Olympic medal to world heavyweight champ is no longer a right of passage

Joe Joyce Tony Yoka Olympic super heavyweight

Rio 2016

Earning an Olympic medal between light heavyweight and super heavyweight used to be a right of passage for many of the past boxing stars.

Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Lennox Lewis, and Wladimir Klitschko are some of the names who became a world heavyweight champion after claiming the amateur codes top prize.

Ali took three and a half years to progress against Sonny Liston in 1964, having claimed gold at light heavyweight in 1960.

Foreman did it in a similar time from his crowning glory in 1968. Lewis did it four (1988 medal, turned pro in 1989, and won the strap in 1993) as did Klitschko (1996 medal and won the heavyweight crown in 2000.)

Anthony Joshua, who used the Lewis blueprint of waiting a year until turning pro after his success in 2012, became world champion after just two and a half years in the pro ranks.

The fastest ever was Leon Spinks. The American won gold at 81kgs in 1976 and shocked the world against Muhammad Ali in 1978. One year and one month after turning pro in 1977.

Muhammad Ali Leon Spinks

Fast forward to the class of 2016, and several factors have stifled their progress. The pandemic hasn’t helped, but looking at their records, all four who claimed a medal in Rio have seen a significant reduction in the number of fights undertaken.

And not since Audley Harrison won gold in 2000 has none of the top four super heavyweight contenders from a Games failed to make an impression at the very top level in the 200 pounds plus division.

Gold medalist Tony Yoka is just 9-0 despite turning pro a year after Brazil. Almost four years have elapsed since then.

Bronze medalists Filip Hrgovic and Ivan Dychko are 12-0 and 9-0, respectively. Only Hrgovic has a world ranking from the pair.

Joe Joyce, who controversially claimed silver, has made the most waves as European champion, but it still only 12 fights in and at least twelve months from getting a shot at the world title.

So what’s happened?


Indeed, activity comes into play. Ali was 19-0 when he won the biggest prize in the sport. Foreman was 37-0. Klitschko was 34-1, and Lewis was 22-0.

It’s a massive difference. To remain in the ring regularly to progress and be ready for the most significant challenges out there.

Joshua holding the unified crown for almost four years hasn’t helped. But that’s the world we inhabit. Fans want those days back when there was just one champion.

The sanctioning bodies are under pressure to be as lenient as possible when it comes to mandatories.

Oleksandr Usyk

Joyce could get his shot in 2022 but may also give way to one contender who is an exception to the rule. Oleksandr Usyk, the 2012 heavyweight gold medalist.

The Ukrainian won the cruiserweight crown within three years before fully becoming undisputed two years later. He could steal that opportunity from Joyce to challenge the winner of Joshua vs. Tyson Fury.

If he can claim a version of the heavyweight crown, Usyk will undoubtedly be the most successful Olympian of the modern era.

Phil Jay is the Editor of WBN. An Auxiliary member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay.