Seven years ago, Anthony Ogogo made his professional boxing debut. Fresh from winning bronze at London 2012, he began a career that promised so much but would eventually lead him down a road that delivered some of the worst years of his life and more sorrow than he has ever felt.
The former middleweight was forced to retire from the sport at just 30 last year, struck down by a devastating series of injuries. Irreparable eye damage, a problem he sank his life savings into trying to fix, left him effectively blind in one eye and cost him his career.
A relentlessly positive disposition however has seen to start down a new path, now intent on becoming a household name in the world of professional wrestling with American promotion All Elite Wrestling (AEW) - having turned down the chance to sign for WWE.
Injuries that plagued him from his amateur days meant one of Great Britain’s brightest talents had a professional career which lasted just 12 fights, with a fractured eye socket suffered in his final bout against Craig Cunningham in 2016 signalling the end of the road.
The Suffolk-born fighter initially refused to take no for an answer as he sought to get back in the ring. “I had nine operations in three years and spent £100,000 on operations alone in America,” he told Standard Sport. “All to keep my dream of boxing alive.
“It wasn't to be. I didn't even stop because I ran out of money, I ran out of money before that. I had to sell my car and remortgage the house to pay for surgeries. I stopped because there was nothing else that could be done to get me back in the ring.
“I have a funny relationship with boxing, it has given me some unbelievable years, some of the best moments of my life. But also it’s given me the worst years of my life and the most sorrow I've ever felt.”
Ogogo officially announced his retirement from boxing in March 2019 but the seven-year anniversary of his pro debut which fell in April and interviews such as these have served to remind him of the dreams that can no longer be achieved.
“My debut was the best night of my career which is really odd. It should have been the start rather than the pinnacle. Talking about it and going through it all again has brought those feelings back to the surface. I was a bit upset thinking about it, what could have been, what should have been.
"It’s been a tough 12 months and I’m almost at the other end. But I do get pangs of sorrow and sadness that I didn't have the career that my talent and desire deserved. But I guess that's life and all you can do is move on and not dwell on it which I am trying to do.”
That pain of having to leave boxing behind is one of the reasons why Ogogo has chosen to totally break away from the sport, distancing himself from coaching, punditry and promotion work.
“I couldn't sit there and commentate and watch people live out my dream when I wasn’t able to do so. It would just be too painful for me.”
— Anthony Ogogo (@AnthonyOgogo)
Ogogo dealt with injury most of his career but the problems that surfaced in 2016 were different - opening his left eye was a constant source of pain and the extent of the damage led to a near-death experience when he unwittingly wandered into traffic.
“The week after my last fight I went to cross the road and I saw a car a long way up the road. I’ve gone to cross and this car has whizzed past me. He's slammed on the breaks, beeping the horn. Because my vision was so bad, I couldn't judge where the car was.
“It looked like I tried kill myself, I just walked out into the road in front of a car.”
While his left eye 'doesn't work very well at all', operations have improved his vision and with his right eye 'doing the work for both of them' he is free to pursue new challenges. “There are a few things I can’t do. But there are many things I can do and those are the things I choose to focus on.”
His new vocation sees him shift his focus to something he has been passionate about his entire life in wrestling.
After what was meant to be a one-off appearance on a local show in Brighton last January, the prospect of a drastic career change was floated by a new close friend in ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page, a 30-year veteran of the professional wrestling scene.
When Ogogo decided to take the leap he received the call from the US where WWE officials invited him to Orlando for tryouts. A contract offer followed. But after meeting with AEW's executive vice-president Cody Rhodes, the allure of new a project with the promotion owned by Fulham owner Shahid Khan and his son Tony won him over.
"I had a choice of WWE and AEW and I chose AEW because I loved the company and loved Cody's vision and I want to be part of something really special. The choice was simple.
“I’ve got things I want to achieve in my life that I wasn’t able to achieve in boxing. But I still want to achieve those things and now I can look to achieve them in a slightly different arena in the world of professional wrestling.”
Ogogo remains in the development stages of his wrestling career, forced to return to the UK following the outbreak of the coronavirus but hopes to return as soon as he has clearance.
While the country has been on lockdown, he has been eager to help the nation keep fit with 7 Minute KOFIT, a fresh home exercise plan streamed online which he has made free to NHS staff and teachers during the fight against Covid-19.
The concept, which condenses a 50-minute gym workout into seven alongside dietary tips and step-by-step tutorials, was developed during his own battles to stay motivated during his dark days and hopes to help others who might be struggling while in isolation.
“At times like this, people don't often tend to spend time on themselves," said Ogogo whose sister is a nurse involved in the frontline battle.
"Mentally it makes you feel good and physically it makes you feel good. That's how I got through my three years, every single day I had a habit, I would work and I would feel good.
"It is so important to look after your own physical and mental well being. I want them [the NHS and teachers] to have it for free. They are doing so much for the country right now.”
Anthony Ogogo has created a fitness programme called 7 Minute KOFIT in conjunction with 7 Minute Mornings. Teachers and NHS workers can use their work email address to sign up for free KOFIT online classes at: www.7minutemornings.com/nhs