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Anthony Ogogo: "I never reached my Mount Olympus"

Olympic bronze medalist Anthony Ogogo discusses his traumatic Olympic Games, his struggles with injury and his career reinvention in the latest of our Boxing Innovators series. This is a good 'un 

Anthony Ogogo

Anthony Ogogo had a dream: win a gold medal for Great Britain in the London Olympic Games. It's all he ever wanted in life. It didn't happen.

His preparation was hampered by injuries. Then, barely a month before the games, his mother collapsed from a brain aneurysm. "I spent four weeks in the hospital with my mum, holding her hand, combing her hair," Ogogo tells Square Mile. "I didn't train. I lost weight. I was sick with worry."

Thankfully his mum made a full recovery – Ogogo lost in the semifinal and finished with a bronze. "I never got to my Mount Olympus," he says. "I genuinely thought it would be on the podium at the Olympic Games, Union Jack going up, God Save the Queen, gold medal, done. Had that been the case, God knows what my life would look like now." 

Instead Ogogo turned pro. He was tipped for greatness but in his 12th fight, Ogogo suffered a horrific eye injury that required multiple surgeries and eventually forced his retirement. So naturally he became a professional wrestler. As you do. 

Ogogo is wonderful company – sharp, gregarious and more than willing to grapple with past mishaps. You can see why shows like Strictly Come Dancing were eager to book him. This is a frank, occasionally heartbreaking conversation about the cost of pursuing your dreams – and the strength to continue through adversity and come out the other side. 

(Note: Anthony switched devices halfway through the interview so the audio lags on occasion. Stick with it – we promise you the content is worth the millisecond delay.) 

Listen to the interview here

On Olympic Games vs pro

I didn't really want to turn pro. For me, the dream was always the Olympic Games. I wanted the Olympic gold medal more than anything else, and had I won the gold medal in 2012 I probably would have retired from boxing. How do you get anywhere near that? Me and Sugar Ray Leonard emailed quite a bit. He said the most amazing time of his life was the Olympic Games in Montreal, 1976. He was always searching for that high. He won so many world titles in so many different weight classes and still was never able to get that high back. So there's a large chance I would have retired.

On his traumatic 2012 Olympic Games

Four or five weeks before the London Olympics, my mum suffered a brain aneurysm. Even in the Games, I never thought I'd see her again. She was in a coma for months. By all accounts, she should have died. I spent four weeks in the hospital with my mum, holding her hand, combing her hair. I didn't train. I lost weight. I was sick with worry… Three times during the Games, I'd sneak out of the Olympic village and drive to the hospital, hold my mum's hand for 15, 20 minutes. Leave at 3am, creep back into my bed at 6am. That was my Olympics.

On appearing on Strictly Come Dancing in 2015

I was fucking skint, mate. I'd be out for a year – if you're a pro boxer, you don't get paid when you're injured… My arm was in a sling – me being quite competitive, if I did Strictly I wanted to do well. They said it's fine, it'll get you sympathy votes. Day one, they said I couldn't wear the sling during the dance. Week two, they said my arm was distracting. In the end, they got me off the show because my arm was injured. It's funny – as many people know me from Strictly or Bear Grylls as they do from boxing. 

On his boxing frustrations

I was really low when Rocky Fielding won the world title. It's not fucking fair! [Laughs.] He can go to his grave, and on his headstone it can say, 'former world boxing champion.' Back in the day, we boxed together for England against Italy in 2006. He had a hard fight, maybe he lost – either a hard fight or he lost. He had to fight the guy again and he lost his gum shield. Never found his gum shield, never boxed for England again. He didn't want to fight because the first fight was too hard! It's annoying that someone like that can win the world title and I never did.

On his loss to Craig Cunningham

That night was the worst night of my life. I couldn't see when I was getting hit. I was getting hit by somebody and I had no idea where he was. I couldn't understand where he was in terms of space! There was two of him. It wasn't like Rocky: 'I'm seeing three! Hit the one in the middle!'. One was in the floor, the other one was up high, twisted 30 degrees. He's on the slant because my left eye is twisted in.

On moving into wrestling

Up until I retired, I was lining up my comeback. Him, him, him – world title. We'd already lined it up. Mike Costello asked me, what's next. I tried to make myself laugh and said I might become a wrestler. That was on the Monday; on the Wednesday I got an email from the WWE. Two weeks later I flew out to meet Cody Rhodes [wrestler and executive VP of AEW] – and they offered me a contract! Two of the biggest companies in the world vying for my signature.

On playing the heel

There's this thing in wrestling: you've got to pay your dues. You've gotta wrestle in front of 12 people in bingo halls. You've got to put the ring up. I ain't putting the ring up! WWE offered more money than AEW but I turned them down. They said for the first year or two, you've got to put the rings up. I'm a 32-year-old man! I've done the Olympic Games. I'm not putting the rings up for this wannabe acrobat to do flips in! People are jealous of me, they don't like the fact that I've come from boxing and I'm already higher up on the card that they are.

On the future

I want to achieve the things I didn't achieve in boxing. I had some amazing moments in my life – but I never got to the very, very top. I never got to my Mount Olympus. I genuinely thought it would be on the podium at the Olympic Games, Union Jack going up, God Save the Queen, gold medal, done. Had that been the case, God knows what my life would look like now. Twenty-three years old, achieving the only thing you ever want to achieve, is amazing but also a little bit sad! The nice thing of not having that moment yet is that I'm always yearning for it. I thought I was going get in the pros, unify the world titles – didn't happen for me. Now I want to do that in wrestling: become AEW world champion.

Listen to more Boxing Innovators – Jake Paul and Frank Warren

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