He won 40 fights as amateur, claimed four national titles, and won seven international gold medals with team England – but now for John Hedges the journey towards his ultimate goal is only beginning.
One of the potential future stars of his sport will fight Jozef Jurko at the O2 Arena on May 21 in a bid to go 6-0 in his professional career. At just 18, the hype around Eddie Hearn’s youngest ever Matchroom signing is growing and thus far, it’s justified.
But he hasn’t got to where he is without sacrifice. Like so many in his trade, Hedges, trained by Mark Tibbs, grew up targeting Olympic glory. It was a dream he had to essentially let go of in 2020 when Covid hit, and then in particular Hearn, came calling.
“When I had that amateur career it was all about the Olympic dream,” he told the Mirror . “I wanted to go to the Olympics and succeed in bringing back a medal, if not gold. But with Covid and everything that was going on at the time I had to weigh up my options because I couldn’t make the weight any longer.
‘So it was either turn into cruiserweight as an amateur or turn pro as a super-middleweight. And then Eddie basically gave me the phone call and I couldn’t let it slip. When a man of his stature calls and saying they’re willing to take you on at 17-years-old – I couldn’t turn that down.”
Had he not taken Hearn up on his offer, in all likelihood he would have featured in Tokyo last summer. But ‘the Gentleman’ explained why he did, having missed a valuable chunk of his career.
“When Covid hit we were told we could keep sparring if we were professional but not if we were amateurs,” he continued. “So that made my mind up for me because if I didn’t – a year and a half out the ring for anybody is damaging. You can run as much as you like but it’s not the same.”
So now, at 18, Hedges is only interested in looking forward. Ask him about his ultimate goal, and the answer in unequivocal: “I’ve come into this sport 100% to become world champion, and only if I do that can I say I’ve achieved what I set out to do. British champion , commonwealth, any of those titles would be great but my real aspiration is to be a world champion.”
I have conceded he “hasn’t put a time limit” on it, but Hedges clearly oozes confidence as well as charisma. The former notion has been boosted by sparring sessions with Billy Joe Saunders, a divisive figure perhaps, but more significantly for Hedges, a former two-weight world champion.
“It was a game changer for me [sparring with Joe Saunders],” he said. “My performances have been getting better and better since my first pro fight and Billy Joe has been a massive influence for me in that’s sense because he’s been there and done it. I know he gets a lot of bad publicity outside of boxing but in the ring he can deliver a complete masterclass, and that’s all I focus on, taking bits from that.”
For Hedges though, the immediate focus is now on May 21, a night where he insists performance is as important as victory. But whilst his story of him seems to have many more chapters to come, traveling far and wide as an amateur means that appearing at the O2, as he has done twice already, reminds him how far he’s already come.
“It’s about getting used to the big arenas,” he said. “Even your own dressing room is completely different to what I was having at the start. My fight [pro] fight was in the MK Dons stadium and there was just a curtain basically – in the O2 it’s a good as you can get. Some of the changing rooms are as a big as a house.”
The latter remark was said in jest, but the potential of Hedges is undoubtedly serious. To sacrifice an Olympic dream was a courageous move, but one you suspect, that one day will help him realize another.