The race for gold in the 10 classes of men’s boxing caught the imagination of the crowds that packed into the Nanjing International Expo Centre. And for many of the talented participants, the Youth Olympic Games will undoubtedly be a springboard to further success.
Muhammad Ali lives up to his name
One boxer who could not possibly go unnoticed in Nanjing was Muhammad Ali (GBR). Sharing a name with one of the greatest boxers of all time, the British teenager always believed he was born for the sport.
“It’s a great coincidence to have the same name as one of the biggest legends in boxing history,” he explained. “That was enough to convince me that I was destined for this sport.”
On 24 August, Ali was dominated in the flyweight semi-final by eventual winner Shakur Stevenson (USA) but didn’t leave Nanjing empty-handed. The following day, he put his loss to one side to overcome India’s Gaurav Solanki by unanimous decision in the bronze medal fight.
“I’m disappointed to miss out on gold,” Ali explained. “I’m going to have to work on my technique a bit, but overall I’m happy to be taking home a medal.”
The bronze medal winners decided in the nine remaining weight categories were also decided on 25 August.
Richard Konnyu (HUN) beat Goh Hosaka (JPN) in the 60kg lightweight bout, Ilyas Adzinayeu (BLR) defeated Vincenzo Lizzi (ITA) by TKO in the 69kg welterweight class and Narek Manasyan (ARM) overcame Viddal Riley (GBR) to win the 81kg light-heavyweight bronze.
In the 46-49kg light-flyweight contest, Japan’s Subaru Murata beat Kazakhstan’s Shalkar Aikhynday, Peter McGrail (GBR) ensured a unanimous three-round win over Salem Tamma (ALG) in the 56kg bantamweight and the 64kg light-welterweight bronze went to Turkey’s Adem Furkan Avci after he defeated Russia’s Bibert Tumenov.
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Finally, in the middleweight category, Kozimbek Mardonov (UZB) won 3-0 against Luka Plantic (CRO), Michael Gallagher (IRL) dominated Kim Jin-Nyong (KOR) for the 91kg heavyweight bronze and Russia’s Marat Kerimkhanov won by unanimous decision in his super-heavyweight bout with Azerbaijan’s Mahammadali Tahirov.
Mum's the word for gentle giant Kadiru
On 26 August, Germany’s Peter Kadiru upset the odds in the super-heavyweight final odds and then paid tribute to his mother for the sacrifices which allowed him to take up the sport.
Kadiru beat favourite Darmani Rock (USA) 3-0, avenging his defeat at the World Youth Championships in Sofia earlier this year.
Cheered on by dozens of his Team Germany colleagues, Kadiru wrapped up a busy final day of boxing in the International Expo Centre as all 10 of the men’s gold medals were decided.
Kadiru’s coach Michael Temm revealed that the young boxer hands over what little money he earns to his mother, Janet.
“Peter is born and bred in Hamburg, but the family is originally from Ghana," Temm said. "This boy does so much for his family with the small amount of money he makes from his boxing.”
“He gives it all to his mother. Look at the size of the team that has come down to support him. We have no words. They are definitely a part of his winning moment."
The defeated Rock was himself roared on by a large Team USA contingent, with fellow boxer Shakur Stevenson as the main cheerleader.
Stevenson had earlier won gold in the flyweight category, before promising to do it all over again in Rio at the 2016 Olympic Games.
So far in his short but impressive career the American has fought 15 international bouts and won every one. Win number 15 was a unanimous three-round points victory over China’s Lyu Ping, who had the crowd on his side but had no answer to his opponent’s impressive reach.
Stevenson wrapped a Stars and Stripes bandana around his head as the national anthems rang out before showing that he was equally at home chatting about his victory.
“I might lose one day, but it’s not going to happen any time soon," he said. "The fight went exactly to plan. I’m not afraid of anyone and I aim to go to Rio to win gold.”
Double delight for Cuba
Elsewhere, Cuba showed they are still producing world-class boxing talent by finishing the final day in the ring with two golds.
Javier Ibanez Diaz eased past Bulgarian Dushko Mihaylov in the bantamweight as he secured a 3-0 victory, while his team-mate Yordan Alain Hernandez Morejon enjoyed a tighter contest against Croatia’s Toni Filipi in the heavyweight class, splitting the judges 2-1 in his favour.
And it could have been even better for Cuba as they narrowly missed out on making it a triple gold when Alain Limonta Boudet lost 2-1 to Ablaikhan Zhussupov (KAZ) in the lightweight final.
In the light fly, meanwhile, Rufat Huseynov of Azerbaijan collapsed to the canvas in delight after beating Sulaymon Latipov (UZB) 3-0.
“I kept telling myself that I’m a champion and that I wouldn’t be going home without the gold,” Huseynov said. “I’m on the right path. I will become European champion, and then Olympic champion."
The most unquestionable win of the session, however, went to Italy’s light-welterweight Vincenzo Arecchia as he was awarded a walkover victory against Toshihiro Suzuki (JPN), who was withdrawn by the Japan team as a precaution.
In the welterweight final, Juan Solano (DOM) tumbled onto the canvas following a grappling contest with Bektemir Melikuziev (UZB) in the first round of their bout and was also given a standing count in the final round. Not surprisingly, Melikuziev took the judges’ unanimous verdict.
Russia’s Dmitrii Nesterov and Ramil Gadzhyiev of Ukraine both had loud, flag-waving support in the hall for the middleweight final, but it was the yellow and blue contingent of Ukraine that had cause to celebrate after a 3-0 win for their man.
“I’m so proud that I was able to win,” Gadzhyiev said. “This is a great moment for me."
Finally, in the light-heavyweight division, Blagoy Naydenov (BUL) beat Vadim Kazakov (KAZ) 3-0. Coming away from the fight with a split lip and considerable bruising under his right eye, Naydenov appeared remarkably cool: “I knew I was the favourite and I knew there was pressure but it is no problem,” he said.