BOXING at the second edition of the European Games got underway at the Sport Palace Uruchie in Minsk, Belarus. Welterweight Pat McCormack, a 2016 Olympian, began the campaign for GB boxers on Saturday (June 22), unanimously outpointing Hungary’s Lazlo Kozak.

Pat, the top seed in his division, had his second contest of the tournament on Monday (June 24), winning another unanimous decision as he beat Estonia’s Pavel Kamanin.

Pat McCormack wins his first contest in Minsk GB Boxing

Another 2016 Olympian, Galal Yafai, now a flyweight began his tournament on Monday, taking a unanimous decision over Hungary’s Martin Virban. “I’ve got to do better against better opposition if I’m going to get that gold medal,” Galal noted. “I’ve come close in a couple of tournaments and I need to start winning those titles now.”

Monday did see a shock defeat for one of the mainstays of the British team. Super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke is a veteran contender and, as a European silver medallist, was expected to do well. However Germany’s Nelvie Tiafack edged him out at the first stage, beating him on a split decision in Frazer’s first contest in Belarus.

“I felt a bit flat in there and something wasn’t right,” Clarke reflected. “I’m at the stage of my career where I shouldn’t still be learning. I have to take the blame and prepare to come back again.”

Liverpool’s Peter McGrail, the gifted bantamweight on the GB squad, handled his first bout, winning unanimous decision over Belgium’s Vasile Usturoi. “This might not be a qualifying event [for the Olympic Games] any more but the better you do in this tournament it could still be important,” McGrail said. “You are still making yourself well-known to the judges and the fans and you don’t know what is going to happen so you just have to concentrate on continuing to put the good performances in.”

Other GB boxers who have progressed include Ben Whittaker, seeded second at 81kgs (pictured top of page). He outscored Poland’s Mateusz Goinski on a unanimous decision and, at 91kgs, Cheavon Clarke took every round for all three judges as he defeated Estonia’s Ainar Karlson.

Heavyweight Cheavon Clarke shuts out Ainar Karlson GB Boxing

Light-flyweights Regan Daly and Aqeel Ahmed took victories for Ireland and Scotland respectively. Daly claimed an impressive win over Russia’s Bator Sagaluev, winning unanimously.

Ahmed shut out Poland’s Jakub Slominiski with a unanimous decision. “Good to get the first one out the way against Poland. A high pace fight which sets me up good for the next one,” the pleased Scotsman said.

Ireland’s Michael Nevin met GB’s new middleweight Mark Dickinson in their first bout. The Irishman edged him out on a 3-2 split decision. After losing the first round Nevin had to work his way back into the contest. “I had a slow start in the first round but in the second I came back strong. I just kept listening to the coach and our tactics worked. On to the next one,” said Nevin.

Ireland’s High Performance director Bernard Dunne said, “He was very effective, very clever how he boxed. It was a great start for the team and a really good win against a very good opponent.

“Michael will grow after this, that win will give him a great boost.” 

In the next round Nevin went on to eliminate Azerbaijan’s Kamran Shakhsuvarly, taking an impressive unanimous decision win over the Azeri. Shakhsuvarly is a decorated international who won bronze medals at the last Olympic Games and World championships, as well a 2017 European silver.

“I’m very happy with my performance, on to the next one now. We had a good plan,” said Nevin after his second big win in two days.

“Superb finish to the day with Michael Nevin putting in a top-class performance. Showed skill, strength and guts when needed,” Dunne added.

Fellow Irishman Kieran Molloy advanced through the opening stage at 69kgs, beating Goce Janeski on a unanimous decision. But he lost his second bout, beaten on a split decision by host nation boxer Yauheni Dauhaliavets.

‘I’ve come close in a couple of tournaments and I need to start winning those titles now’

Galal Yafai

James McGivern, Ireland’s 64kgs, unanimously defeated Slovakia’s Michal Takacs. At 91kgs Anthony Browne was the first Irish boxer to be eliminated as Croatia’s Toni Filipi overcame him on a split decision. “It was a pretty cagey fight, there was a lot of sussing each other out and feinting in the first two rounds in particular,” Browne reflected. “I felt I was landing the cleaner shots of the two, but in the last round I was caught with that shot that I didn’t see coming and that may have been the deciding factor. I’m very disappointed. One punch can change a fight.”

Irish super-heavyweight Dean Gardiner also suffered a loss as he saw a split decision go to Georgia’s Mikheil Bakhtidze.

Kurt Walker, Ireland’s rival to McGrail, picked up a win to open his campaign, beating Armenia’s Zhirayr Sargsyan on a split decision. At 57kgs two-time Commonwealth Games medallist Michaela Walsh decisioned Romania’s Lenuta- Lacramioara Perijoc, winning a split verdict.

Ireland’s Grainne Walsh secured an eye-catching victory over Rosie Eccles, a split decision victory putting the Welsh welterweight out of the competition.

317 boxers, 59 of them women, are taking part in these European Games from a record 44 different countries.