It was the second round of preliminaries for the Men’s Lightweights (60kg) and Middleweights (75kg) on the sixth day of competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The packed ExCeL arena was once again treated to some top-class action.
It was a sensational start to the day with the first of the Lightweight (60kg) bouts seeing 24-year-old Vasyl Lomachenko, the top seed in the draw, against the Dominican Republic’s Wellington Arias Romero. Widely considered the best pound for pound Olympic boxer, the Ukrainian was just a cut above his opponent, effortlessly moving across the canvas, biding his time before picking his spots. A great mover, Lomachenko, the two-time AIBA World Champion, was being economical with his shots but when he did let fly, he was so accurate, a sweet left uppercut in the first round typifying that. Just to prove class, just as the round came to a close, he threw a one-two combination to the body before unleashing a right uppercut that caught Arias Romero square in the jaw. It continued like that in the remaining two rounds as the Ukrainian eased into the next round with a 15:3 win.
The action continued with Tunisia’s Ahmed Mejri battling it out with the orthodox Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo Sanchez in a very entertaining contest. Verdejo Sanchez was using his reach, moving well before pouncing with some good hooks as he took the first and second rounds in style. The same shots continued to be very effective in the final round as the 22-year-old from Puerto Rico booked his place for the quarter-finals where he will face the supreme Lomachenko after winning 16:7.
The contest between Kazakhstan’s AIBA World Championships bronze medallist Gani Zhailauov and Jai Bhagwan began fast and furiously with two quick operators going head-to-head. The Kazak’s footwork was just sensational as he danced around his opponent, looking to land the big overhead. The taller Indian’s defences were tight however and he was able to soak up the pressure before waiting for the perfect opportunity to land those hard right hands as he took the first. The nimble orthodox Zhailauov changed tack in the second and used much more variation in his punches and he got instant results as his rival was unable to cope with his speed as he scored heavily. In the third, the Kazak continued to dictate proceedings again to claim a 16:8 victory.
Cuban fourth seed Yasnier Toledo Lopez, silver medallist at the AIBA World Boxing Championships Baku 2011, took time to get into his stride against China’s Qiang Liu in the last Lightweight (60kg) contest of the session. Tentative in the first, the 21-year-old southpaw from Cuba was showing a lot of respect for his opponent who had looked very accomplished in his previous fight. Liu was standing firm to the unrelenting attacks of Toledo Lopez but the Cuban did enough to take the bout 14:10 and set up a meeting with Zhailauov in the next phase of the competition.
With several members of the Royal Family attending, including the Duke of Edinburgh, the much anticipated Middleweight (75kg) showdown between Great Britain’s Anthony Ogogo and the AIBA World Champion and top seed in the draw Ievgen Khytrov of Ukraine had the raucous crowd up on their feet from the first bell. 23-year-old Ogogo started off positively, throwing the jab then looking to land with the straight right on several occasions, a good left hook and a precise uppercut saw him take the first round. The long arms of the Brit were giving him good protection as the Ukrainian looked to land those body shots, then with another good left hook, he seemed get the upper hand but Khytrov came back with a right, and in the blink of an eye Ogogo had taken two standing eight counts in the closing stages of the second round. A sensational third saw the two boxers go toe-to-toe for three minutes with both trading a high volume of power punches. On count back, it was the British orthodox fighter who went through on count-back.
Ogogo was delighted after the win, declaring, “You have to believe in yourself and I certainly believed I could win. The Olympic Games are meant to inspire and I know I was inspired”.
Stefan Härtel of Germany was brilliant against Irish team captain Darren O’Neill, the European Championships silver medallist, working the body early on and showing real intent throughout the three rounds. Both boxers played their part in a scintillating contest but the desire of the German 24-year-old ensured he progressed 19:12 to meet Ogogo for a place in the semi-finals.
“It was very hard but we were well prepared for that. I had sparred with him a few months ago. The victory was deserved. I am now one win away from a medal and I want it”, said Härtel after his success.
Then the crowds were treated to a professional performance by Hungary’s Zoltan Harcsa which saw the 20-year-old orthodox dominate the powerful Namibian Mujandjae Kasuto from the first bell, using his superior technique throughout their encounter. The Youth Olympic Games bronze medallist had too much for his African rival, seamlessly landing every punch he threw as he recorded an emphatic 16:7 win.
The final bout of the evening saw tough Esquiva Falcao Florentino confirm his status as a gold medal contender with a quality performance against Soltan Migitinov of Azerbaijan. The Brazilian orthodox AIBA World Championships bronze medallist showed great tactical awareness as he constantly moved around the tough Azeri to outpoint his rival in each round and cruise to a 24:11 victory. Esquiva Falcao will now meet Zoltan Harcsa with a guaranteed bronze medal awaiting the winner.
The action began with 2009 AIBA World Champion Domenico Valentino of Italy against the tall British southpaw Josh Taylor in the first Lightweight (60kg) contest. With a capacity crowd there to support the local boxer, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Taylor started positively, landing with some good jabs but the experienced Italian orthodox fighter’s excellent shot making skills and quick counter punching saw him connect more times to take the first round. In the second, Valentino continued with his clever game plan, drawing in the Brit before throwing quick one-twos. Taylor was however now getting more results with his selection of punches as the points were shared in the second. The eccentric Italian’s movement in the third enabled him to land some clean hits and stamp his authority on the round, as he moved into the quarter-finals with a 15:10.
The Italian declared after his victory, “The fight went well for me but I did not box the way I should have. Taylor was very strong, he fought well. The crowd made it a lot harder but I knew how to handle it, having experienced it before”.
Powerful Lithuanian Evaldas Petrauskas, the Youth Olympic Games Champion, put on a show of controlled aggression against sixth seed Fatih Keles of Turkey. His unrelenting style was wearing down his opponent in the first two rounds as he worked the body with a succession of crisp hooks before looking for the opening to strike with the uppercut. The 20-year-old from Lithuania seems to relish fighting taller opponents, drawing them in to fight at close quarters before looking to pierce through their defences with some vicious shots. Striking fear into his rivals, 20-year-old Petrauskas is an old fashioned brawler who gets the crowd on the edge of their seats with the sheer amount of punches he throws. Although leaving himself sometimes open to getting the counter, he continues to move forward unfazed. Keles, his latest victim, put up a good fight but was ultimately defeated 16:12. The quarter-final showdown between Petrauskas and Valentino will be a real clash of styles.
20-year-old Jose Ramirez of the USA, who had come out on top in one of the stand-out fights of the first round of preliminaries, faced experienced Uzbekistani southpaw Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in the third bout of the evening session. The intensity level and the movement of Gaibnazarov were simply exquisite as he dominated the young American in the first two rounds to go into the third with a seven point cushion. Ramirez boldly threw caution to the win and went for broke, throwing his full repertoire of shots to claim that round but it was unfortunately too late and the 21-year-old Uzbek moved into the next phase of the competition.
In the final Lightweight (60kg) contest of the evening, the draw’s accomplished Belarusian second seed Vazgen Safaryants faced Soonchul Han. The tall South Korean orthodox fighter looked comfortable in the early exchanges, using his reach and throwing some stiff straight one-twos. After losing the first round, Safaryants came back strong, moving in close before looking to land with those sweet left hooks of his, the southpaw managing to claw back his two point deficit to draw level going into the final round. It was a good fight with both boxers going for it and the end result told as the scores were drawn. Impressively it was the underdog who was awarded the victory on count-back and Han will now battle Gaibnazarov for a shot at the semi-finals.
The Middleweights (75kg) then made their entrance with two-time AIBA World Champion Abbos Atoev first up against third seeded Romanian Bogdan Juratoni. The experienced Uzbek had looked lethargic in his previous contest but with an opponent now intent on attacking him, his slick counter punching style was coming into its own as he took the first round with some accurate hooks. The 22-year-old Juratoni, a bronze medallist at last year’s AIBA World Boxing Championships, was more measured in the second and caught his rival with good punches to reduce his deficit to just one point coming into the final round. Conditioning and stamina told in the latter stages as Atoev dug deep to claim a 12:10 victory.
There was a huge cheer from the crowd for the next two boxers as the USA’s Terrell Gausha went head to head with Vijender of India. The two orthodox fighters were trading jabs early in the first round before the noise levels in the arena went up when the taller Indian threw a couple of hard hooks to edge it. In the second, the 26-year-old Vijender began as the aggressor but the American stood firm and with both throwing lots of punches, the round was shared. The third was tense and both were once again evenly matched, Gausha tried hard but the Indian showed more endeavour to win it 16:15.
On the pressure he was feeling, Vijender said, “All of London is watching me and I know the whole of India is too. I know they love me and want me to do well and I love them back. I feel the pressure on me but I am used to it.”
Turkey’s Adem Kilicci had really impressed in his previous bout and looked to continue that form early on against Aleksandar Drenovak from Serbia as he dictated proceedings from the centre of the ring with a good variation of punches to take the first round. The 26-year-old orthodox Turk was simply irresistible in the second as he scored heavily. Drenovak played his part in a good fight but his opponent was just too good and Kilicci’s excellent performance, full of verve and passion, saw him advance to the quarter-finals in style with a 20:11 victory.
Number two seed Ryota Murata of Japan began in spectacular fashion with his trademark body shot-uppercut combination putting 26-year-old Algerian Abdelmalek Rahou in some difficulty early on. After taking the first round, the tall Japanese began throwing some vicious hooks to exert his authority on Rahou, who although was being dominated gave a good account of himself. Murata showed his class to confirm his status as one of the gold medal contenders by notching up an impressive 21:12 success in his first bout of the competition. He now faces Kilicci in what promises to be an explosive encounter.
* * *
Tomorrow sees the Men’s second round of preliminaries for the Flyweight (52kg) and Welterweight (69kg) categories.