Fighting Brits out to punch weight in gold… with Froch's mastermind as boss
22:04 GMT, 25 July 2012
22:47 GMT, 25 July 2012
Rob McCracken will not be in the corner as his galaxy of boxers strive to deliver almost a quarter of the medals demanded of British athletes at these London Games.
As the totally professional mastermind behind three-time world champion Carl Froch, the performance director of one of the squads vital to Team GB's quest for fourth place in the 2012 medals table is banned from getting up close and personal at the amateur ringside come fight time.
Ridiculous as that ruling is, given the funding bestowed on modern Olympians, McCracken is unperturbed. He knows he will be where it really matters — inside the head of each and every one of the seven men and three women he is priming to punch their weight in gold, silver and bronze.
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The tactical advice and spiritual exhortation which McCracken has to give Froch the deeper he battles into a 12-round championship war is not required during the brief span of Olympic duels.
‘These are two different sports,’ says McCracken. ‘Professional fighting, especially at world-title level, is mentally stressful, physically gruelling work in which you get bashed about and need help the longer it goes.
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‘Amateur boxing, so long as you put in the right preparation, is fun. The fights often seem like they’re over almost as soon as they’ve begun. It’s not the same game.’
The prospect of a substantial contribution to the target of 48 medals set for Team GB has risen to a ‘not impossible’ 10 with the inauguration of women’s boxing.
Meet the home contenders
Tom Stalker (team captain) — light-welterweight (64 kg)
Home town: Liverpool.
World ranking: 1.
Medals: Commonwealth gold, European silver (2), world bronze.
Rob McCracken’s verdict: ‘Ideal captain. One of world’s best now up at light-welter. Surely medals if he maintains focus for the entire tournament.’
Andrew Selby — lightweight (52 kg)
Home town: Barry, South Wales.
World ranking: 1.
Medals: European gold, bronze (2), world silver.
Rob’s verdict: ‘Brilliant talent. Confident. Can beat anyone if he overcomes tendency to start slowly.’
Luke Campbell — bantamweight (56 kg)
Home town: Hull.
World ranking: 3.
Medals: European gold, world silver.
Rob’s verdict: ‘Fine southpaw stylist. Strong and has every chance but he must remember to start every round fast. In amateurs, if you look, you lose.’
Anthony Joshua — super-heavyweight (over 91 kg)
Home town: London.
World ranking: 3.
Medals: world silver.
Rob’s verdict: ‘Big Josh has come from nowhere to become one of the best super-heavyweights. Must medal if he couples a good start to that ability, speed and power.’
Fred Evans — welterweight (69 kg)
Home town: St Mellons, Cardiff.
World ranking: 2.
Medals: European gold
Rob’s verdict: ‘Carried brilliant junior career into the seniors. Has the talent to be a medal candidate but he must stay switched on at all times.’
Anthony Ogogo — middleweight (75 kg)
Home town: Lowestoft.
World ranking: N/A.
Medal: Commonwealth silver.
Rob’s verdict: ‘Capable of beating anyone in tournament boxing. Needs to be fully focused and if so he can deliver.’
Josh Taylor — lightweight (60 kg)
Home town: Prestonpans, Scotland.
World ranking: N/A.
Medals: Commonwealth silver.
Rob’s verdict: ‘Works incredibly hard and boxed at his best when qualifying. Drive, tenacity and spirit give him a chance of winning a medal.’
As the girls take their place in this particular Olympic ring for the first time, led by Britain’s first female world amateur champion, Savannah Marshall, they do so over four two-minute rounds. That formula was tried for the men in Beijing but they revert to their traditional three rounds of three minutes in London.
McCracken is pleased: ‘The three-minute round is more demanding. You have to be able to do a bit of everything. You have to stay calm under pressure, counter-punch when under attack and so on. It’s right for the men.’
Not that he has any qualms, even as a key player in the macho and blood-splattered world of prize-fighting, about women boxing.
‘It’s never been an issue with me,’ says McCracken. ‘When I had my first fight in America 15 years ago there was a girl southpaw on the card who was very talented.
‘At the World Amateur Championships in China I tried standing a long way back from the ring and at that distance the girls looked like male boxers.’
So relaxed is McCracken about the concept of girls in gloves that Marshall, European champion Nicola Adams and surprise world bronze medallist Natasha Jonas spar with their male team-mates.
‘We graduate it,’ says McCracken. ‘The girls give it 100 per cent, the lads about 40 per cent. We also balance out the weights by putting the girls in with lighter men. The experience is invaluable for them.’
That sparring has also injected extra cement into the team-bonding process, even if it has to exclude their super-heavyweight sensation on the basis of sheer size.
Anthony Joshua, at 6ft 6in and 200lb, has turned his life around after a drugs conviction last year.
He had to settle for silver at the world championships after a controversial points defeat by the local favourite in China but is now one of the seven members of Team GB among the top four seeds for London 2012 at their weights.
He says: ‘That court conviction came as the reminder I needed of how much I want to win the gold medal and be a respected boxer.’
The Olympics have been densely commercialised but for the majority of the young people in the world they are still about taking part, not only in the Games but in productive life.
This squad is full of youthful exuberance, in addition to seemingly well-founded optimism.
So will Joshua or one of his team-mates become the next Cobra in their mentor’s professional menagerie
‘Well,’ says McCracken, ‘I don’t anticipate there being another Carl Froch. He is unique.
‘He has come through an unprecedented sequence of consecutive fights against world-class boxers to not only regain his world title twice but to prove himself the supreme super-middleweight.
‘It’s high time he received the recognition he deserves. You can’t win the argument in the minds of the public while he’s still boxing and Calzaghe is a retired hero but I believe Carl would have been the only man to beat Joe if they had fought. I am also sure he can defeat Andre Ward whenever that re-match comes.
‘As for the next top pro to come out of the amateurs, the truth is that there’s never any certain telling as to who it will be. You can see a brilliant talent who should be a star of the future but there is so much more to the transition.
‘Nor is there the same financial imperative now to turn pro. With the funding, the sponsorships and the endorsement, it suits some Olympians to stay amateur and go on building their fame and securing their futures at the next Games.
The man behind Froch: British Amateur Boxing Association performance director Rob McCracken
‘To become a professional world champion takes absolute dedication. Then there’s the question of the people around the boxer.’
Tyson Fury, a would-be challenger to the world heavyweight title duopoly of the Klitschko brothers, pleaded to join the Froch stable but McCracken says: ‘Tyson is a good guy with talent but he is a big family man and I just could not see him cutting himself off from his relatives for lengthy training camps.’
Here come the girls: Savannah Marshall
Fury is currently being trained by one of his uncles. McCracken expects to be busy with Froch for a few years yet, even though the Cobra has just turned 35. Given success for his charges at London 2012, he would also welcome the chance to take Team GB on to the Rio Olympics in four years’ time.
He loves the contrast: ‘In terms of excitement, drama, the fantastic sense of satisfaction, nothing compares with being involved with Carl’s world-title achievements. These are incredible nights and feelings, shared with an ultimate professional who is such a close friend that I don’t have a contract with him and won’t ever want one.
‘But did I say it’s more fun with the amateurs After a big world title fight we’re all drained. After a day at the amateur tournaments we all get on the team bus laughing and joking.
‘The hard part is that the winners have to come back the next day and the next day and the days after that if they’re to medal.
‘So they have to be able to keep switching the focus back on.’
McCracken’s affection for the amateur game is rooted in his own early years wearing a British vest: ‘I had a great time being in the team environment and travelling abroad with the guys. To be honest, I never enjoyed my professional career as much.’
That comes as a surprise from a gifted former British and Commonwealth champion who won 33 of his 35 fights and who was ahead on the scorecards in Atlantic City in the year 2000 before he was stopped in the 11th round by defending WBC world middleweight champion Keith Holmes.
McCracken explains: ‘I never really lived the champion boxer’s life. Then I made wrong decisions by draining off the pounds believing it better to be bigger at the weight when I would have been more comfortable boxing in a heavier division.’
Those regrets factor into the wisdom he is passing down to his amateur proteges: ‘We monitor the weight of every member of the team all the time. We don’t want them sneaking off for junk-food snacks and they know they have to keep to our nutritionist’s diet. I also make sure they box at the best weight for them.
Ready for the Games: Savannah Marshall, Nicola Adams, Josh Taylor, Anthony Ogogo, Anthony Joshua, Natasha Jonas, Fred Evans, Tom Stalker and Andrew Selby
‘Tom Stalker (the team captain) was killing himself getting down to lightweight so I moved him up to light-welter. He’s now ranked No 1 in the world. By contrast, we moved Andrew Selby down a couple of kilos to flyweight and he reached the World Championship final and was unlucky to get silver rather than gold.’
Attention to detail is McCracken’s stock in trade but he knows once he has imparted his wisdom his boys and girls will be on their own in the ring.
He says: ‘Much will depend on how they handle the Games. In three-threes or four-twos they will either start with urgency and box well . . . or they won’t. There’s no time to correct anything.
‘The financial help they received has given us plenty of time with them but there is now funding all over the world. So the traditional amateur powerhouses like Cuba, America, Russia and the Ukraine are also benefiting from a more professional approach.’
Not least to help with the analysis of opponents, McCracken has picked ‘three top-class coaches’ to work with him on the training, then work for him in the corner: ‘Like the rest of our team of physio-therapists, doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and so on, they deserve the chance to get their share of the credit.’
As for himself during the fights for medals from which he will be estranged: ‘Me I’ll be watching from my seat in the crowd.’
And hopefully, for Britain, having miles and miles of fun.