As Britain’s only ever world amateur boxing world champion, Frankie Gavin was expected to take the fast track to professional glory. ‘Funtime Frankie’ was abundantly blessed with the attributes and instincts that simply cannot be coached. He was, in boxing parlance, a natural. But five and a half years on from that historic victory in Chicago, his passage to the summit has encountered a chain of interruptions – several cruel twists of fate and a couple self-inflicted – and, though he remains unbeaten, the 27-year-old is now keen to make up for lost time.
Initially, Frankie’s failure to make weight for the 2008 Olympic Games was dismissed as just an unfortunate growth spurt. Four years on, he is competing at a solid 15lbs above the 60kg ‘cut off’ he needed to make for Beijing.
He settled well into the profession after debuting under promoter Frank Warren in February 2009 and stopped eight of his first nine opponents in some style, adapting seamlessly to the more austere demands of the paid code.
So how and why did the Golden Child fall so spectacularly off course in 2011?
For a start, a plethora of problems in his personal life began to surface and fester. His nan, to whom he was extremely close, passed away unexpectedly, his mother, who’d raised him as a single parent, was diagnosed with cancer and he became aware that Thomas, the lad he’d raised as his own for three years wasn’t actually his biological son.
Any of the above would cause considerable angst to a young man estranged 80 miles north of the family home, isolated alone in a flat. Amalgamated, they proved unmanageable and began to impact heavily on his professional life.
Though blessed with remarkable natural fitness and a thirst for hard graft inside trainer Arnie Farnell’s Manchester stable, Gavin struggled to sustain the discipline once he left the gym. Operating against opposition several rungs beneath what he’d routinely mastered as an amateur, he gradually grew de-motivated.
His diet was horrendous, causing unwanted weight gain and, consequently, a loss of form. Successive WBO InterContinental victories over Young Mutley and Curtis Woodhouse were riddled with lethargy and now the fight press were on his case.
The burden became unbearable and, on the eve of a televised title defence last October, Gavin declared he was not in a fit state of mind to fight and withdrew.
At the time, the decision didn’t meet with much empathy within the industry but it probably saved his career. He relocated to Brum to be near his mum who is recovering rapidly and, like a prodigal son, he linked back up with ex amateur coach Tom Chaney at the Hall Green ABC gym.
Having hit rock bottom, there was only one direction he could go and gradually, step by step, the old bounce began to return. In two comeback fights this year – both in Wales – he looked sharp and polished, making short shrift of ex British champion Kevin McIntyre (stopped in three in February) and decent Hungarian Laszlo Komjathi (who retired after five in May).
An altogether stiffer test awaits on Thursday evening when, in a planned ‘lift off’ to his professional career, Gavin confronts Bradford veteran Junior Witter for the British welterweight crown at the York Hall.
‘It’s been very hard but the problems I’ve had, and come through, have made me stronger,’ insisted a more sombre Gavin when we spoke last weekend.
‘Since having kids, I’ve grown up a lot this past year or so. I’m a better person and feel better about myself.
‘Today, my head’s in a real good place. I’ve no worries. Mum’s fine, I get to see (three year old) Thomas three times a week and I feel it’s a new start. ‘I’m a very young 27, I’ve hardly been hit. I’ve a great bond with Tom and I’m really learning new stuff. I’m doing a lot of circuits, lot of strength work and can feel my body getting far bigger and stronger. Today, sizewise, there’s not much between me and the other leading British welters.
‘For my fights this year, I’ve gone into the ring without any worries, knowing I’ve cut no corners, knowing I’m at my best. And at my best, I’m good enough to beat them all.’
He has been fighting in the profession for three and a half years now and, given his rich amateur pedigree, believes he was capable of competing at domestic championship level 12-18 months ago. However, the light-welter champions of the time, Lenny Daws and Ashley Theophane, were connected to rival camps and had no intention of risking their status in a voluntary defence against such an able contender.
‘Because of boxing politics it’s been easier to make title fights for some of my Olympic teammates, and I’ve fallen a bit behind,’ concedes Frankie.
‘Theophane just didn’t want to know – kept telling me to earn my shot – then ended up getting beat by a novice (Darren Hamilton). I lost all respect for him. Now my shot is here, watch me grab it with both hands.
‘As a former world champion, Witter brings experience, punches hard and is very awkward. But I’m still learning. He’s learnt. He ain’t getting any better. He’s definitely not the fighter he was and all his best achievements were down at light-welter. Unlike me, he’s a natural light-welter. You don’t suddenly get a growth spurt at 34!
There’s respect but I’ve nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. This is the best camp I’ve ever had. My weights good and I’ve done everything asked.”
With Kell Brook on the cusp of a crack at the world welterweight title, plus Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan on the brink of returning, the 147 lb division is presently the hottest in Britain. It is an ideal field against which a fit and settled Gavin couldfinally prosper into a household star.
‘I’ve got respect for all of them and shouldn’t be calling them out cos they’re all ahead of me. If any of them need sparring, they only need to ask. It’d benefit both of us,’ he says.
‘Ideally, I’d have three more title fights before getting into the mix but if a fight with any of them was made tomorrow, I guarantee I’d not back down.’