It was a memorable day at the ExCeL Centre as the boxing event at the London 2012 Olympic Games went into its second day. The much anticipated Lightweight (60kg) and Welterweight (69kg) categories showcased some of the most talented boxers on the planet and the action did not disappoint.
Kicking off proceedings in the first of the six Lightweight (60kg) bouts in the afternoon session was the exciting Dominican Republic’s Wellington Arias Romero against orthodox Eduar Marriaga Campo. It was the southpaw who started brightly, throwing lots of punches with the straight left hitting its target several times. A bit of showboating by the Dominican and the clever use of the jab saw him once again score heavily with that straight left. Arias Romero’s superior technique continued to have his Colombian opponent on the back foot in the final round as he recorded an impressive 17:8 victory.
It was an all-African affair when Ahmed Mejri of Tunisia and Benin’s Shafiq Chitou came together in the ring. Chitou looked lively in the early exchanges, connecting with a good left hook but as the round progressed, the orthodox Mejri just soaked up the pressure and picked his spots to edge it. It was more of the same as the somewhat erratic Chitou failed to hit his target and the southpaw had to again concede the round to the measured Mejri. The crowd was cheering loudly for Chitou but his opponent’s effective counter-punching saw him suffer a 16:9 defeat.
When asked about the support he received from the crowd, Chitou replied, "It was great, I have never experienced an atmosphere like it". And on his preparations before the Games, the 27-year-old decorator added, "I have to thank AIBA for inviting me to train with the Road to London program, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to give a good account of myself here at the Olympic Games, I will never forget it".
Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo Sanchez, the winner of the AIBA American Olympic Qualifying Event Rio 2012, showed his class against the inexperienced 20-year-old Juan Huertas Garcia from Panama in the third bout of the day, putting in a polished performance that saw him prevail 11:5.
27-year-old fifth seed Gani Zhailauov of Kazakhstan, a bronze medallist at the AIBA World Boxing Championships Baku 2011, faced the speedy Thai Saylom Ardee in a fast and furious contest that had had the crowd up on its feet. Peppering each other with loads of punches; it was the orthodox Thai who took the first round after giving his opponent a bloody nose. It was compelling viewing as Zhailauov battled back with some powerful punches to level the scores after round two. The spectators were treated to a real boxing feast in the final round as both fighters went for it. When the winner was announced, there was heart-break for 26-year-old Ardee as the victory was given to Zhailauov on count back with 12:12 the final result.
The capacity crowd was then introduced to the Seychelles’ 19-year-old Andrique Allisop, who had also taken part in the three-week AIBA Road to London training program in Cardiff in the build-up to London 2012. The young pretender was pitted against the experienced 27-year-old Jai Bhagwan and his youthful exuberance counted against him as the orthodox boxer from India effectively counter-punched the onrushing teenager throughout. In the end, it was Bhagwan who progressed after winning 18:8 and he will now face Zhailauov in the next preliminary, looking to make it third time lucky after having lost to the Kazak in their previous two meetings.
Allisop was realistic about his performance, saying, "I learnt a lot, he moved better than me and was more economical with his punching and I need to now raise my game. I am young and have just moved up to Lightweight so I will be back in four years a much better boxer. Training in Cardiff with the Road to London program was also a real eye-opener for me".
Chinese 29-year-old Qiang Liu put in a clinic against Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Luke Jackson from Australia, increasing the pressure in each round with swagger and class, using clever movement and devastating combinations as he emphatically won 20:7. The crowd really got behind the entertaining orthodox fighter who really impressed. A late bloomer, Liu has only really come to the fore in the last year or so. His next opponent will be the AIBA World Boxing Championships silver medallist Yasnier Toledo Lopez.
On facing the Cuban in the next round, Qiang Liu declared, "I have studied him a lot; he is very fast so I will need to have strong defences and counter-punch".
In the first of the six Welterweight (69kg) bouts of the session, tough Moldovan southpaw Vasilii Belous had the measure of Selemani Kidunda from the first bell, using his jab and his reach to keep his opponent at bay before unloading some devastating straight one-twos. Rocking the 28-year-old from Tanzania several times as he recorded a 20:7 victory, University World Champion Belous will be in confident mood when facing the top seed from Ukraine Taras Shelestyuk in the next phase of the competition.
The experience of Mongolia’s Tuvshinbat Byamba really shone through in his battle with 24-year-old Yannick Mitoumba Mbemy from Gabon. Quality footwork and a thunderous overhead right were the signature moves by the 25-year-old and the man from Gabon just could not contain the classy Byamba. Efficiently smooth, the Mongol was imperious in every department as he prevailed in style 17:4.
Flamboyant Frenchman Alexis Vastine, part of the victorious Paris United team in the World Series of Boxing first season, looked to make his punches do the talking against the compact 20-year-old Patrick Wojcicki. The orthodox Vastine often looks more concerned with style rather than substance but knowing that the German represented quite a dangerous opponent, he knuckled down and did the business over three rounds to win 16:12. It was a very entertaining fight between the 25-year-old soldier from Normandy and the German prospect.
"I under-performed in Beijing four years ago after having put too much pressure on myself, so this year I want to enjoy the Olympic experience and take one fight at a time. Next up for me is Mongolia’s Byamba, who is a top class boxer, so I will need to box clever once more".
Powerful Custio Clayton is still developing as a fighter but has been in fine form of late. Coached by Daniel Trepanier, Clayton is said to have a very bright future and proved he has big credentialsafter triumphing 12:8 against Mexico’s talented former AIBA Youth World Champion Oscar Molina Casillas, a silver medallist at the AIBA American Olympic Qualifying Event Rio 2012.
The highlight of Australia’s Oceania Champion Cameron Hammond’s bout was a devastating right that forced Moustapha Abdoulaye Hima to take a standing eight count midway through the second round. It was a pulsating contest between two relatively untested boxers at this level. In the third, the Australian stepped up a level to take control of proceedings against the 20-year-old from Niger to move deeper into the competition with a well-earned 13:6 victory. He now faces Clayton for a place in the quarter-finals.
Great Britain’s reigning European Champion Freddie Evans raised the roof at the ExCeL when he made his way to the ring for the ultimate contest of the afternoon session. The orthodox fighter from Cardiff faced the lightening quick Algerian Ilyas Abbadi and put on a real show for the vocal spectators out to support the home boxer. It was tight but the Brit’s superior shot making saw him score points with several penetrating combinations. Evans showed quality defensive skills too as the Algerian looked to make up his five point deficit in the third. The Welshman even took time to entertain the crowd with a few shuffles before throwing some hard combinations. The orthodox Brit comfortably won 18:10 and will now face third seed and the man who defeated him at the AIBA World Boxing Championships last year, Lithuania’s Egidijus Kavaliauskas.
On his next opponent, Evans said, "When I lost against him in Baku, I was not focused. His style suits me so this time there will be no mistakes"