Stripped of boxing, Anthony Ogogo forges a new identity in AEW

Anthony Ogogo. (Photo Credit: All Elite Wrestling)
Anthony Ogogo. (Photo Credit: All Elite Wrestling)

For most of his life, boxing was Anthony Ogogo’s identity.

After picking up boxing at age 12, Ogogo racked up achievement after achievement. By the time he was 24, Ogogo had medaled in the Junior Olympics, IABA Cadet World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and, in his greatest achievement to that point, won bronze at the 2012 Olympics, held in his home country of England.

With his star on the rise and on the cusp of his first world championship, Ogogo’s life would change forever in 2016. During his WBC middleweight championship fight against Craig Cunningham, Ogogo suffered a fractured left eye socket. Ultimately, the injury resulted in Ogogo losing most of the vision in his left eye and undergoing nine surgeries in an attempt to return to boxing. In 2019, at the age of 30, Ogogo was forced to retire from the sport.

“Boxers, most people who do a sport, that’s who they are, that’s their identity,” Ogogo told Yahoo Sports. “My identity was cruelly ripped away from me through the injury. I wasn’t a boxer anymore when I retired back in 2019. That broke my heart and it hurt so much. Everyone knew me my whole life as Anthony Ogogo, the boxer, and I wasn’t that anymore. I’ve tried my best to shed the boxing title so I could be Anthony Ogogo and boxing is what I did, not who I was.”

Although his boxing career officially ended two years ago, Ogogo’s life inside a ring isn’t completely over.

Ogogo, now working with professional wrestling company All Elite Wrestling, is taking part in one of its signature events, “Double or Nothing” this weekend. Ogogo, a relative newcomer to the world of pro wrestling, will face Cody Rhodes, one of AEW’s biggest stars, who also happens to be an executive vice president in the company.

For Ogogo, the idea of wrestling was never entirely ruled out, even when he was boxing. Ogogo’s grand plan was to box first, get into acting and then perhaps make some guest appearances or have matches later on in his life.

“I didn’t think I’d be doing it as a vocation like I am doing, but I did think I would do something like [Floyd] Mayweather or Tyson Fury,” Ogogo said. “I loved the business so much I thought I was going to do something in it. I was going to have a match or be a manager. I never thought my [boxing] career was going to get cut short. I never thought I was going to get like a bonus 10 years of my life that I wasn’t supposed to have.”

'I think I just watched a man murder another man'

Like boxing, Ogogo’s fascination with wrestling started as a boy. Ogogo vividly recalls watching a homemade tape of the 2000 Royal Rumble and, in a somewhat ironic twist, was influenced by Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle and Tazz, who now works alongside Ogogo for AEW.

“I came downstairs the next morning, had my breakfast and cleaned my teeth and before I went to school, I started watching,” Ogogo said. “I see the fans going mad, signs in the air, I’m loving what I’m seeing. Then this guy comes down the ramp with an Olympic gold medal around his neck — I had always wanted to be an Olympic champion — so automatically I loved it. Tazz walks down to the ring and I’m thinking ‘Oh, this is good.’ I have no idea what I’m watching, they start fighting and a few minutes later, Tazz gets him in a chokehold and, in my head, he kills him.

“I’m watching on TV, he’s not moving, Tazz wins and they load Kurt Angle out onto a stretcher and I genuinely thought he died. So I go to school and I’m traumatized by this. I think I just watched a man murder another man, to the point where I told the teacher that I wasn’t all there because I thought I watched someone die. She must have thought I was an idiot. Anyway, I came home, watched the rest of it and Kurt Angle wasn’t dead.”

Much like Ogogo learned Tazz didn’t actually kill Kurt Angle 21 years ago, he is learning the ins and outs of the business, spending the past two years training with Dustin Rhodes and QT Marshall at the Nightmare Factory wrestling school.

Despite already being a world-class athlete, Ogogo has had to adjust to the different physical aspects of professional wrestling. While boxing requires intense cardio training, Ogogo admits that wrestling has forced a change in his training style and in some ways is more demanding of his body.

“I didn’t lift a weight up for years because as a boxer,” Ogogo said. “I was living on a diet, a 24/7 diet, even when I was out of camp, I couldn’t afford to put any weight on. Now I’m lifting, which I never did before. I do very little cardio, and the cardio that I do is very short and explosive. Boxing, when you’re doing it, is very hard because your heart rate is at 90% all of the time, but wrestling, when you wake up the next day you have more aches and pains because it damages your body more.

“Boxing is the hardest sport in the world because you have a trained man trying to knock your head off. Fractionally below that, you have wrestling, which I find to be the second hardest sport, business, industry, whatever you want to call it, in the world.”

Ogogo: My life depends on protecting myself

Part of learning the industry is also figuring out how to protect himself from another catastrophic eye injury. Already 78 percent blind in his left eye, Ogogo needs to take extra precautions while in the ring to ensure he doesn’t damage his sight further. Even though the athletic feats seen in the ring are essentially choreographed, one mistake and Ogogo’s life changes forever.

“That’s a shoot, that’s as real as it gets, that’s as real as a heart attack,” Ogogo said. “For me to be able to legally drive or do anything, I need that left eye. Without that, my life is hindered massively. I do protect that eye like my life depends on it because it does. Same with my right eye, because if that goes, I’m screwed. I’m already visually impaired, if my other eye goes, I’m having a seeing-eye dog.”

The eye injury also impacts Ogogo’s ability to even pull off simple tasks in the ring and changes his style of wrestling. While many fans enjoy the high-flying, speedy action of AEW, the reality for Ogogo is that after nearly double-digit surgeries on his eyes, his vision hinders his ability to do something as trivial as running ropes.

“There are a lot of things that I can’t do, moves that I can’t do,” Ogogo said. “I’m quite athletic and I like to jump off ropes, but I can’t. You’ll see it during my career, when I’m running the ropes, you’re supposed to grab the top rope with your right hand, sometimes I miss because I can’t see it. My eyes don’t work together so I get double-vision all of the time. When I’m running, I see six ropes, sometimes criss-crossed, instead of three. I’m half guessing. You’ll see me trip up or mess up.

“What else am I going to do? The eye situation has already taken away my first love and my first career. I refuse to let this eye take away a second love. Ultimately, it’s about getting back up and going on and giving it my best shot.”

'Now I can just be me, 100 percent, authentically, unapologetically me'

As far as his character is concerned, wrestling has been freeing for Ogogo. Once worried about keeping his sponsors happy and having to remember not to swear on his social media accounts, Ogogo can now lean into his brash, confident persona, one he refers to as “The Guvnor.”

Even working heel in this United States vs United Kingdom feud with Rhodes, Ogogo has shown early on in his AEW career that he has the ability to get over with fans due to his skill on the microphone.

“I spent my entire boxing career being the very good, very nice version of me,” Ogogo said. “I felt like I had to be the corporate Anthony Ogogo, that I couldn’t really be me. I couldn’t swear on Twitter because Nike or Subway wouldn’t like it. Now I can just be me, 100 percent, authentically, unapologetically me. Like me or not, I don’t care.”

Ogogo’s persona also works because there is a hint of his real-life feelings that break through the camera and help him connect with the audience. Ogogo’s background doesn’t just make him a formidable foe in the ring, but it also allows him to tap into the frustrations of losing his livelihood due to injury.

“I lost the best years of my life because of an injury,” Ogogo said. “I had to sit and watch people with half my ability go and fight for world championships and win and become millionaires. That made me bitter and upset and angry. I spent every penny I earned boxing, all of my savings on surgeries that didn’t even work. My tolerance with people is very short now.”

Now, nearly five years removed from his last, life-changing boxing match, Ogogo is on the brink of being not just one of AEW’s box office draws, but one of its major crossover talents. And although his finishing maneuver is a punch and he wears his beloved Olympic rings on his trunks, those are just callbacks to a previous life.

Now, Ogogo is moving forward with a new identity, which isn’t defined by what he does, but rather by who he is.

“I don’t want to be the boxer-turned-wrestler,” Ogogo said. “I’m the first me and I’m going to be the last me. I want to uproot some big trees while I am wrestling.”

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