There’s going to be a lot of boxing to watch at the Olympics. With 32 fighters in each of the 10 male weight brackets and 16 in the female divisions, there’ll be literally hundreds of fights. So unless you plan on neither sleeping nor bathing for the next two weeks, you’ll have to focus your energy on watching the best, and most intriguing, boxers from around the world. That’s where we come in, giving you a quick, easy guide to the who’s who in London. Some of these boxers are shoe-ins for gold. Others are unlikely to even make the late rounds. But they are all fascinating in their own way and they’re all great to watch in the ring.
(Anthony Joshua in action at the 2011 World Championships)
Anthony Joshua – Great Britain
Anthony Joshua is British boxing’s best hope for a gold medal in London. The 22-year-old Londoner is a huge, muscular specimen with everything: athleticism, power, a solid chin, an educated jab and a willingness to stand and bang. He took home the silver at the 2011 World Championships in Baku after losing by one point to hometown hero Magomedrasul Medzihov in a blistering war. In London, Joshua will be the hometown hero and many are expecting him to do even better.
Jai Opetaia – Australia
Yeah, I had to put an Aussie on the list. Light heavyweight Damien Cooper might be Australia’s best chance for a medal, but 16-year-old heavyweight Jai Opetaia has to be the most compelling character on the team. The 2011 World Youth Championships gold medalist, who hails from a long line of boxers and is related to Everton footballer Tim Cahill, is a slim chance for a medal in a tough division. Still, his smooth southpaw style is going to be an issue for anyone he faces, as long as the young man can keep his head in the game. Opetaia nearly squandered a berth in the Olympic team, missing the start of training camp in favour of sparring with pros in The States. His father and trainer, Tapu Opetaia, has feuded with Australia’s Olympic coach, Don Abnett. But despite all that, Opetaia still seems like a gentle teenager trapped in the 91kg body of a serious prizefighter.
Vasyl Lomachenko – Ukraine
Nobody on this list is as explosive or as dominant as Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko. The featherweight gold medallist in Beijing, Lomachenko has moved up to lightweight for London and is the prohibitive favourite in that weight class. That’s really saying something, since he shares lightweight with Italy’s Domenico Valentino, a long-time standout in the division. The way that Lomachenko puts his combinations together is awe inspiring, his feet carrying him in and out and his fists punishing his opponents head and body. Watch a Vasyl Lomachenko fight this Olympics, the guy is going to be a professional world champion one day (soon).
Katie Taylor – Ireland
It’s not all that facetious to suggest that if Ireland’s Katie Taylor was a man, she’d be one of the most famous athletes on earth. She’s not only the reigning world champion at lightweight, she has also earned 40 caps representing her country in football. There aren’t many male athletes who can claim that kind of distinction these days. You know how I said that no-one on this list is as explosive or as dominant as Vasyl Lomachenko? That’s not strictly true. Taylor gives him a run for his money in the dominance stakes. She’s won gold at every World Championships since 2006. In 2012 Taylor easily beat her nearest rival for the gold medal in London, Russia’s Sofya Ochigava, 11-7 with a clinical display of lightning footwork and combination punching. If you’ve never watched female boxing before, watch a Katie Taylor fight – you’ll enjoy it.
Terrell Gausha – U.S.A.
American middleweight Terrell Gausha doesn’t have the pedigree of many of the fighters on this list. The 24-year-old Ohioan hasn’t had that much international experience, but has been fighting for the Memphis Force in AIBA’s World Series of Boxing and is a five time Cleveland Golden Gloves winner. Team U.S.A.’s coaches singled him out as a potential star in London, despite being less well known (and perhaps less of a medal chance) than established amateurs Rau’shee Warren and Errol Spence. He’s exciting, fast and he’s got punching power and a relatively weak division on his side.
Nicola Adams – Great Britain
It would be huge news if Britain’s Nicola Adams could win the first ever women’s boxing gold medal. And she’s in with a pretty good shot. The Leeds born flyweight bagged silver at the World Championships in China this year and support from her countrymen could help her do one better at the Olympics. Not a power puncher nor blindingly fast, Adams makes up for it with a great sense of timing and a sneaky right hand. A win would really put women’s boxing on the map in the host nation.