an easy fight but that’s not what he’s about. He went straight in with Lucien Bute and beat him in sensational fashion. I admire Carl’s strength of character and warrior instincts.
RTV: What are your goals in the long term?
AO: I hope to inspire people and I hope to have a massive following the way Ricky Hatton and Frank Bruno had back in the day. When I fight I want it to be a big deal because my goal is to be a British boxing legend and that means I have to win world title belts. I would like to be held up there with the likes of Alan Minter, Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn. I would like to inspire people to do something great with their lives. That would make me a happy guy.
Photos / Scotty Heavey-Getty Images, Dean Mouhtaropoulos-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing