Silver lining for YOG boxers Bektemir Melikuziev and Shakur Stevenson
Just two years after winning gold at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, Bektemir Melikuziev and Shakur Stevenson shone on the biggest stage of all, winning silver medals in their boxing weight divisions at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
It has been an incredible rise for both boxers since claiming the welterweight and bantamweight titles respectively in China. Melikuziev, from Uzbekistan, moved up to the middleweight division after his victory in Nanjing – with immediate success. The 20-year-old, who was his country’s flagbearer at the YOG, won the 2015 Asian Championships in Bangkok (Thailand), before finishing second at the World Boxing Championships later that year. That result guaranteed his qualification for Rio 2016, and his efforts were recognised by the Asian Boxing Confederation when he was named the best male boxer for 2015.
In Rio, Melikuziev began his campaign with comprehensive victories over Australia’s Daniel Lewis and former world bronze medallist Krishan Vikas, from India. He then booked his place in the gold medal bout with another unanimous points decision, against Mexico’s Misael Rodriguez. In the final, the Uzebkistani athlete came face to face with Cuba’s Arlen Lopez, who was his opponent in last year’s World Championship decider. And it was the same result at Riocentro Pavilion 6, as the Cuban boxer came out on top in a points decision. Melikuziev, though, has plenty to be proud about from his debut Games after winning his country’s second-ever Olympic medal in the middleweight division.
One year younger than his YOG compatriot Melikuziev, Stevenson was aiming to become the USA’s first boxing gold medallist in 12 years. The 19-year-old, from Newark, New Jersey, enjoyed a spectacular junior career, winning gold medals at the 2013 Junior World Championships and 2014 Youth World Championships, before his success in Nanjing. Named after US rapper Tupac Shakur, Stevenson launched a campaign to raise funds for his family to watch him compete in Rio. And his family members soon had reason to cheer when he beat home favourite Robenilson De Jesus in his opening bout.
There was another familiar face in the crowd in the quarter-finals, as Floyd Mayweather, one of the greatest boxers of the modern era, came to see Stevenson take on Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, from Mongolia. But the teenager didn’t show any signs of nerves in front of the former world champion, winning a unanimous decision to guarantee himself a medal. Stevenson then had a walkover to the gold medal bout after his semi-final opponent, Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin, had to withdraw through injury.
The final against Robeisy Ramirez was a desperately close contest, with the Cuban – who won flyweight gold at the Olympic Games London 2012 – edging the bout on a split decision.
“I had a game play to try and out-box him and it didn’t work... maybe next time. I was definitely not surprised. I knew it was a close fight,” Stevenson said after winning the USA’s first bantamweight medal since 2000. “I’ll come back stronger,” he vowed. And given his meteoric rise through the boxing ranks, there is no doubt about that.