The word ‘talent’ initially referred to a unit of value then, later, a sum of money. It was coined in 4BC by the Romans, ‘Talentum’ and Greek, ‘Talanton’, for trading purposes. The term pops up in Matthew 25:14-30 when Jesus tells a parable of a master who gives his slaves his talents for safe-keeping while he goes away, declaring that they will be given out according to their ability to make use of them. One was given five, another three and the final slave given only one. The first two put their talents to work and made more money, the other buried his and this enraged the master.  

Birmingham’s Frankie Gavin (26-4, 15 KOs) was gifted with more natural talent than most yet did not go as far as people expected in the professional ranks. However, he neither buried his talent nor maximised it after turning pro, in terms of the parable above he lies somewhere in the middle. He made full use of his ability in the amateur game, he is still Britain’s only male World Amateur Champion, before the bitter disappointment of failing to make the lightweight limit for the 2008 Games in Beijing.  

Gavin is still cited as a cautionary tale of what happens if you do not maximise your ability yet that paints too broad a picture of the softly-spoken, intelligent former two-time ABA Champion, who let’s not forget also won the Lonsdale Belt outright as a pro, which is no mean feat. And speaking of pictures…

“That Dominos box was a thing on Twitter, one that I know is never going away,” Gavin admitted when reminded of the photo of him sprawled on the floor with an empty pizza box. The image pops up every now and again when people talk about him or there is general talk about ill-discipline. 

For many, the image summed up the ‘Funtime Frankie’ persona that he brought over to the professional ranks. Gavin, though, told Boxing-Social that in his early professional years he tried his very best to maintain discipline in order to sustain his weight. However, he found it increasingly difficult then virtually impossible to make 140lbs consistently. He has no regrets over the image. In fact, he sounded content and in a good place.  

“That photo was something I’d done after a fight,” he revealed. “When I was in training, the problem was that I wasn’t eating too much, I wasn’t eating enough and doing the knowledge. Plus, luck didn’t always go my way in my career, and you need that sometimes. I also have to blame myself for not making weight for fights at times.”  

Gavin is now training fighters at Hall Green ABA alongside his former trainer and mentor Tom Chaney, as well as Lewis Carroll and Dave Tulley. The 34-year-old sounded enthusiastic about returning to his roots. The amateur game was always good for him and he was good for it, so it is only natural that he is starting his new role in boxing at the grassroots level.  

“I was working on the railway, doing the trackwork on the night, and then I moved to day work and still do the training,” said Gavin. “People at the railway recognised me from boxing. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve got to earn. I’ve got kids who need stuff and I have to provide for them. I’ve not been able to do as much because of Lockdown, but I’ve still had sessions in the park. The love for boxing is there again now. I’m back where I need to be. I’m in the gym every night, you can’t keep me out of it, and I just want to train and encourage other people.” 

Gavin’s professional career was hampered by some personal issues that would overwhelm any of us, ones that he doesn’t like to go into, yet he still won British and Commonwealth 140lbs titles as well as fighting Kell Brook for the IBF welterweight crown in 2015. All things considered, it is a career to be proud of when looking back on it. Yes, Gavin had more natural aptitude for boxing than most, so he was expected to go further; however, he is philosophical about his paid career.  

“I was out a lot,” he said. “I was coming out of a relationship. I was drinking a lot. In all fairness, I didn’t really use to drink that much before that. In the last eight months, I’ve had about eight drinks. The problem with me is that I’m the type of person that if you tell me to do something I’ll go and do the opposite. When I was boxing, I’d go out and do what I wasn’t supposed to do. Now I’m not being told not to drink, I don’t bother with it. It is mad what life does to you. 

“As you get older, you get wiser. It is like when you are an amateur. You don’t just go to bed one night with five fights then wake up with 25 fights. You gain and build experience. You have to get through life, take things as they come and, looking back, maybe I could have been a bit smarter by listening to the right people rather than the wrong ones. The problem with boxing is that if you make a mistake you are going to get punched in the face.” 

The gifted Gavin outfoxes Bogdan Mitic in 2015. Photo: Nick Potts/Press Association.

Things started to wind down for Gavin after the loss to Brook. Although, in truth, his loss of desire is something that happened incrementally over the course of an up-and-down life and career. By the time he met Renald Garrido over eight in 2017, the thrill had gone.  

“I didn’t box great, but if you would have seen what I did just to get in the ring you’d have understood,” he said. “I was worried, I was scared and I knew I’d have to make sacrifices that week to make weight to beat a decent operator. He was beating the prospects coming through — he had beat Bradley Saunders and a few others — and I was no longer a prospect myself. I didn’t love it anymore. I weren’t interested, but I still outboxed him.” 

It must be hard going into the ring if you no longer have that same mental and physical edge that you had when you are in love with the sport. In his last contest in November 2018, Gavin accepted a fight against the big-hitting Kerman Lejarraga in Spain (LKO4); the EBU title was not on the line for the Birmingham man as he failed to hit 147lbs.  

Lejarraga had knocked out Bradley Skeete in two earlier that same year so Boxing Social asked if it was hard going in there for what turned out to be the final time. “I know what you are saying about it being hard to get in that ring, but I never experienced that,” he answered. 

“I loved the one in Spain. The people were so nice over there. I thought I was going to win, but Tom told me it would be hard. Then I heard rumours about the atmosphere over there. In the end, it was no different than a game between the Blues and Villa. It was just like going to a football game. After the fight, he was the friendliest person I’d ever met. We went out together and he was like the Wayne Rooney of Spain. Everyone was nice to me because I’d boxed him. I was treated like a king.” 

It was a bad loss for Gavin, although he did not decide to retire in the immediate aftermath. He moved on with other things in his life before eventually making his retirement official in January of this year. There had been talk of a move into bare knuckle boxing. He was advised to avoid that route by Chaney, who has been a constant positive in his life and career.  

“I thought about it [coming back], but no — the love had gone,” he said. “I want to make my own champions. I weren’t telling myself it was over at first. I took a year to announce it. I was even looking at BKB. Tom said, ‘Why would you do that to yourself after years in boxing? Why go to that level?’ He said I would be just doing it for the money and it wasn’t necessary.” 

One of his most controversial moments occurred in 2011 when Gavin was due to fight Frank Haroche Horta in a WBO Intercontinental welterweight title defence at Bowlers in Manchester. Gavin had left trainer Anthony Farnell, who had been with him since his professional debut, to hook up with Jimmy and Mark Tibbs in London. It was supposed to be his first fight with them only for Gavin to walk out of training at the eleventh hour. Gavin confessed that his head was not where it needed to be. In fact, he was already considering retirement by this point.  

“I knew it was time for a massive change,” he said, when asked why he had split with Farnell. “I knew I needed to get back to my family. Then, for some reason, I went to London instead with Jimmy and Mark Tibbs, who are two great people and trainers, but all my friends were back in Manchester and Birmingham.  

“I was in a lonely and dark place then. I was probably in a state of depression, to be fair. Looking back, maybe at that time I should have got professional help and spoken to someone about it all. For that fight in Manchester, I went to them and told them I couldn’t fight. Then I told Tom that either he trained me or I’d have retired. 

“Then I boxed Kevin McIntyre and my career took off again. I also maintain to this day that I beat Leonard Bundu [a decision loss for the Italian’s EBU welterweight title, Gavin’s Commonwealth belt was also on the line]. I really think I beat him that night. Then I fought Kell later on when I joined Eddie [Hearn]. I’m not going to make any excuses, I fought someone who was better than me and had the right style to beat me.” 

Gavin’s finest performance came against an in-form Denton Vassell {WTKO7] in June 2013. Vassell had just destroyed the then-undefeated Ronnie Heffron in six to win the Commonwealth belt and was on a roll. He was ultra-dedicated and some felt that he would have too much for Gavin. Everyone involved in boxing in Manchester knew the talent Gavin possessed, though. There were times when he was untouchable in sparring, offering to play a game called ‘Eat the jab’ with whoever stepped in with him.  

“You know [local gym owner and personal trainer] Mike Taylor, don’t you?” he said with a laugh. “You know I’d say to him, ‘Mike, you ready to eat the jab?’ Mike did the white-collar thing so he’d spar me. I’d teach him ‘Eat the jab’ and he’d go out and give it to them. Doing ‘Eat the jab’ used to make me laugh. 

“I sent Denton a message on Twitter saying, ‘Denton, are you up for a fight mate?’ I said if [promoter] Frank [Warren] could make it then why not both go for it. By then, it wasn’t about money or anything. I actually got paid more for my debut fight than I got for Denton and then Junior Witter. It was crazy. I still had personal problems then went into that. 

“I wasn’t even thinking about the money, I was thinking that I’d go out there and beat anyone I fought. You know the Olympia well. It is like a building site outside of it. I was only separated from Denton by a curtain that you could see through. He was warming up and I was laughing. Tom asked me what I was laughing at and I said, ‘All this. There is no way he is beating me’. I had this sense of belief that he couldn’t beat me. With Denton, if you give him that bit of space he can punch. If you don’t, he just throws anyway and misses. I was right in front of him. We lined him up.” 

Gavin also failed to make weight for his vacant World Boxing Council International welterweight title fight against Sam Eggington in 2016. You could have been forgiven for thinking that he would still beat ‘The Savage’ fairly handily, given the gulf in skill levels between them. On the night, though, he was floored twice and given a standing count en route to an eighth-round loss.  

“When I fought Sam, I thought I’d just turn up and beat him without having to train for it, but Father Time catches up with us all,” said Gavin. “I was in and out the gym. I’d miss sparring. That said, it is all down to me, I can’t blame anyone else. I just didn’t really care by then. I’d skip runs. I’d skip sessions. Despite what people say about me, I’d have never done that in the past.” 

Gavin (left) was stopped by Sam Eggington in 2016,
but by that time his dedication was waning.

Gavin sounded good. A lot of former fighters don’t. Some of them have struggled during the Lockdown due to a lack of income, an inability to do what they love to do and, in the case of some former fighters, a lack of pre-planning during their professional days. Some also went a bit bonkers when it first kicked in. The lack of aftercare in boxing has always been an issue, one that Gavin has given a lot of thought to.  

“I remember Team GB when I did my first interview aged 18, I was buzzing and could barely even speak,” he said. “They taught you how to handle yourself. There is just nothing there for you as a professional. Eddie [Hearn] and Frank [Warren] have both got money, maybe they should bring advisors in to advise people, and maybe an accountant. A lot of boxers don’t understand it [money], they just know how to fight. I know boxers who don’t understand paying their taxes. They only understand it when it comes back to kick them.” 

It is always interesting to ask a former fighter what advice, if any, they would give if they could go back in time and offer words of wisdom to younger versions of themselves. Gavin thought for a moment before answering, “I’d tell myself to be more switched on. I had so many friends at one point. I’d be walking past a club and they’d say, ‘Come in, Frankie’. Then they’d put on three bottles of champagne and tell me to have a good time. I’d get the same with shops and other places.  

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a great family and some really good friends. My two best friends have been there for me since I was a kid. If my mum needs anything then she can call them. We don’t speak as much, and they’d done a bit of prison, but they are there for me. When I was younger, I’d be with them and they’d be going out. I’d say I’d drive them to where they needed to be. They’d say, ‘Nah, Frankie, we don’t want you there. We’ll drop you where you need to be and move on’. They looked out for me. 

“There is no doubt that my mates stopped me from getting big-headed,” he added. “They’d have said, ‘You are talking to us now, you little prick’. I think I was lucky in that respect. It did keep me grounded. I mixed with the regular people. Even if I wasn’t drinking, I’d go out to the boozer on a match day. Don’t get me wrong, some of my mates were hooligans, but that life never appealed to me despite the fact some people loved it. Who am I to judge them? They are not bullies. They are fighting other people who want to fight. I’d just go to the ground to watch the game. These are good lads.” 

A story circulated in Manchester for a while that in some ways summed up the ‘Funtime’ persona. Gavin was known for playing pranks and possessed what seemed an almost impulsive instinct to do daft things. Stevie Bell told me that he had once witnessed Gavin slapping a man across the back of the head. When asked why, Gavin shrugged and said, “It was shiny!” Like all good stories, there is a lot of truth and a pinch of salt.  

“I think I flicked his head!” he said. “I wasn’t malicious. I haven’t got a bad bone in my body. Tom used to say I had an autistic manner about me or something. I just tapped that lad on the back of the head and sat there laughing when he was turning around. I was just daft.” 

As the questions stopped and the call wound down, Gavin paused for a moment, laughed and summed up life as a retired boxer. He said, “I’m fat, but I’m happy! I’m also still our only World Amateur Champion. That means a lot to me.” 


Main image: Nick Potts/Press Association.