All Elite Wrestling star Anthony Ogogo has not done anything the usual way. Most professional wrestlers have trained since their teens, some come over from other sports but not many come over brandishing an Olympic boxing medal. Kurt Angle famously won an Olympic freestyle wrestling gold before making the move over, but no other mainstream wrestler has made the transition from a separate discipline. For Anthony Ogogo though, he saw no other way out after his professional boxing career was ended by injury.
“Two and a half years ago I had to retire from boxing," he tells The Sportsman. "I’m 78% blind in my left eye. I couldn’t fight any more, and had to retire. 30 years old, my life was over. For my entire life I wanted to be a boxer. Up until I was 23, I wanted to win the Olympic games. Then when the Olympics happened, my Mum was ill. I couldn’t do another four-year Olympic cycle because I wrapped my Mum’s illness with the Olympics, and I just couldn’t do it.
"So I turned pro, my next dream is to become world champion. That would have put to bed me not winning the Olympics as an amateur. So all my desire, drive and dreams from the Olympics go onto winning a world title. I got injured, fractured my eye socket, damaged the nerves in my eyes. I had surgeries that went wrong, I’m now blind in my left eye. I had to retire from boxing, devastated.”
Stripped of the only dream he’d ever known, the former middleweight prospect craved a return to some kind of ring. In professional wrestling, he found what he needed to satisfy those athletic urges he’d had for as long as he could remember.
"There’s not many things in life I love, my wife and family aside," he adds. "Boxing’s up there, and the only other thing I really liked was wrestling. I thought, “If I can’t fight any more, the closest thing I can do is this.” It ticks a lot of the boxing boxes.
"I’m performing in a ring, using my athletic prowess. I love boxing, but even if you weren’t injured you box twice a year, maybe four times on the way up. In wrestling, you wrestle every single week in front of avid fans. I get to be on TV all the time, we get to be in storylines which is really fun. So when I retired, the only thing I wanted to dedicate my life to was the second hardest sport in the world. Boxing being the hardest sport in the world, and pro wrestling being the second hardest sport in the world."
In the world of outlandish characters and reality-blurring storylines that is professional wrestling, Ogogo’s path could have been obvious. The idea of a boxer stepping into wrestling almost writes itself. He comes in, he punches people, he collects the winner’s purse. But the Lowestoft man wants to write a more expansive legacy, and he’s looking at some of Britain’s ring greats for inspiration.
"I could have easily went there and just punched people, and that would have been my thing. Punch. Done. But that would have got old, that would be one-dimensional. For as long as I do this, the best part of ten years, I want to be good. I want to be remembered as one of the best ever to come from Britain. You’ve got some superstars like William Regal, I look at PAC now and bloody hell he’s so good, unbelievably good. You’ve got some superstars from Britain and I’ll be up there. When my time is done in wrestling, whenever that may be, I want to be regarded as one of the best from these shores. I’ve obviously got a long way to go. But I’m not going to go in there and swing punches, that’s easy. I want to challenge myself.
A passionate fan in childhood, Ogogo kept up with wrestling during his boxing days. However, his choice of viewing material did not always go down well with his fellow pugilists.
"I’d take my big Toshiba laptop, and it was like a whole computer, not like laptops nowadays. And I used to take it with me everywhere solely to watch my wrestling. They mugged me off for watching it! “Oh he’s watching wrestling again” or “My son watches that”. They didn’t get it, they’d think it was silly."
Signing for AEW, a company on the rise but unproven at the point Anthony walked through their doors, was a huge risk. There are plenty of other, more lucrative avenues for a recently-retired athlete with an Olympic medal round their neck. But Ogogo’s reasons for choosing wrestling demonstrate the determination that drove him to Olympic success in the first place.
"I could have taken a job sitting behind an announce desk commentating as a boxer, earning more money than I earn now. I essentially took a pay cut to become a wrestler. I took a pay cut to get thrown around the ring by big, hairy strong men. But I wanted to push myself, challenge myself, learn and grow."