IN a three-round mini-epic, GB flyweight Galal Yafai fought through his semi-final at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo to win a place in the final of the Olympic Games.
He tore into Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov from the opening bell. A southpaw like Yafai, Bibossinov likes to work with long shots at range. But the Briton cut off his space and hammered at his body and head with salvoes of punches. Galal worked his right well, connecting with it as a hook and bringing through hefty uppercut with that lead. He thumped his left cross in and gave Bibossinov a standing count. It was the perfect start for Yafai.
Having poured in effort, Yafai went on the backfoot in the second round. That allowed Bibossinov to throw more punches. Yafai swayed under those. He let some through but still had a good round. However it wasn’t good enough for three of the scoring judges, who favoured the Kazakh. That brought Bibossinov right back into the contest. Yafai needed that last round, with a place in the gold medal match on the line. He went back on the front foot, met Bibossinov head on and fought his way forward. He still shipped more shots, but threw back with more himself, battling his way through the round. Galal delivered a gallant effort to take a split decision victory.
“Just imagine being the Olympic champion,” Yafai said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about, but could never see happening. To be in an Olympic final, that’s something I never thought I could do. Now I’m in it, it just goes to show that if you put in the hard work you reap the rewards.”
“I surprised myself, he’s a World bronze medallist. A top fighter. When they gave him a count I thought: ‘Gosh, what’s going on here?’” he added. “He was not as hard as I thought, I’d thought he was going to be so, so good. When they gave him the count I was like: ‘Gosh, it’s going to be easier than I thought.’
“But credit to him, he came back into it and gave me a very hard fight. I thought I’d won convincingly enough, though it was very close on the scorecards.”
In the other semi-final Filipino flyweight Carlo Paalam, who’s been on a great run of victories in this tournament, unanimously outscored Japan’s Ryomei Tanaka, the brother of Kosei Tanaka a three-weight beltholder in a professional boxing. Yafai and Paalam will meet in the 52kgs final on Saturday (August 7) at 6.00am UK time.
Kellie Harrington had to be clever, sharp and fast to beat Thailand’s Sudaporn Seesondee in their lightweight semi-final. The Irishwoman did just that. They were cagey, with Sessondee’s southpaw left accurate and always a threat. But Harrington switched so well between orthodox and southpaw stances, whipping in her own shots without rushing herself. She boxed well to take close rounds against an effective southpaw. Harrington won a split but deserved decision.
“I’m a little bit lost for words. I’m speechless,” Harrington said after winning. “It was a chess match today. She’s very, very tricky.
“She was throwing shots to the body, but they were literally skimming my shirt, so to me they weren’t counting. A judge will only score something that’s a good shot and I felt like my shots were cleaner.
“I felt like I won each round, not by a long shot, but you need to do what you need to do and I won each round just by winning each round.”
Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira, strong, aggressive and a very different style to the Thai will box Harrington in the Olympic final. That will take place at 6.00am UK time on Sunday morning (August 8).
In the 57kgs Olympic final America’s Duke Ragan did land quality shots at times. But Russia’s Albert Batyrgaziev was not to be denied. The southpaw pushed forward, hitting the body with his left and stabbing his right into the head. It was the Russian’s determination that was key. He maintained his workrate and, even without being spectacular, that still set him apart. Batyrgaziev, consistently landing more shots, struck in hard one-twos that jolted Ragan’s head back and won the Russian a split decision.
“This has been my dream since I started training for boxing when I was a child,” Batyrgaziev said. “This has made all the hard work and effort and the discipline I’ve shown since worth it. It has paid off.
“I am proud of my home. It deserves to be the home of an Olympic champion and I’ll take the gold medal home to my people as I promised them.”