Rio 2016 men’s boxing competition produces a 10-star spectacle
Day after day, crowds filled the stands and lapped up the high quality content on offer at Riocentro Pavilion 6, as boxers from Uzbekistan, Cuba and France shone in the men’s boxing competitions.
With a number of changes being made to the rules at Rio 2016, fans watched on with interest to see how the new regulations would affect proceedings. The most eye-catching addition was the decision to open up the competition to professional boxers, a change that has been made in a number of Olympic sports.
On 14 August, Uzbekistan’s light-flyweight Hasanboy Dusmatov won the first boxing gold at Rio 2016 by beating Colombia’s Yurberjen Martinez on a unanimous points decision. Losing semi-finalists Joahnys Argilagos of Cuba and the USA’s Nico Hernandez each won bronze.
With most of the largely South American crowd cheering on Colombian Martinez, the silver medallist came out strongly. Dusmatov, however, maintained his poise and caught his opponent on the counter-punch, dictating the tempo of the fight. All three judges scored the first two rounds to the Uzbek, while just one of them gave the final round to Martinez.
The referee twice had to warn 2015 Asian Championship winner Dusmatov to keep his punches above the belt but not even that could prevent him from being crowned champion with a unanimous 3-0 victory. Following his win, the 23-year-old Uzbek was paraded around the arena on the shoulders of one of his coaches. Wrapped in his country’s flag, he became the nation’s second Olympic boxing gold medallist after light-welterweight Mahammatkodir Abdullayev won in Sydney in 2000.
“I did everything that was planned before the fight, all the tactics and techniques I have been taught by my coach," Dusmatov explained after his gold-winning bout. "I used everything I could."
Tishchenko takes heavyweight gold
A day later, Russia’s Evgeny Tishchenko secured the Olympic heavyweight crown with a unanimous points victory over Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit. Entering the fight on the back of victories in the 2015 World and European Championships, 25-year-old Tishchenko was the clear favourite for gold.
In the first round, the Russian struggled to fully impose himself on the fight as his opponent set out to nullify his superior height and reach. And the final continued in a similar vein. With the Russian unable to land his deadly jab, Levit continued to dictate the rhythm of the bout until a few openings began to appear in the closing moments of the second round.
In the decisive final round the world champion looked determined to get the KO as both boxers traded blows in front of an increasingly excitable crowd. After Tishchenko suffered a cut to the top of his forehead, the referee was forced to bring the fight to a temporary halt with under a minute remaining as he received medical attention. But that was not enough to sway the result and all three judges scored Tishchenko one point ahead in each round to give him a 3-0 victory.
“Technically, I didn’t have a great fight as my plan was to fight from a distance and use my height advantage,” explained Tishchenko. “That didn’t really work but I’m delighted that I still managed to get the win! This means a lot to me because I’ve been fighting my whole life to get here. I gave everything I had in every fight to win this gold medal.”
The bronze medals went to Uzbekistan’s Rustam Tulaganov and Cuba’s Erislandy Savon.
Conceicao seals Brazil’s first ever boxing gold
With the boxing arena at Riocentro becoming a cauldron of noise on 16 August, Brazil’s Robson Conceicao sealed a maiden boxing gold for the host nation after a unanimous points victory over France’s Sofiane Oumiha in the lightweight competition.
With expectations sky-high after the Brazilian had knocked out Cuban top seed Lazaro Alvarez in the semi-finals, Conceicao was backed by huge support. The 27-year-old from Salvador in north-eastern Brazil was on top from the opening bell, and his every punch met with roars of approval from a capacity crowd.
Conceicao claimed the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards before Oumiha came back stronger in the third. By then, however, the momentum had already tipped towards the Brazilian and he ended up taking victory in each round, the first scored at 30-27 and the other two 29-28.
Standing on the podium with the gold around his neck, the crowd rose as one to sing the national anthem. “My life has just changed, it is the most incredible day I’ve ever known,” said Conceicao. “This medal is not just for me, but for my coach and my family... I'm Olympic champion! What an amazing day.”
“Amazing” was also the word used by Conceicao’s beaten opponent, who enjoyed the intense atmosphere inside the arena. “I was prepared for it and spoke about it with my coach beforehand, but what an experience,” said the Frenchman. “It's the first time I've fought in front of a crowd like this but it was magnificent. The Brazilian public were so behind him. If it had been in France, it would have been the same for me.”
Beaten by Conceicao and Oumiha respectively, Cuba’s Alvarez and Mongolia’s Otgondalai Dorjnyambuu took the bronze medals.
Yeleussinov extends Kazakh welterweight streak
On 18 August, Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov outpointed Uzbekistan’s Shakhram Giyasov to win welterweight gold. France’s Souleymane Cissokho and Morocco’s Mohammed Rabii claimed the bronze medals.
In the final, the elusive Kazakh took the first round 10-9 on all three of the judges’ scorecards and produced more of the same in the second round. Ducking, shimmying and bouncing off the ropes throughout, Giyasov struggled to land his punches. Though the Uzbek improved in the third round, it was too late to prevent a 3-0 win for his opponent.
Adding Olympic gold to his 2013 World Championship win and his silver in the 2015 World Championships, 25-year-old Yeleussinov ensured that his country triumphed in the event for the fourth time in a row. It is only the second time such a feat has been achieved and the first such streak involving four different boxers. Kazakhstan’s golden welterweight run began with Bakhtiyar Artayev at Athens 2004, with Bakhyt Sarsekbayev winning four years later at Beijing 2008 and Serik Sapiyev doing likewise at London 2012.
After adding his name to an ever-growing list of Kazakh Olympic welterweight champions, Yeleussinov said: “It’s our weight, 69kg, and I’ve just proved it again. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because we have lots of talent in this category.”
La Cruz wins light-heavyweight gold
Arriving in Rio as a three-time amateur world champion, 27-year-old Julio Cesar La Cruz entered the light-heavyweight competition as overwhelming favourite. Proving hard to pin down with his fleet-footed fighting style, he overcame Kazakhstan’s Adilbek Niyazymbetov in the final on 19 August. The bronze medals, meanwhile, went to France’s Mathieu Bauderlique and Great Britain’s Joshua Buatsi.
Fighting out of the red corner, La Cruz took the first two rounds on every judge’s scorecard before labouring in the third as Niyazymbetov made more of an impression. Knowing that the gold was his barring a knockout, the Cuban had relaxed his guard but managed to see out the contest and clinch a 3-0 victory.
Cuba has now won a gold medal in each of the 12 weight categories in Olympic boxing but this victory was the country’s first in the ring at the Rio Games and its first medal in this event since 1980.
“I felt less pressure today,” said a delighted La Cruz after his victory. “I know my opponent well and he’s one of the best boxers in the world. I enjoyed the battle today and you can see the results right now: I have the medal in my hand.”
Niyazymbetov, who was also the silver medallist in London four years ago, had been hoping to become the second Kazakh boxing champion of the tournament after Yeleussinov had won welterweight gold and struggled to hide his disappointment at coming so close yet again.
“I can’t say I’m totally happy because I had a chance to win a gold medal,” he admitted. “I didn’t come here to finish second and when you’ve won silver for the second time, it can be a bit tough. I’ve been training for four years, preparing myself for the gold medal and now I've got silver again, which is good but not quite as emotional as the first one in London.”
Ramirez snatches second Olympic gold
On 20 August, Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez, who won flyweight gold in London 2012, beat the USA’s Shakur Stevenson in the men’s bantamweight final on a split decision. Ramirez made his experience count by winning the first round but lost the second. Going into the third with the result in the balance, the three decisive scorecards saw him scrape the final round 10-9, 10-9, 9-10.
Assessing his opponent, Ramirez said: “He's very good, he's young and he’s a big hope for the future of the sport. It was a little hard to fight against him but no-one here goes into their fights unprepared. I just kept trying to do my best so that the judges would see my work and think that I deserved the win.”
“Ever since I started boxing and I won my first medal in London, I was always thinking about the second, third or fourth,” he continued. “I am really happy to win this gold medal. Not many people expected me to win, but I did.”
Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin and Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev took the bronze medals.
Lopez keeps Cuban flag flying high
Also on 20 August, Cuban world champion Arlen Lopez beat Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev to the men’s middleweight title, his country’s third gold medal of the Rio boxing tournament. Azerbaijan's Kamran Shakhsuvarly and Mexico's Misael Rodriguez took the bronze medals as losing semi-finalists.
Fighting half an hour after compatriot Robeisy Ramirez had won gold, Lopez dominated the opening rounds before easing off slightly in the third. Lopez always looked the more polished fighter in a repeat of the 2015 World Championship final and closed out the bout with a 3-0 win.
“There were a few moments where I felt like I had it in the bag,” he explained confidently. “I was convinced I was winning and my excitement kept growing. I had to finish the final round at 100%. It’s the last round, you have to give it your all. I now have four titles and the only thing left is to do it again in four years.”
In 2015, Lopez triumphed in the Pan American Games as well as the Pan American Championships and Cuban boxers have now won middleweight gold five times at the Olympic Games, equalling the USA and Great Britain.
Uzbekistan seal further honours on final day
With two finals taking place in the space of an hour, Uzbekistan added two gold medals to their tally on the final day of Rio 2016. First up Shakhobidin Zoirov secured gold in the flyweight before Fazliddin Gaibnazarov won the light-welterweight final. Adding those medals to a third gold, two silvers and two bronzes secured earlier in the competition, the Central Asian nation cemented their status as boxing’s country to beat.
Zoirov won his gold medal with a unanimous points victory over two-time world champion and 2012 bronze medallist Misha Aloyan of Russia. The Uzbek survived an early scare in the first round when he sustained a cut to the head, but eventually edged victory in a close-fought contest. Venezuela's Joel Segundo Finol and China's Hu Jianguan won the bronze medals.
Zoirov, who was hoisted into the air by his cornerman after winning, was delighted to top the podium: “I had a dream, to win at the Olympics,” he explained. “That was my goal and I’ve been doing everything to reach that goal. Now I'm so happy to have made my dream come true.”
Yet he was also quick to pay tribute to Aloyan, who had pushed him all the way. “The fight was so even because my opponent was very strong,” he said. “We often went head to head and it was the judge's decision to give the win to Uzbekistan. We appreciate how hard my opponent fought and have a lot of respect for him but we are happy with the decision.”
In the light-welterweight final, meanwhile, Gaibnazarov doubled the joy for Uzbekistan as he got the better of Azerbaijan’s Lorenzo Sotomayer Collazo to take a surprise gold with a split decision. Russia's Vitaly Dunaytsev and Germany's Artem Harutyunyan won the bronze medals.
“I can't express in words how happy I am,” the champion explained afterwards. “I can't express the feelings – it’s the happiest day of my life. The fight went the way I planned it and I took my chance.”
For Sotomayer Collazo, who had beaten Gaibnazarov previously and burst into tears on hearing the judges’ verdict, it was a tough defeat to take: “I feel a little bit sad,” he admitted. “I wanted the gold, I wanted to be champion, to be the king, but it wasn't possible. I made it to the final and it is the dream of every athlete to come and try to fight for the championship.”
Yoka triumphs in super-heavyweight final
In the final fight of the Games, 24-year-old Tony Yoka completed an impressive medal haul for France – who won two golds, two silvers and two bronzes – with gold in the super-heavyweight competition. Beating Great Britain's Joe Joyce 2-1 in the final, he matched the achievements of his girlfriend Estelle Mossely, who won the women’s lightweight gold two days earlier.
Brimming with confidence, reigning world champion Yoka lived up to the hype against 30-year-old Joyce, who he had beaten en route to his global title the year before. Fighting through the pain after twisting his ankle during his semi-final bout, the Frenchman’s elusive, counter-punching style was still in full flow as he convinced two of the three judges to score the fight in his favour.
“I said that if I was on top of my game, nobody would beat me here,” he remarked as he stepped out of the ring. “I just knew that he couldn’t beat me, I kept saying to myself that he’s not as good as me. He’s got a good punch but I’m the better boxer.”
“The mark of a true champion isn’t getting to the top, but staying there,” he continued. “I’ve worked my way to being world champion and now I’ve got to stay there.”
After becoming France’s first super-heavyweight Olympic champion, Yoka was delighted to match Mossely’s gold earlier in the week: “It’s absolutely incredible,” he explained. “We’d dreamed of being in the Olympics together and then of both winning a medal, so why not make it gold? Now we’ve fulfilled both dreams – it’s just amazing!”
“After her victory, she just asked me to win because she did her job and she had her medal. Now it was my turn and I couldn't fail. You’ve got to believe in your dreams, keep on pushing and make them come true.”Croatia's Filip Hrgovic and Kazakhstan's Ivan Dychko took the bronze medals as losing semi-finalists.