TURLEY on TUESDAY: Funtime well and truly over now…

“The difference between Amateur and professional boxing” Chris Eubank Jr once said, “is that in the amateurs they punch to score points, but in the pros they punch to hurt.” If Saturday’s defeat at the relentless fists of Sam Eggington signals the death of Frankie Gavin’s career, as many believe, that pearl of wisdom could well serve as its epitaph. Few fighters have personified the gulf between the two codes so perfectly.

Southpaw Frankie had been talked about for a while, but really made his name in 2007, when he became world amateur champion at lightweight, the only British fighter to have recorded that achievement. Well balanced and highly skilled, he had all the tools, it seemed, for success. People spoke of him in the very highest terms. Team GB coach Terry Edwards described Gavin as “supremely talented.”

Yet alarm bells rang the following year, when he was flown home just before the Beijing Olympics, at which he was favourite to win gold, because he failed to make weight. All sorts of excuses were thrown around – he had trained like a pro and put on muscle, it was the nutritionists’ fault, his coaches had been remiss – but the bottom line was that he missed lightweight by more than three pounds.

At the time, Richie Woodhall described it as a “total let-down.”

A few months later he signed with Frank Warren and turned pro at light-welter, but by his 9th pro contest in 2011, he had moved up again, to welter. Not only did he look physically unconvincing at 147, smaller across the shoulders than his opponents and fleshier, but his punching power, such as it was, clearly did not carry up. As a lightweight amateur he had never been destructive but had enough on his shots to deter opponents, while as a welterweight pro the same could not be said. At 147 Gavin always looked like the sort of boxer destined for a career of struggle. His skills could win him bouts on points, but every night’s work would be long and tough. He couldn’t afford mistakes and never had the one shot to save himself on a bad night. That meant, to achieve his potential, he could never have any bad nights – a tough ask.

The warning signs were there almost immediately, as he laboured to a split decision victory over ex footballer Curtis Woodhouse. Woodhouse was crude and strong, as a boxer not in Frankie’s league but gave Gavin a hell of a battle. This was the bed ‘funtime’ Frankie made for himself to lie in.

The suspicion always remained that as he stepped further up in class he would be outmuscled and old-manned more regularly, and so it proved. 39 year old Leonard Bundu had a bit too much for him in 2014, before Kell Brook showed just how important size is. Brook, of course, is massive at welterweight and walked through Gavin in 6 painful rounds. It was like man against a boy.

That should have been Gavin’s signpost. There was still a chance to drop back to light welter and perhaps forge a genuine top-end career. But he didn’t do it, leading to Saturday’s mauling at the hands of the ‘Savage’. Unbelievably Gavin failed to make welter for this one, meaning he effectively fought as a light-middleweight. There is no way his frame can support that and his opponent was not impressed.

“He’s meant to be a professional.” Sam Eggington said, after the weigh-in. “Everyone keeps talking about his amateur pedigree but he can’t even make the weight for a title fight in his home town.” 

Eggington is a breath of fresh air in the modern fight game. A walk forward, aggressive kid who just loves to fight. Like Brook, he is also naturally big at the weight. It is no coincidence that he inflicted the second worst defeat of Gavin’s career.

For the eight rounds the fight lasted, the two Birmingham boys served up a real treat, not something that can always be said of funtime Frankie’s outings. Unable to deter Eggington with the technical, fiddley stuff, at times Frankie fought fire with fire. It was absorbing, back-and-forth stuff, but it always looked to be the former amateur star that would wilt. Those body attacks were too punishing and he was hurt several times before the end came.

It was a thrilling contest, but talk of a rematch should be shelved. Funtime would just be lining himself for more of the same. Where is the sense is continuing to climb into the ring with bigger, stronger men? We have already seen how that one ends.

Gavin’s ability is such that he could operate around domestic level as a welter and still pick up wins, but he should not be satisfied with that, while one look at his physique is enough to know he has pounds to spare. He must be honest with himself. There is no chance for him to hit the heights at welter.

Funtime Frankie Gavin has three options. Retire, be a domestic also-ran at welter, or show a bit of discipline, get down to 140 and have one last, proper run at it.

For a proud man, who once sat on top of the world, it should be obvious which way to go.


My book, ‘Wiped Out? The Jerome Wilson Story’ is available from Amazon and bookshops now

My last book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports book of the year award and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.

Please listen to this excellent and very topical podcast about the darker side of boxing, featuring interviews with Ryan Rhodes, Paul ‘silky’ Jones, Glyn Rhodes MBE and Jerome Wilson.


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