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Buncey’s BOXXER Bulletin: Gold vs. Gold

As the Tokyo Olympics get underway this week, veteran columnist Steve Bunce looks at the illustrious list of Olympic champions who have fought each other as professionals. Like the many famous names who have come before them, 11 GB boxers will look to secure their place on the Olympic podium – and in the history books – over the next fortnight in Japan, before joining the pro ranks.

The Team GB hopefuls heading to Tokyo / Credit: Getty Images

Anthony Joshua will fight Oleksandr Usyk for the unified Olympic gold medal heavyweight title at a football ground in London in late September.

(Relax, I invented that title.)

At the London Olympics, Joshua was the super-heavyweight champion and Usyk won the gold a few pounds down at heavyweight. Their WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight championship fight on September 25th is unique.

Usyk was the unified and undisputed number one at cruiserweight, which is roughly the professional version of the amateur category of heavyweight. 

The fight with Joshua will be his third at heavyweight and he could be as much as 25 pounds lighter and he will be three inches shorter, three years older and have a reach disadvantage of more than four inches. 

Usyk is up against it, make no mistake, but the slick southpaw is smart – very, very smart.

A clash between Usyk and Joshua has seemed inevitable since the Ukrainian’s move up to heavyweight / Credit: Getty Images

It’s not the first time that two Olympic gold medal winners have met each other for the world heavyweight title, but it is the first time that two gold medal winners from the same Olympics have met each other with any (or all) the world heavyweight titles as the prize. 

It has happened in other weights, however.

Lennox Lewis, who won the gold at super-heavyweight in 1988, beat Ray Mercer, the heavyweight winner at the same games, in a non-title and memorable heavyweight scrap in 1996. It is one of the lost and forgotten wars in the fights and times of Lewis. 

It was tight, controversial and many believed Lewis fortunate to leave Madison Square Garden with the win that night.

Lewis had, five years earlier, stopped the 1984 super-heavyweight gold medal winner, Tyrell Biggs, in three nasty rounds. It was sweet revenge for Lewis – Biggs outpointed him at the 1984 games, denying the London-born fighter a medal.

Sadly a replay of the 1988 final in Seoul, when Lewis stopped Riddick Bowe, never happened in the pro game. It remains one of the great lost fights of the last fifty years.

Lewis won Olympic gold (representing Canada) on his second attempt, at the 1988 Games in Seoul / Credit: Boxing Canada

In 1957 Floyd Patterson, who won gold at middleweight in 1952, became the first person to beat another Olympic gold medal winner in a heavyweight world title fight, when he blasted Pete Rademacher in 6 rounds. Rademacher had won gold in Melbourne in 1956 and was making his professional debut in the fight.

If a stunt like that happened today, people would talk about an apocalypse in the ancient game! Rademacher actually dropped Patterson in round two, but was dropped six times before the end.

Patterson also lost and won in fights to Olympic silver medallist Ingemar Johansson and was beaten a couple of times by 1960 Olympics light-heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. One of their fights was for the heavyweight world title.

Ali met and beat four Olympic gold medal winners during his heavyweight career. The two wins against Patterson; the two wins and a loss against Joe Frazier (gold in Tokyo at heavyweight) and George Foreman (gold at Mexico City 1968); and a win and a loss against ‘Neon’ Leon Spinks (gold at light-heavyweight in Montreal 1976).

Ali (centre) with his US teammates at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Ali famously threw his gold medal into the Ohio River as a stand against racism; and was later given a replacement at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta / Credit: Courtesy

In 2017, under the stars at Wembley and in front of 90,000 people Wladimir Klitschko, who won the super-heavyweight gold in Atlanta in 1996, went toe-to-toe with Joshua. It was a great fight, won by Joshua in round 11.

Joshua, going forward, could easily rival Ali for his total of fights against Olympic champions.

In Rio five years ago, Tony Yoka narrowly beat Joe Joyce in the final. Yoka is out there and the winner from Tokyo will also be out there soon.

GB’s Joyce (right) lost a controversial decision to Frenchman Yoka (left) in the 2016 Rio final / Credit: Action Images

In Tokyo, the big Uzbek Bakhodir Jalolov is the leading contender, but GB fighter Frazer Clarke is a genuine threat. Bakhodir, incidentally, has fought and won eight times as a professional and all ended early. However, he can be beaten and Clarke has a win over him.

Joshua, Usyk, Yoka and the winners at heavyweight and super-heavyweight in Tokyo will keep the Olympic tradition of gold-medal winners fighting gold-medal winners going for a long, long time.

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