Tokyo Olympics: Ali, Leonard, Joshua and other boxing stars the class of 2021 will look to emulate

By Sports Desk July 19, 2021

While most Olympic sports are about elite athletes reaching the pinnacle, few are more effective in pointing us towards the superstars of tomorrow than boxing.

That is not to say Olympic gold in the ring cannot be a crowning career achievement in its own right, but making a national squad for the Games can often precede a glittering career in the professional ranks.

Ukrainian middleweight Oleksandr Khyzhniak, Russian heavyweight Muslim Gadzhimagomedov, Cuban light-welterweight Andy Cruz and British featherweight Peter McGrail are among those hoping to take the first step on the road to becoming household names.

Here, we look at some of the men and women they will be looking to emulate.


Muhammad Ali

Still known as Cassius Clay, 'The Greatest' first showcased his dazzling skills to the world as an 18-year-old at the Rome Games in 1960, carving out an elegant path to gold in the light-heavyweight division. Poland's 1956 bronze medallist and reigning European champion Zbigniew Pietrzykowski presented some problems with his southpaw style in the final but Ali would not be denied.

Sugar Ray Leonard

Future rivals Joe Frazier and George Foreman followed in Ali's footsteps with heavyweight gold in 1964 and 1968 respectively, but by the time that celebrated heavyweight era was winding down the United States had another golden generation of talent to get excited about in the form of their 1976 Olympic squad. The cream of the crop was a light-welterweight Leonard, who dazzled on his way to gold – not dropping a single round and then putting Cuban knockout artist Carlos Aldama on the canvas and forcing a standing eight-count in a stunning final victory.

Lennox Lewis

In a fitting precursor to his professional career, Lewis found Olympics glory was something worth waiting for. Representing Canada, he lost to American Tyrell Biggs at the 1984 games before returning four years later to stop Riddick Bowe in the Seoul 88 super-heavyweight final. Lewis avenged the Biggs loss early in his pro-career and a maiden reign as WBC champion came when Bowe refused a mandatory defence against the Briton. Career-defining wins over Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson to stand tall among his peers remained the best part of a decade away.

Oscar de la Hoya

De la Hoya captured the hearts of a nation with his mega-watt smile, making good on his mother's dying wish that he would become Olympic champion. The all-action Mexican-American with a devastating left-hook saw off Germany's Marco Rudolph in the lightweight final at Barcelona 92. The 'Golden Boy' moniker that would dominate the sport in the ring and – more significantly – in a commercial sense for a chunk of the modern era was born and De La Hoya went on to win professional world titles in six weight classes.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

For those hopefuls who leave Tokyo without gold, there are plenty of examples of elite fighters who went on to incredible success without Olympic glory. None more so than all-time great Mayweather, who had to settle for bronze at Atlanta 96 after a controversial points loss to Serafim Todorov. After 50 professional fights and 26 unblemished world title contests across five weight divisions, the unheralded Bulgarian Todorov – who had a brief 6-1 pro career – remains the last man to beat Mayweather in a boxing ring.

Andre Ward

Another US stylist who went his entire professional career without ever tasting defeat, Ward actually managed to go one better than Mayweather before dominating at super-middleweight and light-heavyweight. At the Athens 2004 Games, the Californian outpointed Magomed Aripgadjiev of Belarus to claim light-heavyweight gold.

Vasyl Lomachenko

Ukrainian master Lomachenko boxed for a world title in his second professional fight and quickly became one of boxing's leading pound-for-pound stars. That unprecedented progress through the paid ranks makes a little more sense when you consider his utterly absurd amateur record of 396 wins and one defeat. It wasn't really as if anyone in either the featherweight division at Beijing 2008 or at lightweight during London 2012 stood too much of a chance as Lomachenko swept to consecutive golds.

Anthony Joshua

Packed crowds roaring Joshua on to glory are a long-established theme of his two reigns as unified heavyweight champion. Joshua first felt the thrilling weight of a nation behind him when he snuck past reigning Olympic champion and two-time super-heavyweight champion Italian Roberto Cammarelle on countback at the ExCel Arena on the closing weekend of London 2012, having trailed by three points going into the final round.

Katie Taylor

The only fight on the same level as Joshua's gold medal bout – and arguably a level above – in terms of noise at London 2012 was Taylor's opening clash against Great Britain's Natasha Jonas, a rivalry they reprised in the pro ranks earlier this year. Both times, Taylor in all her whirring majesty was successful and the Irish icon secured lightweight gold in the English capital. She was a five-time world champion in the amateurs and, even though she could not go back-to-back in Rio, she then turned over and set about redefining women's boxing all over again as a two-weight world champion.

Claressa Shields

Taylor has indisputably blazed a trail for female boxers and it is one the classy and cocky Shields has ebulliently followed. Victories over Russia's Nadezda Torlopova at London 2012 and Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands at Rio 2016 gave the American back-to-back middleweight golds. She became an undisputed middleweight champion in the pros with a unanimous decision win over the great Christina Hammer in April 2019, before dropping down to do likewise at super-welterweight versus Marie Eve Dicaire earlier this year.

Related items

  • Tokyo Olympics: Warholm sets stunning 400m hurdles world record, breaking 46-second barrier in gold run Tokyo Olympics: Warholm sets stunning 400m hurdles world record, breaking 46-second barrier in gold run

    Karsten Warholm set a massive world record in the men's 400 metres hurdles as the Norwegian landed gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

    He became the first man to dip under 46 seconds, setting a startling time of 45.94 seconds as he fended off American Rai Benjamin, who clocked 46.17.

    The top three in the race all went under 47 seconds and beat the previous Olympic record, with bronze going to Brazilian Alison dos Santos in 46.72.

    Warholm was already the world record holder, setting a time of 46.70secs in Oslo at the start of July to break the previous best of 46.78 that had been held by Kevin Young since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics..

    Now he has demolished his own mark, helped by being pushed all the way by Benjamin.

    Warholm had a healthy lead heading into the final 150 metres but then came under pressure from the USA star over the final two barriers, the gap closing.

    The 25-year-old from Ulsteinvik held his nerve and maintained his rhythm, though, sprinting away to post a record that could stand for many years to come.

    All three medallists went under the previous Olympic record.

    Gold in the women's long jump went to Germany's Malaika Mihambo, whose final-round effort of 7.00 metres saw her edge ahead of America Brittney Reese and NIgerian Ese Brume, the silver and bronze medallists, who both posted best leaps of 6.97m.

  • Tokyo Olympics: Hassan's history bid up and running, redemption for Camacho-Quinn Tokyo Olympics: Hassan's history bid up and running, redemption for Camacho-Quinn

    Sifan Hassan began her shot at an unprecedented long-distance treble by winning the women's 5000 metres, while Jasmine Camacho-Quinn made up for her Rio heartbreak in the 100m hurdles on Monday.

    Elaine Thompson-Herah boosted her hopes of breaking new ground herself, while Valarie Allman ended the reign of Sandra Perkovic in the discus on a soaking night at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

    Here's a round-up of the best action of Monday's athletics events.


    Hassan is aiming to become the first athlete to win a 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m treble at a single Games and began her bid for that unprecedented achievement by taking out the second of those events.

    Having recovered from a late fall to get through the 1500m heats in the morning, the Ethiopia-born Dutchwoman finished her double duty on Monday with a winning time of 14:36.79.

    It was Hassan's trademark blistering finish that won the day as she made her move with 300m to go and pulled clear down the straight. Hellen Obiri and Gudaf Tsegay were second and third respectively.


    Five years ago in Rio, Camacho-Quinn endured the heartbreak of crashing out of the semi-finals after hitting a hurdle.

    But, after breaking the Olympic record in the semis here on Sunday, she became the first athletics gold medallist for Puerto Rico and only the second in any sport after Monica Puig by running a 12.37s.

    World-record holder and main rival Kendra Harrison took second for the United States ahead of Megan Tapper of Jamaica.

    "Everything happens for a reason," she said. "I came through with the gold, my first gold medal. For such a small country, it gives little people hope. I am just glad I am the person to do that."

    In the women's 400m hurdles semis, Femke Bol – one of the medal favourites – made it through, with the quickest time posted by Sydney McLaughlin.


    Thompson-Herah is aiming to become the first woman to complete a double-double (winning the 100m and 200m at the same Games twice).

    She was quickest in the 200m semi-finals with a time of 21.66s, while Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was fastest in her heat with a 22.13s.

    Wayde van Niekerk's hopes of defending the 400m men's title are over after he crashed out of the semis. Kenya's Kirani James was fastest with a 43.88s.


    Perkovic became only the second woman to win consecutive Olympic discus titles with her triumphs at London 2012 and Rio 2016 but her reign was ended by US champion Allman.

    The soaking conditions made life tricky in the women's final and there had to be an interruption due to the rain.

    But it was Allman, who threw furthest in qualifying, who was left celebrating with a huge throw of 68.98. 

    Kristin Pudenz earned silver for Germany with a personal best of 66.86m, while Yaime Perez was third for Cuba. Perkovic finished outside the medals in fourth.


    In a pouring wet evening session, Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali made up for the heartbreak of finishing fourth at Rio 2016 by winning the men's 3000m steeplechase in a time of 8:08.90 ahead of Ethiopia's Lamecha Girma, who took silver.

    Athletes from Kenya had previously won this event at all but two Games since 1968, and both were Olympics boycotted by the nation. Benjamin Kigen finished third here.

    Earlier in the day, Miltiadis Tentoglou – the 2018 European champion – saved his best for last by winning the men's long jump with his sixth and final effort.

    The Greek's effort of 8.41m matched that of Cuba's Juan Miguel Echevarria but he was bumped into gold due to his second-best distance of 8.15m. A disappointed Echevarria was consoled by countryman Maykel Masso, who finished third.

    "What an incredible competition," Tentoglou said. "What an incredible jump, the last jump. I wasn't able to get it right at the start. But in the end I managed to pull something out to get the medal."

  • Tokyo Olympics: Jacobs and Tamberi double Italy's gold tally as USA leapfrog Japan Tokyo Olympics: Jacobs and Tamberi double Italy's gold tally as USA leapfrog Japan

    A decorated final day in the pool and Xander Schauffele's golfing gold saw the United States leapfrog hosts Japan and go second in the Tokyo Olympics medal table behind China.

    Caeleb Dressel took his gold haul to five with victory thanks to victory in the 50 metres freestyle before swimming the butterfly leg as the USA broke the world record in the men's 4x100m medley.

    Australia's Emma McKeon became the first female swimmer to win seven medals at a single Olympics, doubling her gold tally to four by matching Dressel's 50m and medley exploits.

    In open water, there was further Australian success as Matt Wearn won the men's one-person laser event, while Logan Martin's victory in the inaugural BMX freestyle means his country are up to fourth in the medal table.

    That's a place above the Russian Olympic Committee, who were guaranteed gold as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev overcame team-mates Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev in the tennis mixed doubles gold medal match.

    The big story of Sunday came late on at the Olympic Stadium as Marcell Jacobs stunned the competition to win the men's 100m in a European record time of 9:80, a few moments after fellow Italian Gianmarco Tamberi earned a share of gold in the men's high jump.

    That doubled Italy's overall golds to four and they are ninth overall, behind fellow European heavyweights France and Great Britain in seventh and sixth respectively.

    Gymnast Max Whitlock retained his pommel horse title and Charlotte Worthington triumphed in the women's BMX freestyle final thanks to a ground-breaking 360-degree backflip, taking Team GB to 10 golds in total.

    China's Sunday successes came courtesy of Gong Lijiao in the women's shot put, Chen Yufei in the women's badminton singles and now four-time Olympic champion Shi Tingmao in the women's three-metre springboard diving.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.