With the Olympic Games in Tokyo on the horizon and still planned to go ahead this summer, amateur boxing made its return in Hungary for the annual Bocskai Memorial Tournament in Debrecen this month and it’s safe to say it was an exceptional return for GB Boxing.
The Sheffield-based squad left with a highly impressive medal haul of seven, led by three golds from Frazer Clarke at heavyweight, Harvey Lambert in his GB debut at welterweight and an important gold for Lewis Richardson at middleweight, which puts him within possible touching distance of a place in Tokyo.
Richardson has been in the GB set-up for three years and graduated to the Podium squad 18 months ago. The 23-year-old middleweight proved his tournament credentials with a superb performance in Hungary, winning five fights in five days to walk away with the gold. With his performance, Richardson is adamant he is ready for the top level of the unpaid code.
He explained to Boxing Social: “It’s some schedule, for any tournament let alone one like the Bocskai, which is highly respected. It was intense, especially after 11 months out and it just goes to show how important the set-up is in Sheffield as, even after all that time away, I was more prepared for this moment.
“It’s a fantastic tournament to win. A lot of the best countries in the world come and there are plenty of established fighters, so there are no easy fights. I would say it was my highest profile win to date. I’ve won the Olympic test event and the GB Championships, but this is proof that I’m ready.”
With the win, the Colchester man is full of belief and now the proof is there for the coaches to see, as the shadow of Olympic qualification looms large over the Sheffield base. The speculation of boxing’s future within the Olympics is a constant talking point, but Richardson insists he has earned the right to try and secure his spot.
In recent times, Mark Dickinson, a product of the famed Birtley club, has been in possession of the middleweight berth, but he has subsequently turned over. Sammy Lee, the Welsh 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist at light-heavyweight was selected for the London qualification event last year, but Richardson could be in exactly the right place at the right time.
He added: “It gives me a lot of belief going into any tournament now. I’ve been unbeaten for a while now and the coaches here have put a lot of faith in me. I’ve come a bit later into the podium squad, but I’ve developed into a really good athlete. I’m more than ready for the Olympic qualifiers when they come.
“I just need that date now. There’s a lot of speculation as to what is happening and now we know that London won’t be hosting anymore after the event was pushed back. There’s so much uncertainty but the goal remains the same. I’m fully focused on booking that place on the plane to Tokyo.
“I do think that I’m possibly in the driving seat to be given the chance to qualify now. Mark Dickinson was there last year but he’s gone pro and Sammy Lee is also around, but I was given the chance and showed I that deserved that chance to earn the right to qualify. It fills me with a lot of confidence.”
The disruption caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic hit amateur boxing very hard and it has effectively been put on hold at the top level since last March. Unsurprisingly, there have been a few highly touted amateurs, who have turned their back on the sport with the postponement of the Olympic Games in favour of trying their fortune in the paid ranks.
For Richardson, that was never an option and he points to his current teammates, Pat McCormack and Galal Yafai as two fighters who remained with GB Boxing, despite appearances in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. Both have certainly seen the benefit and have raised their stock considerably, whilst being amongst the serious medal contenders within the squad for Tokyo.
Richardson explained: “To be perfectly honest, it was never a distraction for me. I know there were a couple of others around the system who put some feelers out there, but it isn’t for me at this moment in time. My mind is absolutely set on the Olympics and competing at other major tournaments, not on jumping over to the pros at the first opportunity.
“The pros is a tough, gritty game. It’s horrible for some and you can get swallowed up very easily. Of course, I want to turn over eventually, but if I’m going to do that, I want to serve the best apprenticeship that I can and remain in the cycle to build my profile as much as possible and gain as much exposure as I can.
“Look at Pat and Galal. They were good enough to go to Rio but they were both young. They decided to stay in the system and have another four years and it’s helped them no end. Pat is arguably the best in the world at his weight, whilst Galal isn’t too far away either. It’s not the be all, end all to turn over immediately and they’re proof of that.”
But the focus remains on performing for Team GB when he is handed the opportunity and Richardson was full of praise for the tournament organisers, as the event went off without a hitch. After the disappointment for many within the amateur set-up of the past year, it was a welcome return.
For Team GB, the seven medals were also welcome. Along with the three golds, World champion Lauren Price picked up a silver at middleweight, losing out to her Dutch rival Nouchka Fontijn, whilst there were bronzes for welterweight Rosie Eccles, featherweight Nico Leivars and lightweight Gemma Richardson, the latter two who were both competing in their first senior international tournament.
Heavyweight Clarke has been a fixture in the GB squad for some time and Richardson believes the young fighters who have been handed their chances were boosted by having an experienced duo like Clarke and Price around, especially when medals are on the line.
He concluded: “It was good to be back at one of the big tournaments. We were in a bubble and tested throughout, as well as being temperature checked to get into the arena. There’s no complaints from us, as we stuck to the rules and it ran well. Just to be fighting again in that environment was great, as there have been a few times when you’ve turned up to a tournament and it’s been cancelled last minute.
“To come home with the medal haul we did as well is testament to our ability as a squad on the whole. We’re very talented and there is so much potential that I have no doubt that GB Boxing will remain a success for years to come.
“We have that great mix of experienced guys who’ve been there for years and seen it all in the amateurs to young fighters who are eager to show what they can do at this level. I’m in the middle of that still and truly finding my feet, but this tournament has given me that real boost because I know I belong at this level.”