From Olympic ring to professional glory

Only time will tell if Vijender Singh can forge a successful career in the professional field. He, however, can draw inspiration from a multitude of boxing greats who dominated the professional ring after finding initial success in the Olympic fold.

Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shortly after dropping Liston less than two minutes into the first round of their heavyweight title fight, in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965.   -  AP

Wladimir Klitschko, the reigning heavyweight world champion, won the Atlanta Olympics gold medal in 1996, in the super heavyweight division.   -  AP

Lennox Lewis won the super heavyweight gold medal in the Seoul Olympics, beating the future heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe.   -  AP

Joe Frazier (left) chats with former world champion Joe Louis during the former's pre-fight physical in New York ahead of his 'Fight of the Century' bout against Muhammad Ali in 1971.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Vijender Singh, India’s only boxer to win a medal at the Olympics, made a successful entry into professional boxing with a third round knockout victory over Britain’s Sonny Whiting. The Indian pugilist is again slated to take the ring on October 30, for his second professional bout. Only time will tell if Vijender can forge a successful career in the professional field. He, however, can draw inspiration from a multitude of boxing greats who dominated the professional ring after finding initial success in the Olympic fold.

Sportstar charts a list of its own such favourite boxing heroes.

Muhammad Ali

He called himself the greatest, and his courage and charisma on and off the ring also forced the world to accept his greatness wholeheartedly, though much later. He won the light heavyweight gold medal in the Rome Olympics in 1960 as Cassius Clay, when he was just 18. He wrote in his biography that he threw the medal in the Ohio River in disgust to the prevalent racism in the U. S. society back then. He embraced Islam and changed his name.

When he lit the Olympic flame to open the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, despite being afflicted by Parkinson’s Syndrome, that robbed his speech and affected his nervous system, he was given a replacement medal.

In the professional career, Ali was the only one to win the heavyweight title three times, beating a clutch of strong boxers, like Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Ken Norton and Floyd Patterson. He did float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee. The American Supreme Court overturned the penalty slapped on him and gave a verdict in his favour, after he was suspended and stripped of his world title for refusing to join the military service during the Vietnam War. He lost four of his prime years to this suspension, but regained the world title, seven years later, in 1974.

Ali was declared the Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated, and Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.

Oscar De La Hoya

He won the lightweight gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when he was 19 years old. In doing so, he fulfilled his dead mother’s dream of being a golden boy. In the professional world, he beat 17 world champions and won 10 world titles in six weight categories, starting at the age of 20. Towards the end of his career, he lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao, who fought in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in May this year.

Ray Jones Jr

He was denied the Olympic gold medal by the erratic judges in the light middleweight final of the Seoul Olympics in 1988. The ruling went in favour of Park Si Hun of Korea. He was still given the “Most Outstanding Boxer” award, a rare honour for a non-gold medallist. In the professional career that spanned 14 years, Jones won 49 of his first 50 fights and won titles in four weight categories. He also had a 22-3 record in title fights. He finished with a 56-8 record, and won his last two fights. The speed of his punches often saw him destroy many a reputation, in record time.

Ray Leonard

In the light welterweight final of the Montreal Olympics in 1976, with commendable craft, he won a 5-0 decision against Andres Aldama, who had knocked out all his opponents in the earlier four rounds. In a professional career spanning 20 years, he fought only 47 times, and 40 of those were in the first five years. He was known for his light feet, supreme hand speed and an impressive personality. He combined style and substance like the original Sugar Ray Robinson. He was a spectacular fighter both as an amateur and a professional.

Pernell Whitaker

Known for the brilliance of his defence, he was also an astonishing counter puncher. He won the lightweight gold medal in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, in a feeble field owing to the Soviet-led boycott. Yet, there was no doubt about his credentials, as he had beaten the best consistently. He sailed through to the Olympic gold medal, literally untouched. In the professional world, he won titles in four weight classes. He was the undisputed lightweight champion, and retained the title three times. He had a 19-3-1 record in title fights.

Wladimir Klitschko

The reigning heavyweight world champion is a towering personality at 6’6’’. The Kazakh-born Ukrainian won the Atlanta Olympics gold medal in 1996, in the super heavyweight division, when he was just 20. He had an outstanding career as an amateur boxer, compiling a 134-6 record.

In the professional world, Dr. Steelhammer owns the heavyweight titles in the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO. He has the second longest reign as a heavyweight champion and the second most successful title defences record with 23, behind the 25 of Joe Louis. He auctioned his Olympic gold medal for USD one million for a charity, but the medal was returned to him by the successful bidder!

Floyd Mayweather Jr

He won the bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics, when he was adjudged to have been beaten 10-9 in the semi-finals of the featherweight class by Serafirm Todorov of Bulgaria. In the professional world, he remained unbeaten in 49 bouts when he retired recently after beating Andre Berto. He had 23 knockout victories. His penultimate fight against Manny Pacquiao had attracted world-wide attention in May and a record collection, but was a disappointing fare for many reasons. He recorded a total earning of USD300 million this season and only USD15 million of it was through endorsements. His financial success has led many boxers to the professional route, with millions of dollars floating in their dreams.

Lennox Lewis

A dual citizen of Britain and Canada, he won the super heavyweight gold medal in the Seoul Olympics, beating the future heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. He had a 41-2-1 record in the professional world, and experts feel that he could have remained undefeated in his 14-year professional career, with better officiating in the fight against Evander Holyfield and better preparation for his two earlier fights. He is one of the few to have three stints as heavyweight champion. He knocked out 32 of his opponents, including Mike Tyson in 2002. He retired as a champion, but did not market himself well enough to generate more fame and money.

George Foreman

In a mere 19 months after his first amateur fight, he competed in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and won the heavyweight gold medal. He had the power in his punches to overcome any lack of experience. His professional career ran for 28 years. He paced himself nicely, replacing power with craft as years passed. He lost the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight against Muhammad Ali in 1974, by a surprise knockout in the eighth round. He retired at the age of 48, with a record of 76-5 that included 68 knockouts.

Joe Frazier

He had lost the trials in the U. S. and went to the Tokyo Olympics, as a reserve. When he got his chance as Buster Mathis was injured, he grabbed it literally with both hands and won the gold medal, safeguarding a thumb that he had broken during the semi-finals. He had a 32-4-1 record in the professional world, and is remembered for beating Muhammad Ali in his prime in the ‘Fight of the Century’ in 1971. He defended his heavyweight title nine times.

Evander Holyfield

He fought for an incredible 42 years, and 31 of them as a professional. He was ‘The Real Deal’, but apparently had a raw deal in the Los Angeles Olympics when he was disqualified in the light heavyweight semi-finals, after he had knocked out his opponent. In his professional career, he held the undisputed world championship titles in the cruiserweight and heavyweight category. He is the only four-time world heavyweight champion. He upset Mike Tyson twice, and the latter took a bite of both his ears and was disqualified in 1997. He had a 44-10-2 career record when he retired at the age of 49 in 2011.