By Kieran Mulvaney
The 2012 London Olympics officially kick off on Friday, with much of the attention for boxing focusing on the hopes of promising young Rau’shee Warren and the inaugural appearance of women’s boxing at the games. Will Warren – or indeed any of the other competitors in London – turn out to be a superstar in the professional ranks in the years ahead? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here’s a small selection of boxers who have excelled at the Olympics and then brought us drama and excitement on HBO:
Foreman won heavyweight gold at the Mexico City games in 1968 and went on to rip the heavyweight championship of the world from Joe Frazier five years later. He lost the title in the Rumble in the Jungle to Muhammad Ali in 1974 and then retired from the sport in 1977. He made an improbable comeback 10 years later and regained the heavyweight title in 1994 at age 45, when he knocked out Michael Moorer – an achievement immortalized by HBO commentator Jim Lampley’s cry of “It happened! It happened!” During his second career, and for several years afterward, Foreman joined Lampley and Larry Merchant on HBO broadcasts.
Sugar Ray Leonard
Like Foreman, Leonard won gold – at welterweight in 1976; also like Foreman, Leonard commentated for HBO; and, also like Foreman, he had more than one retirement. After a stellar career that included epic wins over Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns, Leonard retired in 1982. He returned for one fight in 1984 and then, in 1987, returned again, dethroning middleweight champion Marvin Hagler via a points decision that remains heavily disputed. He finally retired for good in 1996.
Another fighter who would go on to become an HBO commentator, Lewis knocked out Riddick Bowe to win Olympic gold in 1988, and erupted on to HBO screens with a two-round stoppage of Razor Ruddock, following which he was awarded the vacant WBC heavyweight title. Lewis lost his title to Oliver McCall, regained the vacant belt against McCall in 1997, unified the titles against Evander Holyfield at the second attempt (after their first fight, seemingly a clear Lewis win, was adjudged a draw), lost them to Hasim Rahman in 2001, won them again by crushing Rahman later that year, and closed his career with dramatic wins over Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko.
Roy Jones, Jr.
Officially, Jones won silver at the Seoul Olympics despite dominating his South Korean opponent, a decision that was universally regarded as larcenous and led to a change in the scoring system for Olympic boxing. For the first 15 years of his professional career, Jones was peerless, winning titles at middleweight, super-middleweight, light-heavyweight and, memorably, outpointing John Ruiz in 2003 to win a heavyweight title. Jones finally suffered his first true defeat as a professional the following year, against Antonio Tarver, but has continued to fight on. He is part of the commentary team for HBO’s Boxing After Dark broadcasts.
Oscar De La Hoya
The Golden Boy in many ways carried boxing on his back during the post-Mike Tyson years, turning Barcelona gold into a professional career that yielded world titles from 130 to 160 lbs., and produced memorable battles with Pernell Whitaker, Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas, among others; his 2007 split-decision defeat to Floyd Mayweather remains the highest-grossing boxing pay-per-view of all time. De La Hoya is now a major promoter.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
David Reid may have been the only American to win gold at the 1996 Atlanta games, but bronze medal-winning Mayweather became the sport’s biggest star. Sixteen years later, he has yet to lose as a professional, compiling a 43-0 record against the likes of De La Hoya, Mosley, Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, and racking up pay-per-view records.
It’s hard to believe that Khan is only 25 years old, such is the fanfare that has greeted him ever since he secured silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The Briton has become an HBO staple, scoring dominant wins over Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah and recording a close and exciting defeat of Marcos Maidana, as well as enduring a hugely controversial setback to Lamont Peterson last December and suffering a shock knockout loss to Danny Garcia in July.
The sole American gold medalist in 2004, Ward’s early professional progression was slightly delayed by injuries, but he has fought his way to the top of the super middleweight ranks. Voted Fighter of the Year last year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, the undefeated Ward takes on light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson on HBO on September 8.