By: Oliver McManus
Whilst flicking through an array of Wikipedia pages in my boredom last week I found myself repeatedly coming back to the Boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics article with disbelief at the sheer plethora of talent across the weight divisions. It’s one thing to be a world class amateur but it’s another to be a cracking professional fighter so, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the star fighter from each weight category from London 2012;
Light Flyweight – Zou Shiming
The gold medalist from 2012 in the light fly division, Zou Shiming turned professional shortly after at the ripe old age of 32 but with the backing of, top dog, Bob Arum he always looked destined to crack the big time.
And so he did as the 5ft 4in won his first title, the WBO International flyweight, in his fifth bout with thanks to a wide points decision over Luis de la Rosa before a name-making clash with Prasitsak Phaprom secured the Chinese sensation a world title shot against Amnat Ruenrong.
In this fight, and in his fight with Sho Kimura (for the WBO World title last July), his power at the weight class was clear to show and Ruenrong was dropped early in the second to prove this factor; whilst not in possession of knockout punch power, his combination of awkward foot movement and repetitive jabs ensures he’s a nightmare for all he comes across.
Unfortunately his susceptible chin has also shone through as he lost a unanimous decision to Ruenrong, before going on a three fight winning streak, and was knocked out by Kimura when leading on the scorecards.
Shiming will go down in memory due to fears he lost his eyesight in that fight with Kimura but, despite that, he’ll still have a place in the record books as world champion – in thanks to a 2nd win over Phaprom in 2016 for the WBO belt – so that’s, very much, mission accomplished.
Flyweight – Michael Conlan
2012’s flyweight champion Robeisy Ramirez, from Cuba, rather inevitably never turned professional but the silver medallist, Nyambayaryn Togstsogt, and two bronze medallists, Misha Aloyan and Michael Conlan, have all made unbeaten starts to their pro career.
By way of Aloyan having a failed drugs test on his record and being unimpressive in his last two bouts as well as Togstsogt only have two fights last year, we arrive with Michael Conlan as our stand-out professional.
Conlan, himself, went on to win a gold medal at the World Championships in 2015 and was famously eliminated via a controversial loss to Vladimir Nikitin, in which he accused the officials of amateur boxing of corruption, in Rio 2016. Following that he turned professional with Top Rank and Bob Arum, making his professional debut on the 17th March 2017 – St Patricks Day!
Since then he’s fought five times – never against an opponent with a losing record – and immediately impressed with three consecutive third round knockouts, including on the undercard of Pacquiao-Horn in Australia.
Fighting in the featherweight division, Conlan has recently changed trainers to link-up with Adam Booth, in the United Kingdom but will still be fighting on US soil and admits he’s ready to make a big splash in 2018 with his fast handwork and evasive footwork looking likely to earn him a title shot of some variety before the year is out.
Bantamweight – Luke Campbell
The lightest British fighter to win gold at their home games of 2012, Luke Campbell looked most impressive during the semi-finals when he outpointed, skilful Japanese, Satoshi Shimizu before comfortably winning the gold medal against John Joe Nevin from Ireland.
As is the case for most fighters, what with amateur and professional weight classes being quite vastly different, Campbell competes in the lightweight division and, since turning pro in the middle of 2013, has notched up 17 wins and 2 losses.
First making a statement in his home town of Hull, Campbell clinically stopped local rival Tommy Coyle within 10 rounds back in 2015 to secure the WBC International title and did so by way of 4 knockdowns that showcased his all-round ability as a fighter but, particularly, the punishing left-hand hook to the body that he’s utilized with great effect throughout his career.
Since then he dropped a surprise split-decision loss to Yvan Mendy but has rebuilt his reputation with thanks to wins against Argenis Mendez, Derry Matthews, Jairo Lopez and Darleys Perez to earn himself a number one ranking.
And thanks to that he found himself in the ring with, future Hall of Famer, Jorge Linares at the back end of September last year in a fight which many ruled him out of. For the WBA Lightweight title, Campbell was dropped in the 2nd round before showing heart and guts galore to provide Linares with his toughest challenge of his career but ultimately came up just short with the Venezuelan winning 115-112, 114-113, 115-113 on the scorecards.
Nonetheless with talks swirling around a fight with Vasyl Lomachenko in the future, the future is looking more than bright for the British super-star.
Lightweight – Vasyl Lomachenko
And talking of Vasyl Lomachenko let’s turn our attentions to the Ukrainian. Hmm, I wonder what happened to him following the Olympics in London?
Congratulations if you detected the sarcasm because the amateur stand-out, can we stress STAND OUT, has only gone and already staked his claim as one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of ALL time with a mere 11 fights under his belt.
Already a two-weight world champion, Lomachenko signed with Top Rank in 2013 and went straight into the big time with a world title fight in only his second bout. Against Orlando Salido, Loma would make history if he won the title in only his second pro fight, his Mexican opponent weighed in 2lbs over weight and rehydrated to 21lbs over the limit come fight night.
Uncharacteristically from Lomachenko he tended to shy away from engaging with Salido for much of the fight and despite the fact the bout was marred by an incredible amount of low blows, he failed to make history by way of a, shockingly controversial, split decision.
Following that, though, there’s been no looking back as he comfortably nullified Gary Russell Jr to claim the WBO Featherweight title, defending it twice, before jumping up to Super Feather where he’s consistently made world class fighters look ordinary – Roman Martinez, Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Guillermo Rigondeaux all succumbing to his incredible timing and shot-placement.
Still only 30 and already a two-weight world champion, the sport is firmly in the hand of Vasyl Lomachenko and, to be frank, it’s up to him how great he wants to be.
Light Welterweight – SPLIT DECISION
Now this is where things get very tricky because of the four medallists at London 2012 – Roniel Igelsias, Denys Berinchyk, Vincenzo Mangiacapre and Uranchimegiin Monkh-Erdene – all can lay claim to being sensational within their amateur careers but only Berinchyk turned pro and has looked fairly lacklustre in moving to 6-0 since.
Looking deeper down the fighters then there’s a range of fighters that have turned pro and had relative success within in the paid ranks but I feel it’s wrong to pick any of them given that they didn’t particularly impress over the course of the Olympics.
As a result we’ll just rattle through some of those that have since turned pro;
Daniyar Yeleussinov – won gold at Rio 2016 and beat Josh Kelly on the way, recently signed a professional contract with Eddie Hearn.
Jeff Horn – fell at the Quarter-Finals of 2012 but has since caused an international furore thanks to his unanimous decision against Pacquiao last July.
Anthony Yigit – the European super-lightweight champion turned professional in 2013 and has since gone 22 fights unbeaten. Will be looking to challenge for a world title this year.
Welterweight – Majority Draw; Taras Shelestyuk and Custio Clayton
Truth be told the welterweight division threw up the same issue with Taras Shelestyuk the only medallist to cause much of a stir in the professional game.
Trained by the legendary Freddie Roach, the Ukrainian first took a step up after 13 fights when he displayed his plethora of impressive footwork skills to outmanoeuvre and out-point, 26-1, Aslanbek Kozaev to win international versions of the WBA and WBO welterweight titles.
Since then he’s been infrequent in the ring with only 3 fights over the following 27 months but has continued to look impressive whenever we’ve seen him fight.
As a result of that lack of regularity I’ve decided to include Custio Clayton, six-time Canadian amateur champion, because for me he’s been the best of all the welterweight fighters to turn professional in moving to 13 and 0 since turning pro in 2014.
His last fight against Cristian Coria came on the undercard of Saunders-Lemieux and was broadcast on both HBO and BT Sport, Clayton demolished Coria winning on all three card by margins of 100-88, 100-88, 100-88 with the Canadian making Coria pay thanks to sublime footwork and punch-perfect combinations.
Middleweight – Ryota Murata
Yet another Top Rank amateur-turn-professional, Ryota Murta claimed Japan’s first ever boxing medal outside of the bantam and flyweight division by claiming gold at 2012.
Murata was embroiled in controversy with the Japanese Boxing federation at the beginning of his career but that failed to put him off his natural game with his key strength being pushing the opponent back onto the ropes before unloading with successive right-left hand jabs to the body and head.
In May of last year he faced Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam for the WBA ‘Regular’ Middleweight title and despite many thinking Murata comfortably won the bout he was victim to a surprise split-decision in which he won 117-110 on one card but lost by 5 and 3 rounds, respectively, on the others.
Since then he has had the rematch with N’Jikam where he managed to comfortably prove his superiority in forcing the Frenchman to retire after the 7th round after being unable to answer Murata’s barrage of high-pace combination shots.
Next up for Murata is a clash with Emanuele Felice Blandamura but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be taken seriously as a world champion until he takes on either the winner of GGG/Canelo (who’ll have the WBA Super belt) or Billy Joe Saunders (the WBO champion).
Light Heavyweight – Oleksandr Gvozdyk
Into the light heavyweight division we go where we find Oleksandr Gvozdyk, a 6ft 2in Ukrainian with an imposing 76inch reach, who won the bronze medal at 2012.
Gvozdyk turned pro in 2014 – yet another Olympian who signed for Top Rank – and made his debut on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley 2. Since then The Nail has moved up the rankings rapidly with crushing knockout after crushing knockout.
In 2016 he took on, former world title challenger, Isaac Chilemba as he defended his NABF Light Heavyweight title. In what was an obvious step up for the, then, 29 year old, Gvozdyk made good use of left jab to keep the Malawian challenger at bay and displayed obvious athletic prowess in navigating the full range of the ring.
Flowing combinations at the ropes followed by swinging over hand punches showed what he’s all about and really enhanced his standing on the world stage. One of the most under-rated light heavy’s in the business, Gvozdyk is by rights in the Top 10 worldwide but has seemingly gone under the radar with very little hype surrounding the behemoth of a man.
14 wins, 12 knockouts is enough to send shivers down even the bravest of spines (if a spine can, indeed, be brave) but when he faces Medhi Amar for the interim WBC World Light Heavyweight title on the 17th March he’ll be looking to make a chilling statement.
Heavyweight – Oleksandr Usyk
We move from one Ukrainian to another, from one Oleksandr to another! Usyk this time was yet another empirical amateur, winning gold at London 2012 as well as the 2011 World Championships and 2008 European Championships.
On his way to the 2012 Gold Usyk beat, current light-heavyweight world champion, Artur Beterbiev, Tervel Pulev (Kubrat Pulev’s younger brother) and amateur legend Clemente Russo.
Such was the stir he caused that K2 Promotions, the Klitschko brother’s promotional arm, snapped him up and set about moving him swiftly up the ranks with Usky going from his debut in November 2013 to WBO Inter-Continental champion by October the following year.
Retaining that title on four further occasions, Usyk gained a world title shot against Krzysztof Glowacki in September 2016, Usyk’s first fight in nearly 12 months, and Glowacki was widely expected to get the better of the still, relatively, unknown Ukrainian.
Expectation is often different to reality and so it proved as he shattered the pre-fight predictions with a convincing points victory that really launched his name into stardom.
Two defences against Thabiso Mchunu and Michael Hunter, both in America, helped build his name and profile across the pond before the World Boxing Super Series came along in a bid to crown one unified cruiserweight champion.
Against Marco Huck, the former cruiserweight kingpin who defended his title on 16 occasions, Usyk blasted Huck into a shell of his former being before going toe-to-toe in an incredible unification clash with Mairis Briedis which did show chinks in the armour of the formidable Ukrainian but also showed just how tough and resolute a fighter he was.
The final awaits, the world awaits, 11th May in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, could be the crowning of his career as he seeks to become undisputed cruiserweight champion against Murat Gassiev for all the belts.
Super Heavyweight – Anthony Joshua
Great Britain’s poster boy of boxing Anthony Joshua was, arguably, fortunate to edge the decision during his gold medal match against Roberto Cammarelle but looked more than impressive when beating Zhilei Zhang and Erislandy Savon so it was no surprise to see him immediately signed by Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing.
All eyes of the boxing world were immediately on him with everyone wanting to know whether he’d be the next Lennox Lewis or the next Audley Harrison and, as we’ve now come to know, he was no Harrison!
Fighting an unknown but unbeaten Italian, Emanuele Leo, for his pro debut, Joshua lit up The O2 Arena with bouncing footwork and an imposing jab that already put the world on notice. Unloading with that trademark reaching right hand he finished off Leo in the first round to set up a run of 20 wins and 20 knockouts.
Against Kevin Johnson he made a statement by becoming the first boxer to stop the well-respected American and defend his WBC International title first won against Denis Bakhtov. Since then he was involved in a tempestuous grudge match with Dillian Whyte before being called out by “The King” Charles Martin who was promptly dispatched with in a humiliating two rounds.
With that victory came the IBF Heavyweight world title and Joshua’s mind has been on nothing but unification since – he’s had to be patient with wins against Dominic Brezeale and Eric Molina preceding a clash with Wladimir Klitschko for the IBF, WBA and IBO titles.
In a real changing of the guard fight Joshua hit the canvas for the first time in his career and was trailing on points but showed the true fighting spirit of a champion to stop Klitschko in the 11th round. Takam followed, stopped in the 10th and now AJ has the opportunity to cement his legacy by adding the WBO strap to his burgeoning collection when he faces Joseph Parker on the 31st March.
Women’s flyweight – Nicola Adams
Nicola Adams made history as the first ever women’s boxing champion when she won flyweight gold in front of her home crowd and defended her title at Rio 2016 to complete an unprecedented Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European quadruple.
With interest abound from pretty much every promoter both in the UK and America, Adams signed with Frank Warren at the beginning of 2017 and has impressed thus far in her three professional bouts. She kicks of 2018 in Leeds on May 19th and will be looking to win a world title this year.
Women’s lightweight – Katie Taylor
A star studded amateur who won five consecutive world championship golds, six European golds, five European Union goals as well as Olympic glory in 2012, Katie Taylor is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish sports start of her generation.
Signing as a professional with Eddie Hearn in 2016, the high tempo Irish sensation made her debut at Wembley stadium and won her first professional world title on the undercard of Anthony Joshua-Carlos Takam after comfortably beating Anahi Sanchez.
Following that she topped the bill at York Hall in defending her title against Jessica McCaskill and will look to make her name in the US when she seeks to unify her WBA title with the IBF version of, Argentine, Victoria Bustos.
Middleweight – Claressa Shields
If winning a gold medal aged 17 wasn’t enough then how about defending that title four years later AND winning every major championship in between? Sounds pretty good but that doesn’t even scratch the surface for Claressa Shields.
Since turning pro in 2016 she’s become the first women’s headliner on a US premium network card, appearing on Showtime and has won both the WBC and IBF Super middleweight title in only her 4th professional fight before defending against, US legend, Tori Nelson.
So it’s been a fast journey to the top, it’s fair to say – she’s a double world champion in the professional ranks, double Olympic & World champion in the amateurs, she’s headlining shows on major networks and she’s still only 22!
This is the future of women’s boxing, right here. I’ll go even further, Claressa Shields is THE future of boxing. Period.
And that, therefore, concludes, our look back at the class of 2012 and I think it’s fair to see, we weren’t half blessed with some talent, were we?