In winning super heavyweight gold on home soil at the 2012 Olympic Games, Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua put the exclamation point on his meteoric rise to international amateur boxing prominence, while also showing a flare for the dramatic.
Joshua’s road to Olympic gold was fraught with tantalizing match-ups and razor-close decisions. In the opening round, Joshua drew the world’s number four-ranked super heavyweight in Cuba’s Erislandy Savon, nephew of Olympic boxing legend Felix Savon. Joshua prevailed by a score of 17-16, and he rode this momentum through the rest of the tournament.
Joshua’s second bout saw him triumph over Beijing silver medalist Zhilei Zhang of China (15-11), which guaranteed the gargantuan Brit at least a bronze medal. Joshua, however, won his semifinal bout over 6’9'' Kazak Ivan Dychko (13-11), a 2011 World Championship bronze medalist. Despite the competitive nature of Joshua’s first three victories—especially his first bout against Savon—these dramatic encounters would pale in magnitude when compared to the Olympic final.
In the final, Joshua faced the daunting task of solving the puzzle of Roberto Cammarelle, an Italian policeman, the defending Olympic champion (and 2004 bronze medalist) and two-time World Champion (2007 and 2009). At 32, Cammarelle entered London 2012 with a plethora of elite international experience, especially when compared to Joshua’s novice pedigree.
Joshua had won 31 of 34 career amateur bouts entering the London Olympics, and his only elite international experience had come during his unprecedented run to World Championship silver in Baku where he lost a heart-wrenching 12-13 decision to Azerbaijan’s Magomedrasul Majidov.
Some, including The Sun’s Colin Hart, have argued that Joshua was the fortunate recipient of some home-cooking in London, especially in his first bout with Savon. Hart blatantly argues, “There is little doubt he [Joshua] was the beneficiary of a blatant hometown decision in his first bout. He was clearly outpointed by Cuban Erislandy Savon, who was much faster and more skillful.”
Of course, in defeating Cammarelle on a tiebreaker when level scores of 18-18 solved nothing after three rounds of boxing, it is inevitable that some will suggest had the bout taken place in, say, Milan—Cammarelle’s hometown—the outcome would have been different.
At this point, such claims are mere conjecture and speculation. The fact remains that Joshua is the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight champion, and his performance endeared him to the British public and made the salivating prospect of his professional debut the most anticipated boxing transition since, dare I say, Audley Harrison after “A-Force” won gold in Sydney.
As for Joshua and professional boxing, fans might need to curb their expectations—at least in terms of when his debut will actually happen. In fact, should Joshua even turn professional immediately after his Olympic triumph?
If Joshua was an American, fans would question his sanity and priorities if he chose to remain an amateur after winning Olympic gold. This upwardly mobile thought process isn’t unfounded, and, in many ways, Joshua has already reached the pinnacle of amateur boxing. His stock as a professional prospect is currently at its hottest, and there is nothing he needs to do at this juncture to secure a top promotional outfit, instant exposure and a rabid fan-base.
Joshua, however, seems to have another ideas. According to ESPN.com’s UK outlet, after winning gold in London, Joshua indicated that he intends to remain an amateur and look to capture top honors at the 2013 World Championships in Kazakhstan.
In the same ESPN UK article, top British promoter Frank Warren made it clear (via his column in The Sun) that he backed “Big Josh” to win gold, but that Joshua remaining an amateur is a mistake:
"However, suggestions that the 6'6'', 18 stone Watford banger's development would be best served by remaining in the unpaid code are flawed. 'Big Josh' has already defeated the best available amateur opposition and needs the fresh challenges that a pro career would offer, to prevent going stale. […] He has the power and stamina to become world heavyweight champion quicker than anyone previously."
Warren’s thinly veiled motivations are clear: he desperately wants to sign Joshua to his promotional stable (who wouldn’t?). Having established himself as a top-flight international promoter who always has his hands in the cookie jar of British boxing prospects, Warren famously secured the promotional rights of James DeGale, Frankie Gavin and Billie Joe Saunders, all blue chip members of Britain’s 2008 Olympic boxing team.
While Warren has guided these Olympic boxers to success at the domestic and European level, none of his 2008 Olympians have fought for a professional world title or even been in serious consideration (at this point).
While DeGale does seem poised to challenge for a world title by 2013-2014, the fact that even “Chunky”—an experienced and decorated amateur—has not fought for a world title in four years since Beijing makes Warren’s claim that Joshua can become the fastest heavyweight champion pure hyperbole.
Other than acting as a ploy to sign Joshua, Warren has little to back up the claim that he can land Joshua a world title shot in under four years. The most intelligent move would obviously be to coincide Joshua’s ascent with the retirement of the Klitschko brothers, which should occur imminently for Vitali and within five years for Wladimir.
In the meantime, Joshua electing to remain an amateur for one final major tournament will not render him “stale.” On the contrary, added international experience might help Joshua in the long run. At 22, Joshua has time to develop, and the athletic and powerful Brit only started boxing at 18.
While Joshua should in no way make another Olympic run, an extra year as an amateur will not be detrimental to his professional stock. It might even go a long way towards ensuring that his professional career resembles Lennox Lewis’, as opposed to Audley Harrison’s.