Golden Fists: The Top 5 Pro Boxers to win Olympic Gold
Olympic boxing is a different game entirely to professional boxing. We look at the five best boxers in history to make the transition from gold medalist to household name.
06 Mar 2020
Olympic boxing is a world away from the unrelenting savagery of the Professional ranks. Where the quest for gold is built on scoring points by landing punches of any power, big-time boxing is about pure violence.
It's just a different kettle of fish. I think that's what drives people to come and watch. It's crazy, isn't it? It's like a gladiatorial arena. — Anthony Joshua, Unified Heavyweight Champion
So it’s no wonder that of the 223 boxers to win gold by 2008, only 38 went on to win a professional world title.
Of those 38, even fewer have gone on to become household names, so let's take a look at the greatest male boxers to ever conquer the Olympics.
5. George Foreman
In 1968, an 18-year-old behemoth named George headed to Mexico as the United States’s heavyweight candidate, but with only 18 amateur fights to his name, many believed he would be overwhelmed. Nope.
With one decision, two stoppages, and a knockout, Big George took gold in the cold war final by finishing Soviet fighter Jonas Cepulis in two rounds.
Foreman went on to a storied career becoming champion twice, the first time by stopping his Olympic predecessor and previously undefeated Joe Frazier.
4. Lennox Lewis
Lennox Lewis hoped to emulate Big George by winning gold at 18 but lost a quarter-final decision to Tyrell Biggs. He held off going pro for four years just to get another shot. And what a shot it was!
He stopped his first opponent in the second round. His second opponent in 34 seconds. His semi-final opponent didn’t even show up. And he won gold stopping the future champ Riddick Bowe.
Lewis lived up to his potential when he became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in 1999 - the last man to have held that title.
3. Wladimir Klitschko
The plan was for Wladimir Klitschko to win heavyweight gold and his brother Vitali to win super-heavyweight gold at Atlanta in 1996, but when Vitali tested positive for a banned steroid, his younger brother had to step up a division, but it didn’t change the eventual outcome.
Unlike the previous knockout artists, Klitschko out-pointed his opponents, displaying all of the wiliness of his 134-6 amateur record.
When he went pro, Klitschko went on to hold the longest cumulative championship reign in boxing history, ruling the big boy division for a full decade.
2. Sugar Ray Leonard
The only non-heavyweight on our list, Sugar Ray Charles Leonard, saw the Olympics as a great way to get out of boxing.
After a superb amateur career, he swore to never go professional, hoping to go to college after Montreal 1976.
Leonard danced his way to the Light Welterweight gold, winning five unanimous decisions in a row. They simply couldn’t touch Sugar.
Luckily for fans, financial pressures made him go professional. He became a five-division champion and the first fighter to make $100 million.
1. Muhammad Ali
Earning the nickname “The Mayor of Olympic Village”, an 18-year-old Muhammad Ali charmed everyone he met. No-one at Rome 1960 knew the man they called Cassius would become a legend.
Ali’s speed and exuberance claimed two unanimous decisions and a stoppage on his way to the final where he won gold by outpointing Poland’s bloodied and beaten fighter Zbigniew Pietrzykowski.
The story is that he threw his medal into the Ohio River. True or not he received a replacement in ‘96 when he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta as the most famous name in sports history.