There is no guarantee that amateur boxing success will lead to professional glory but some of the biggest stars in the sport’s history have cut their teeth at the Olympics.
Muhammad Ali – Cassis Clay at the time – showed his prodigious talent at the tender age of 18 by winning gold in Rome 1960 while Vasyl Lomachenko stood atop the podium in Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
Muhammad Ali – Gold medal, Rome 1960
Of course, at the time, Ali went by Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. He’d made his amateur debut six years before arriving at the Games as an 18-year-old having already amassed six golden gloves titles.
Ali had a severe fear of flying and almost didn’t go at all, trying to come up with any alternatives he could by land or sea.
He eventually was persuaded to fly but wore a parachute on his back for the duration of the trans-Atlantic journey.
Muhammad Ali – then Cassius Clay – shot to stardom at the Olympics back in 1960
Ali beat 1956 middleweight gold medallist Gennadiy Shatkov on points and came back to do the same against Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the final.
His amateur record stood at 95-5 when he turned pro. At the age of only 22, he defeated Sonny Liston to become champion the momentum snowballed from there.
His iconic career in a golden era for heavyweights will never be forgotten but it was in Rome, where he was declared unofficial Mayor of the Olympic Village by fellow athletes, that the world realised a star was rising.
Ali showed off the skills he’d become known for in beating Gennadiy Shatkov en route to gold
Lennox Lewis represented Canada at the 1988 Olympics and claimed the gold medal
Lennox Lewis – Gold medal, Seoul 1988
The Olympic dream did not come easy for Lewis. He was a raw 18-year-old prospect in Los Angeles 1984 and lost a decision at the quarter-final stage.
Despite showing plenty of promise, Lewis opted to refine the rough edges to his game by staying in the amateur ranks with the ultimate ambition of bringing home gold four years later.
Competing at super-heavyweight, he defeated Riddick Bowe in the final at the Seoul 1988 games in South Korea to achieve his goal.
Lewis competed for Canada and was even the country’s flag bearer at the Games before adopting British nationality for his pro career.
The heavyweight champion is regarded by many to be the best of his era with famous wins over Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Vitali Klitschko.
Lewis went on to have a hugely successful career as a pro and beat Mike Tyson (right)
Vasyl Lomachenko – Gold medal, Beijing 2008 & London 2012
Lomachenko’s amateur record of of 396 wins and one defeat (avenged twice) says it all.
The dancing Ukrainian ran rings around his opponents to win a junior world championship, European championship, two World Championships and of course two Olympic gold medals.
The scores from Lomachenko’s fights at the Games illustrate his dominance. A 14-11 win over Yasniel Toledo in 2012 was the narrowest margin of victory with a total cumulative score of 120-45 over both Olympics.
Vasyl Lomachenko claimed gold in Beijing and London for Ukraine at lightweight
Despite the glittering amateur career, Lomachenko’s entrance into the pro ranks endured a stuttering start.
His progress was accelerated due to the pedigree he arrived with and he lost a split decision in his second fight against Orlando Salido for the WBO featherweight title.
From there, Lomachenko showed his class, winning his next 13 fights to claim world titles at featherweight and lightweight.
He was outclassed by a superb Teofimo Lopez last year but remains one of boxing’s most technically gifted pugilists.
Lomachenko celebrates winning the lightweight world title contest with Luke Campbell
Wladimir Klitschko – Gold medal, Atlanta 1996
Klitchko ruled the heavyweight division for 4,382 days, longer than anyone else in history.
His exemplary professional career was eventually brought to an end after defeats by Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua but the first real indicator of Klitchko’s talents came back in 1996.
Dr Steelhammer fought his way to the final against Tongan Paea Wolfgramm, who he defeated 10-7 in a one-sided bout.
Wladimir Klitchko’s gold medal in Atlanta was the start of a long reign at heavyweight
Wolfgramm was the first Tongan to ever win an Olympic medal and rematched Klitchko in the pro ranks.
He lost in the very first round and became one of many of Klitchko’s victims.
The powerful Ukrainian went on to be one of the most active heavyweights ever, competing in 29 title fights and hanging up his gloves having won 64 of 69 in total.
Oscar de la Hoya – Gold medal, Barcelona 1990
De la Hoya arrived at the 1990 Games will plenty of expectation and pressure on his shoulders.
He had already been nicknamed ‘Golden Boy’ having previously won the Junior Olympics 119-pound title at just 15.
There was additional motivation and emotional drive for De La Hoya when he arrived in Barcelona after his mother had passed away from breast cancer.
Oscar De La Hoya lived up to his ‘Golden Boy’ nickname with lightweight gold in 1992
She had expressed a wish that her son would one day go on and become Olympic champion.
He did just that, scraping past Hong Sung-sik of South Korea in the semi-final before a more comfortable 7–2 win over Marco Rudolph in the gold medal match.
In the pro ranks, the American was ranked pound-for-pound No 1 in 1997 and 1998, and won 10 world championships in six different weight classes over a 16-year career.
Andre Ward – Gold medal, Athens 2004
Ward remains one of the United States’ most gifted boxers ever and perhaps is not given the acclaim he deserves.
He was the first American to win an Olympic gold in the ring for eight years when claiming the light-heavyweight prize in Athens.
Ward defeated Magomed Aripgadzhiyev of Belarus in the final in what was the pinnacle of his 115-5 amateur record.
Andre Ward translated his amateur success into world titles in the professional ranks
He then moved into the professional ranks and is one of three undefeated fighters on this list.
Ward retired in 2017 having won multiple world titles in two weight classes and was Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound No 1 the previous year.
This year, he was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Claressa Shields – Gold medal, London 2012 & Rio 2016
Another unbeaten superstar and the fighter regarded by many to be the greatest female boxer of all time.
Now chasing further fame and fortune in MMA, Shields conquered the sweet science in an emphatic manner.
The charismatic American stormed to victory at middleweight in 2012 and then became the first from the US, male or female, to back it up four years later in Rio de Janeiro.
Shields turned pro with an amateur record for 77 wins (19 by KO) and just a solitary defeat. She has claimed multiple world titles in three different weight classes and is the fastest fighter of either gender to do so.
She is also the first world champion in four-belt era to carry undisputed titles in two separate weight classes.
Claressa Shields is regarded as the greatest female boxer in the history of the sport
Floyd Mayweather – Bronze medal, Atlanta 1996
The only boxer on this list not to come away with a gold medal. But if his inclusion on the list is controversial, it is not nearly as disputable as the semi-final defeat in 1996.
Mayweather became the first American to defeat a Cuban for 20 years in the quarter-final when he beat Lorenzo Aragon.
But his journey ended in the next fight against Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria. Even the referee Hamad Hafaz Shouman of Egypt thought Mayweather had won, raising the American’s hand by mistake when the decision in favour of Todorov was read out.
Todorov was adjudged to have won 10-9 and the US team lodged an official complaint.
Floyd Mayweather Jr (right) won his quarter-final clash with Lorenzo Aragon (left)
Bill Waeckerle, one of four American judges at the Games even resigned from his position out of protest at the injustice.
‘The judging was totally incompetent,’ Waeckerle said. The judges failed to impose a mandatory two-point deduction against Todorov after he was warned five times by the referee for slapping.’
Mayweather himself added: ‘Everybody knows Floyd Mayweather is the gold-medal favorite at 57 kilograms. In America, it’s known as 125 pounds. You know and I know I wasn’t getting hit. They say he’s the world champion. Now you all know who the real world champion is.’
That setback only served as fuel to the fire for Mayweather who went on to become one of the greatest boxers in history, reaching 50-0 as a professional and competing in two of the most lucrative bouts of all time, against Manny Pacquiao and then Conor McGregor in their cross-over fight.
Mayweather went on to win all 50 of his pro fights, including this one against Manny Pacquiao
Anthony Joshua – Gold medal, London 2012
AJ’s ascent to the top started in 2012 but he was still a relative newcomer to the elite level of the sport having taken up boxing aged 18.
It was a rocky road to the gold medal match and Joshua won a controversial decision over Cuban Erislandy Savón, taking the bout 17-16.
He then overcame Zhang Zhilei, who had won super-heavyweight silver four years earlier before narrowly outscoring Ivan Dychko 113-111 to reach the final.
There was again some controversy about the final, with some claiming a ‘home decision’ had been made in Joshua’s favour.
Anthony Joshua (left) controversially beating Roberto Cammarelle in London 2012
His bout with Roberto Cammarelle was scored 18-18 after three rounds with the Brit having fought back to level it.
There was then a count back and the judges gave the victory to Joshua, giving a launchpad to the professional career that would follow.
Under Eddie Hearn’s guidance, Joshua was built into a superstar, fighting all over the UK and filling out arenas.
He then claimed his first world title against Charles Martin and later claimed the vacant WBA and IBO belts with his famous win over Wladimir Klitchko in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley.
The shock defeat by Andy Ruiz in June 2019 is the only blip on an otherwise spotless copybook and a huge domestic showdown with Tyson Fury awaits this year if the final negotiations go off with out a hitch.
AJ famously beat Wladimir Klitschko in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley in 2017
Sugar Ray Leonard – Gold medal, Montreal 1976
Leonard came up against a fearsome Cuban, Andrés Aldama, who had stormed to the final after five straight KO victories at light-welterweight.
But the American dominated the fight, forcing two standing eight counts and giving the judges a simple decision.
Incredibly, after winning gold, Leonard said: ‘I’m finished… I’ve fought my last fight. My journey has ended, my dream is fulfilled. Now I want to go to school.’
He ended his amateur career with a remarkable record of 165-5 and 75 knock outs.
Sugar Ray Leonard, seen as one of the greatest ever, claimed gold in 1976
Leonard was forced to change his plans and had to enter the professional ranks to support his young child and infirm parents.
It proved to be a life-changing decision and now Leonard is regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
His two fights against Roberto Duran are legendary and he won world titles in five different weight classes.
Leonard was famously part of the ‘Fabulous Four’ with Duran, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns, who all fought each other in a golden age for the sport.
Leonard (right), drew with Tommy Hearns (left) and both were part of the ‘Fabulous Four’