“Don’t judge me on my Olympic bronze, judge me on the story around it” | Anthony Ogogo
This year, at 30 years old, Anthony Ogogo was forced to retire from boxing. All he had ever wanted to do was be in the ring, fighting for titles and for the love of the sport. But an eye injury forced him out of the sport in a way that left a lot of his own questions and dreams unanswered.
“I spent 3 years hoping and believing that I would be able to get back in the ring and resume my career.
“I maintained that belief in spite of how slim the chances were and rolled the dice on more than one occasion.”
Now, as we sit in a coffee shop in Hammersmith, Anthony is at peace with how his career ended. Whilst he wished he could still fight, he can’t, and he is alright with that.
But his journey is one that is so much more than the tale of an injured fighter. At every turn Anthony was fighting against the current to ensure he can look back on his career with pride, and just because he is no longer in the ring, that does not mean he has a different approach.
Growing up as the only male in his household, with his mum and four sisters, he admits boxing is not what you would have expected him to pursue a career in.
Yet, Anthony was sport mad and ‘thankfully excelled in most sports [he] tried.’
It was only after a playground fight, with the winner proudly exclaiming that he won due to his attendance at a boxing club, that Anthony ventured down to the gym.
“I walked into the gym and thought ‘This is
amazing, I love everything about it, I love
the smell, the posters on the wall, everything”
“I walked into the gym and thought ‘This is amazing, I love everything about it, I love the smell, the posters on the wall, everything.
“I had no clue if I was going to be any good or not, but I knew either way it was what I wanted to spend the bulk of my life doing.”
It didn’t take long for Anthony to rise to the top, being crowned National and British Champion soon after starting the sport.
As a kid, he was also achieving in school, captain of the county football team and playing in Norwich City FC’s Under 14s squad. But he knew boxing was the one.
He didn’t slow down. After winning the Junior Olympics in 2004, he went on to win the Junior World Championships, ‘boxing out of his skin’ to be named Best Boxer of both tournaments as well as collecting gold medals in both.
However, it was at this point that Anthony hit a wall. After entering the ABA Championships, he suffered an injustice that would rock his confidence.
At the end of the 3rd, and penultimate round, of a fight he was winning comfortably, Anthony was hit in the back of the head so hard he could not remember the fight.
“I don’t remember anything from there on, I was in the changing rooms, I had a sweat on and I asked my coach when my fight was on, I didn’t know I had boxed.”
“I was Junior World Champion, Junior Olympic
Champion and they kicked me off the team. The Performance
Director told me ‘you’re no good to me injured”
Anthony lost confidence and admits he almost became scared of getting hit. The hardest part? He couldn’t take anything away from the fight. He was 11-1 up when he was deemed to have been knocked out.
After struggling for a while in the amateur division, he suffered a major injury, a dislocated shoulder, whilst fighting. It ended his hope of competing at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“I was Junior World Champion, Junior Olympic Champion and they kicked me off the team. The Performance Director told me ‘you’re no good to me injured.”
Anthony had dropped out of school during his A-Levels to pursue his boxing and within a month, due to his injury, he was working in a bar for £5.85 an hour to pay for his recovery.
It took a year, but Anthony came back more determined than ever.
“I was always very talented and very skilful but because I was hit in the back of my head but I struggled at senior level.
“The hypothesis with me was ‘he’s very talented, skilful and quick but he’s not tough enough, he’s not robust enough’ and that pissed me off.
“I eventually proved it and was the golden boy in the Great Britain team. Every tournament I went to I just won gold.”
A year on in the European Championships, Anthony suffered another dislocated shoulder. He lost the fight by a point, even with the injury, and was told he would miss the London Games.
But, as he had promised himself, he wasn’t going to let someone else control his actions. He begged the GB coach, Rob McCraken to let him go to the World Championships.
After making his way through the rounds, he came up against the Georgian who had dislocated his shoulder. Whilst the game plan was to box, in which Anthony would win comfortably, as soon as he entered the ring, he saw red and the bout turned into a street fight.
In a three–round fight, Anthony was 6 points down after 2 rounds, but became the first boxer to overturn a 6–point deficit to qualify for the London Games.
“I was finally qualified and I had 8 weeks to go until the Olympics. I went back to East Anglia and spent a week with my family. The next week I went back to Sheffield where the GB Team trained and then my sister called me.”
Anthony’s mum had suffered from a brain aneurism, and he returned to see her, not lacing up a glove for 4 weeks. It was only his sisters ‘guilt tripping’ him, telling him that his mum would not want to be the reason he did not fight, that ensured he competed in the Olympic Games.
He headed back to training, and it was during a friends and family open sparring session, in which Anthony had no one to attend, he realised the magnitude of what he was up against.
“I sat on the edge of the canvas, my achilles were recovering
having had surgery on them before, my shoulder
was really sore, my rib was broken and
I thought my fucking mum is going to die”
Having not thrown boxed in a month, he was caught with a punch that broke his rib.
“I sat on the edge of the canvas, my achilles were recovering having had surgery on them before, my shoulder was really sore, my rib was broken and I thought my fucking mum is going to die and I was never see her again.”
He did not let it stop him, but he found a way to cope.
During the Olympics, Anthony would wait for the coaches to sleep, get the tube out to his car and drive to Cambridge. He would ‘beg’ the nurse to let him in to see his mum for 20 minutes so he could hold her hand.
He would then travel back and sneak into bed before the coaches woke up. This was Anthony’s Olympic experience.
Yet despite having had to face all of this in the run up to the Games, Anthony pressed on, and got through to the semi-finals, where he fought the Brazilian who had beaten him in the World Championships by one point, despite his bad shoulder.
“It beat me, the situation beat me, I lost to
him because I was tired both physically and emotionally”
“He beat me, but he didn’t really beat me. It beat me, the situation beat me, I lost to him because I was tired both physically and emotionally.”
After the Games, whilst on the podium, Anthony did not feel pride, or a sense of achievement.
“I just wanted to go home, I didn’t feel particularly proud or happy. I felt pissed off because even though I was under so much pressure, I should have beaten the Brazilian.”
Anthony’s mother made a recovery, but the memories of his Olympic experience were too painful to relive. The idea of facing another 4-year cycle was too much, so instead Anthony signed for Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy.
Whilst it seemed like the next step, De La Hoya and his business partner split, leaving Anthony in a state of limbo. He was forced to fight on Matchroom undercards and as the away fighter, even though he felt he deserved to be the headline fighter.
After battling back from another and 3rd shoulder dislocation where he had to fight the entire fight with one arm, and 4 achilles surgeries, Anthony was back boxing and knocking people out and on the cusp of a world title fight when the eye injury stuck.
He admits boxing was never about the money, he had never wanted to go pro, but he felt as though his career was beginning to push on from a more stable position.
“Those things you overcome in boxing, you
go through the same things in life, you’ve got to carry on”
It was now, however, that during sparring, Anthony fractured his eye socket. The medical advice he received was questionable at best, and thus causing the injury to exacerbate.
Despite spending all of the money he had earnt in his career on trying to fix his injury, it would end his boxing career and earlier this year, at 30, Anthony was forced to say goodbye to the sport he had given up so much for.
With all the obstacles Anthony had faced, he now spends his time telling his story to ensure other people know that they can overcome their own obstacles.
He may have harboured some resentment to begin with, due to the way his career was ripped away from him, but Anthony insists that rather than become a ‘bitter and twisted old man’, he is more interested in telling his story to show others that you can overcome your battles and improve as a person.
“The reason there are so many boxing films is because boxing is a snapshot of life. The things you go through in a boxing match, the ups and downs, you get hit, you come back, you go through the same things in life.
“People can’t relate to being hit in the body, but you can relate to being sacked at work or your mum being poorly. Those things you overcome in boxing, you go through the same things in life, you’ve got to carry on.”
On top of all the issues Anthony had faced, he witnessed injustice from another unsuspected source recently after experienced homophobic discrimination firsthand towards someone he cared about.
“You get one shot in this life, you deserve to live it the way you want as long as you’re not doing any harm to anybody and you’re being nice and respectful, you deserve to do it in the only way you see fit.”
Now Anthony is talking at more and more LGBTQ+ events, and admits that he doesn’t see what he does as a big deal, it is just the right thing to do.
Anthony refuses to let the eye injury stop him achieving big things and he is currently embarking on a new career as a professional wrestler, which is another boyhood dream.
He wants to prove that you can achieve great things with a good attitude and perseverance.
As we wrapped the interview up, Anthony told me his two favourite quotes:
Nelson Mandela’s ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again’ and Audrey Hepburn’s ‘As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.’
Both are pertinent, and both describe the way Anthony has lived his life in a nutshell.
“I want to achieve big things in life, and they’re going to take quite a lot of focus to do so, but if I can help others achieve as well, I’d like that.”