Frazer Clarke has spent more than 50 rounds in the ring with Anthony Joshua and had the privileged position of watching the world heavyweight champion’s title fights up close thanks to his work as a ringside security guard.
At times he thought his time would never come, but on Saturday Clarke took the first step in emulating his great friend by claiming gold in the Gold Coast to round off England boxing’s greatest ever day at the Commonwealth Games.
A hulking brute of a man, Clarke first boxed internationally as a 16-year-old and had designs on competing as a super-heavyweight at the London 2012 Olympics.
That slot instead went to Joshua, who won gold, and the same fate befell Clarke four years later when Joe Joyce was selected ahead of him.
Two years on from that snub, Clarke, 26, emerged from a tough encounter with India’s Satish Kumar to claim Commonwealth gold by unanimous points decision, before insisting that he will emulate Joshua by winning gold Olympic at Tokyo 2020.
“There were times when I thought maybe this is not for me,” he said. “I had the injuries, knock backs and I’ve been pipped to the Olympics twice.
“Both times when I sit back and think about it I wasn’t ready. Could I have won gold in London? No. Could I have won gold in Rio? Maybe. I had a better chance than in London.
“But the right two lads got picked for the job and served our country very well. My time will be in Tokyo. I believe everybody’s got an allotted time frame, I just took a bit longer.”
Since first sparring with Joshua in 2009 – when he recalls laying eyes on a man who “looked like he’d been chiselled out of stone” – Clarke says he has used his friend’s success as a model to replicate, watching every detail from how much water he drinks to the way he stretches.
The pair shared a ring together the day before Clarke flew out to Australia, but the new Commonwealth champion’s bravado meant he was eager not to be reduced to a description of someone else’s human punch bag.
“I do spar with Joshua but I’m no-one’s sparring partner and I never have been,” he said.
“We work with each other and help each other. It does help me out, but I help him out.
“Ask the man himself, he don’t get any better sparring than me. He can ship them in from all over the world but nobody serves him better than I do.
“I hope people know me now and recognise me. I’m Frazer Clarke, Big Fraze from a little town Burton-on-Trent.
“If you don’t know me now then get to know me because you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me over the next few years.”
Benefitting from the multi-million investment in Britain’s amateur boxing set-up in Sheffield, Team England came to the Gold Coast with high hopes and secured nine medals from their 12 fighters on Saturday.
Clarke was one of six England gold medallists as Lisa Whiteside, Sandy Ryan, Galal Yafai, Peter McGrail and Pat McCormack helped beat the country’s previous Commonwealth Games record of five.
Having watched from the sidelines as her former team-mate and double Olympic champion Nicola Adams swept all before her, Whiteside finally took advantage of her time to shine to win flyweight gold.
With Adams now operating in the professional ranks, Whiteside seized her chance with victory over Northern Ireland’s Carly McNaul.
“I’ve always been so close to standing on the top of that podium,” said Whiteside, 32.
“I’ve had to bide my time, I’ve had to take knocks, I’ve had to be sat in the shadows. But now it’s about me, Lisa Whiteside, and I’m number one at the Commonwealth Games.”
Away from the boxing ring there was double success for England’s sprint relay runners with both men and women’s 4x100m relay teams beating Jamaica to gold.
Victory was some redemption for Zharnel Hughes, who thought he had won 200m gold earlier in the week only to be disqualified after the race.
“It’s been a long week, but I’m still a gold medallist,” he said, after triumphing alongside Reuben Arthur, Richard Kilty and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey.
“I’ve put the 200m behind me. It’s in the past. This shows I am a world-class athlete.”
Their female counterparts ran the fastest time in English history, despite regular runners Asha Philip, Dina Asher-Smith and Bianca Williams being joined by long jumper Lorraine Ugen, who was parachuted in at short notice.
Ugen finished fourth in the long jump on Thursday and only trained with the squad for 10 minutes on Saturday morning, but ran the anchor leg in a national record 42.26 seconds.
There were further gold medals for England’s David Luckman in the shooting Queen’s prize individual and men’s table tennis doubles pair Liam Pitchford and Paul Drinkhall.
Meanwhile, England’s men and women rugby sevens teams are both guaranteed the chance of fighting for a medal on Sunday after advancing safely to semi-finals against New Zealand.