Frankie Gavin sank to his knees- arms aloft with a huge grin on his face. Up in the cheap seats at the York Hall, the legion of travelling Brummies roared their delight. The sense of relief was palpable. For years, Gavin has been tipped for greatness. Following a catalogue of false dawns and fall outs and fear, is the way now clear for Britain’s greatest ever amateur to clean up in the pro game?
Make no mistake – winning gold at the 2007 World Championship puts the unpaid achievements of his peers in the shade. In Chicago, Gavin negotiated the toughest path imaginable – including a semi-final against the legendary Russian Aleksei Tishchenko to become the first and only fighter from this country to take top spot in the tournament. Overnight, he became the hottest of properties. According to the papers, an Olympic gold in Beijing and a stroll to a pro world title were nailed on. In the ring, the sharp, counter punching southpaw oozed confidence. Outside the ropes was another story.
Last night, the alarm bells were ringing in the early rounds. Wily old belt holder Junior Witter stood off in his camp fencer stance and dared Gavin to make the first move. Once again, he looked flat. Despite his perfect 13-0 record coming in, many fight fans had already given up on Frankie. The question marks had appeared in relation to his mental fortitude and his personal issues. This time, he stayed on task and got the job done. Witter posed and pot-shotted – spoiling whenever Gavin looked to get off a punch. The former Frankie could have lost interest or possibly had a recurrence of the flu he blamed for his stinker against the veteran Young Muttley, but the current version looks to be made of sterner stuff. After dropping a couple of frames, Frankie started to let his hands go.
Once the bell sounded, Frankie was in his element, serenely racking up an unassailable lead and frustrating Witter to the extent that he reverted to bravado
This wasn’t a classic, it wasn’t even entertaining (it was a Junior Witter fight after all), yet the significance could be massive. Funtime Frankie looked at ease in there. He answered all the questions the most awkward of customers could come up with and cruised to a unanimous decision. The only reminder of past mental frailty came between the rounds. Cornermen Tom Chaney and Dean Powell dished out more punishment than Witter as they slapped their boy around the face and implored him to keep right on to the end of the road. Once the bell sounded, Frankie was in his element, serenely racking up an unassailable lead and frustrating Witter to the extent that he reverted to bravado rather making a serious attempt to recover the situation.
Post-fight interviewer Ronald Macintosh was quick to refer to the ‘well documented personal problems’ that had blighted the new champ’s progress. In terms of domestic strife, Frankie has had pretty much the full set: absentee dad who showed up when the money started rolling in, nan dying, mother in cancer battle, finding out he wasn’t the biological father of a child – these things are going to distract you. Frankie has also fallen out with people in the fight game. In the run up to the 2008 Olympics, he criticised the conduct of the Amateur Boxing Association. Gavin was unable to make the Lightweight limit and didn’t make the trip. Former team mates Degale, Saunders and Price have all since outstripped the star attraction since turning over.
Stability has been the missing ingredient. The lifestyle that earned him his ‘Funtime’ nickname meant that Frankie was advised to leave behind the distractions of his hometown to focus on his profession. He found a place at Arnie Farnell’s gym in Manchester. After some sub-standard performances, he jumped ship and painted a sorry picture of his life outside the square circle. Gavin told of productive days of training followed by long lonely nights in a bedsit with nothing but video games for company. Next stop was the Tibbs camp in London. Once again, isolation and angst surfaced, with rock bottom coming when Gavin pulled out of a fight against Franck Horta a year ago.
Gavin is older than both Amir Khan and Kell Brook. He has the talent to match either
Twelve months and, apparently, a million miles away from such turmoil, Frankie wore his Lonsdale belt with pride and fielded every enquiry with grace; paying respect to previous friends and foes. He acknowledged how close he’d come to blowing it all, remarking that: “Frank (Warren) could’ve – excuse my French… f*cked me off.” That was all in the past though. The message was clear. Now that he’s back in Brum, with his mum and under the wing of his mentor Tom Chaney, the good times were about to roll. Frankie is looking forward to taking his kids to Disneyland then getting straight back down to business. Inactivity has been arresting his development and he is keen to defend his belt and learn his trade. At 27, Gavin is older than both Amir Khan and Kell Brook. He has the talent to match either, but he needs half a dozen more genuine pro bouts before he can even think about getting involved in fights against them and the other giant of the UK Welterweight scene; the returning Ricky Hatton.
Prizefighting attracts cynics and dreamers in equal measure. As Gavin sat on the ring apron, telling the world that his problems were behind him and the new focussed Frankie was on track to go all the way, it was almost like listening to George Best telling us he was off the drink or Russell Brand saying he had found the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with. The feeling that the Frankie Gavin story is more likely to end up on the Jeremy Kyle show than as a pay per view live from the Mandalay bay is hard to shake.
All being well, this revival is the real thing. Politics and crookedness aside, boxing fans wish to see the best ascending the rankings and ultimately winning world titles. As in life, we yearn to see potential fulfilled. Frankie Gavin is the most naturally talented British fighter of his generation. After all he has been through, it would be a hard hearted soul who does not hope that the fun times are on the way for Frankie.
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