Ireland, the Ukraine and the hosts were the big winners in the first session of Olympic men’s boxing Semifinals Friday in London. Ukrainian sluggers Oleksandr Usyk and Denys Berinchyk booked their tickets in must-see gold medal bouts while John Joe Nevin continued the Irish fairytale started by Katie Taylor. Nevin will now face Britain’s Luke Campbell for a gold medal in a surefire bantamweight barnburner in front of a passionate crowd. The only rub on the night was the final, strangely scored heavyweight bout between two boxers, Teymur Mammadov and Clemente Russo, who shouldn’t really have been there. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all, unless you’re from Azerbaijan (which Mammadov’s loss showed isn’t even true!).
(Ireland’s Paddy Barnes, right, hard at work against China’s Shiming Zou during a brave losing effort, photo via London 2012 Olympics website)
Light Flyweight 49kg/108lb
Shiming Zou (China)-Paddy Barnes (Ireland), 15-15: Paddy Barnes, who went down 15-0 to the number one-seeded Chinese maestro in Beijing, went 15 points better today in London. Zou used his beautiful footwork to control the bout early but the little Irishman came on like a freight train in the last two rounds. The Chinaman’s decision to trade in the 3rd enraged his corner and nearly cost him the fight, but he slipped into the gold medal match on countback after a 15-all draw.
Kaeo Pongprayoon (Thailand)-David Ayrapetyan (Russia), 13-12: Ayrapetyan, the equal shortest man in the London 2012 boxing draw, got a lot of credit from the judges through three very close rounds. I thought the Russian team captain got completely out-thought and out-boxed by his Thai opponent. But the judges had two rounds even three points apiece, with only one going to Pongprayoon, who won 13-12. The Thai fighter, who bowed to every section of the audience and the referee after his victory, figures to give Zou an even tougher fight than Barnes. I’d pick him to take the gold.
Bantamweight – 56kg/123.4lb
John Joe Nevin (Ireland)- Lazaro Alvarez Estrada (Cuba), 12-9: Cuban boxers know that winning the 1st round is key in the amateurs; they don’t like to get in a hole. But the Cuban world champion found himself in one after the 1st round here, down two points. Even worse, he was down 12-9 after the 2nd, despite giving it his all. Nevin just beat the Cuban at his own game with a superb counterpunching performance. Nevin simply couldn’t miss with his lead right and upset the world champ 19-14, much to the delight of the pro-Irish crowd.
Luke Campbell (Great Britain) vs. Satoshi Shimizu (Japan), 21-5: Shimizu was too brave for his own good in this bruising semifinal. Campbell landed thudding shots throughout the bout as Shimizu, who had previously got through on conditioning and size, met his match. Campbell won every round and eventually took the fight 20-11. Should be a huge Britain vs. Ireland gold medal match. Excel Arena might actually fall down.
Light Welterweight 64kg/141lb
Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo (Cuba) vs. Vicenzo Mangiacapre (Italy), 15-8: The difference between these two boxers who fight with their hands around their knees turned out to be class. Iglesias was smart enough to keep his hands up in the clinches, and was teeing off on Mangiacapre by the end. The Italian lost 8-15. It’s amazing he even scored eight points.
Denys Berinchyk (Ukraine)- Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg (Mongolia), 29-21: Mongolian southpaw Uranchimeg looked classy early with lovely straight punching. World silver medallist Berinchyk pressured throughout the fight and it paid off in a huge 17 point 3rd round, the highest scoring of the games, in which he beat the Mongolian from pillar to post and put two standing eight counts on him. The 29-21 victory sets up an appetising gold medal bout. Past that, I want to see Berinchyk in the pros. Stat!
Middleweight – 75kg/165.3lb
Esquiva Falcao Florentino (Brazil)-Anthony Ogogo (Great Britain), 16-9: Falcao, the bronze medallist at the world championships, has been one of the revelations of the Olympic boxing tournament. After a cagey opening stanza, he outclassed Ogogo in the 2nd and then dominated him. Ogogo had no answers and went down on a pinpoint left hand at the start of the final round and then again after a body shot. The final margin of 16-9 was probably a bit kind to Ogogo.
Ryota Murata (Japan)- Abbos Atoev (Uzbekistan), 13-12: The exact opposite of Cuban boxers, Japanese southpaw bruiser Ryoto Murata seems to prefer to be trailing heading into the final round. Down 8-5, Murata put forth a herculean effort (with the help of the referee penalising Atoev), wobbling the Uzbek in an eight point 3rd round. He took it 13-12 and set up a huge showdown with Falcao in a division that didn’t seem that interesting coming in.
Heavyweights – 91kg/200.6lb
Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine) vs. Tervel Pulev (Bulgaria), 21-5: World champ Usyk had a terrible fight in the quarters against Artur Beterbiev. He made amends here and proved why he’s the man to beat, dispatching Bulgaria’s Tervel Pulev with ease. He dropped the younger brother of pro heavyweight contender Kubrat Pelev with a left hand that looked like a mule’s kick in the opening frame and then pursued him around the ring for the rest of the bout. Pulev seemed hurt the whole fight and lost 21-5.
Clemente Russo (Italy)-Teymur Mammadov (Azerbaijan), 15-13: I don’t even know what to say about the final bout of the session. Mammadov started strong and had Russo badly, badly hurt in the 2nd. I thought they were going to stop it, but the 30-year-old Italian managed to use all his veteran’s savvy to hang on and survive. Somehow that round was only scored 6-4 in the Azeri’s favour. By the time the 3rd round rolled around Mammadov had completely gassed himself out and Russo managed to turn the tables, forcing an eight count on his teenage foe. With Mammadov attempting to tie things up and survive, the referee intervened, ludicrously giving two points to Mammadov. He then gave two points to Russo in an act of fairness (but utter pointlessness). Russo ended up winning 15-13 in a bout that showed a lot of the worst things about amateur boxing on what had otherwise been a very good night of fights. Don’t like Russo’s chances against Usyk, who is one scary animal with a really bad haircut (don’t tell him I said that).