By Dan Wheeler: Eighteen months ago, it looked like Frankie Gavin was destined to become the biggest unfulfilled talent Britain had ever produced. Now he is the reigning British Champion. He has been on quite a journey.
Sitting on the work surface in the cosy kitchen at Hall Green Amateur Boxing Club in Birmingham, Gavin has not long finished his latest training session. There is a smile on his face; an energy in his eyes. He looks like he is buzzing.
Wind the clock back to Saturday 29 October 2011 and it is a very different picture.
With no warning, Gavin had just pulled out of his fight with Frank Haroche Horta and left his training camp. His promoter Frank Warren was rendered speechless and incensed. The boxing public were wondering whether Gavin, who had struggled to laboured wins in his previous two bouts against Young Mutley and Curtis Woodhouse, would ever be seen again.
Today, thankfully, Gavin is becoming more visible by the minute.
Since turning professional in 2009, Gavin has endured some difficult years. The man with a stellar amateur career, that brought gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and an unprecedented world amateur title a year later (he is still the only Briton to ever do that) had more expectation on him most when he joined Frank Warren’s pro stable.
The time spent away in Manchester and then London allowed Gavin’s demons to have wreaked havoc with his head and, in desperation, Gavin returned home not long after the Horta debacle to seek solace in the tutelage of Tom Chaney, the man who coached him to that world amateur title in 2007.
“When I came back to Birmingham and to Tom, I started to believe in myself again,” Gavin reveals.
“When I first came back, I couldn’t even hit a pad. My confidence was shattered.
“But Tom got me back to basics with three and four round spars. It was like I was starting over again and I got the buzz back.”
Gavin’s self-belief and love for boxing had eroded to such a degree, it was in danger of disappearing forever. His detachment from family and friends had lead to an acute unhappiness, that Gavin later admitted felt like a form of depression. His security had been eaten away along with his motivation and passion. To his credit, Gavin knew he had to find a way out. He knew he needed to get back home.
“That’s the past now,” he says. “No one was really talking about my boxing, it was all my personal problems. Now I’m letting my boxing do the talking. I’m still undefeated.”
Gavin is right: people are talking about him. Under Chaney’s paternal and disciplined guidance, Gavin has looked a different fighter.
An emphatic win over Kevin McIntyre in his comeback bout in February 2012 and a slick dispatching of Laszlo Komjathi three months later showed the new version of Gavin meant business.
Six months later, in November 2012, Gavin got his chance at the British title against Junior Witter. The old Gavin would not have stood much of a chance against the canny former world champion, but this was not the old Gavin. The new man produced the best performance of his life to nullify Witter’s early intelligence to run out a dominant points winner across all the cards.
It really was Gavin at his purest as Witter was, first, neutralized, and then dismantled with a barrage of punches and combinations delivered with a brutal cleanliness, accuracy and frightening economy.
“In my eyes I was the favourite, but some expected me to get beat,” admits Gavin.
“But I won easily. The first four rounds were a bit awkward but I stepped it up and I won comfortably.”
Buckling the biggest prize in domestic boxing around his waist was a special moment for Gavin but was one that was quickly enjoyed and then filed away at the back of his mind. There would be no resting. No complacency.
“We never got asked for it back (the belt) so we kept it for a couple of months,” Gavin reveals with a grin.
“I reckon it was in every place in Birmingham after my first fight. The amount of pictures I’ve seen with people with the belt and I wasn’t even there!
“When I turned pro everyone said ‘He’s going to at least win a British title’ but when I left London and Manchester I thought ‘am I going to do that?’