By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
Last week the Asia/Oceania Olympic qualifier concluded in Amman, Jordan with 63 boxers booking their place in Tokyo. Here are some observations from the tournament as a whole and a few trends that were noticeable.
First of all the standard was exceedingly high and this was in no way diminished by the inclusion of boxers from the Oceania region and actually, those who qualified from Australia and New Zealand enhanced their reputations having beaten quality opposition and those who didn’t including those from the Pacific Islands would have learned a hell of a lot going up against high calibre fighters. Were there mismatches? Sure but even in tournaments such as these that is an inevitability but some excellent boxers failed to make it through showing the strength and depth in the region is pretty sizable.
The Olympic Channel deserves praise for providing a good working stream, excellent features, news, overall coverage and full replays of every session which were invaluable. The quality of judging was generally pretty solid with some strange scoring of individual rounds but no out and out stinkers and the availability of the scores after each round provided transparency and also forced fighters to adapt their game plans when necessary.
Whilst it’s too late for this particular cycle I’ve begrudgingly come to the conclusion that the head guards must return for the men purely to prevent cuts which were a factor in Amman with some bouts halted early and a few fighters unable to compete in their next contest. Sickness and injuries are one thing but a boxer unable to compete for a medal or in a final because of a cut seems preventable and something the authorities should consider after Tokyo.
In terms of most successful Asian nations at the competition, India and Kazakhstan achieved 9 quota places, Uzbekistan with 7, China with 6, Jordan 5, Thailand and Chinese Taipei 4, Japan 3, Iran, South Korea, Philippines, Tajikistan 2, and Mongolia and Vietnam 1 quota place.
India should be absolutely delighted with their 9 guaranteed quota places which is the most they have ever had for any boxing squad for an Olympics. Realistically the country’s best chance for a gold may lie with Vikas Krishan who performed excellently and was denied a chance at winning the final by a cut. The welterweight division has lots of good fighters but no stand out elite one so Krishan has a good a chance as anyone.
Simranjit Kaur was without doubt the most fan friendly and watchable women’s boxer in Amman and will be right in the mix for a medal in a competitive lightweight division worldwide. Flyweight Amit Panghal had some tough fights and didn’t look quite at his best but has built up enough experience over the last couple of years and Lovlina Borgohain and Mary Kom are proven performers on the world stage. Even with a loss Gaurav Solanki gave the winner of the featherweight division and current world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov a tough outing and deserves to go to the world qualifier whenever that takes place.
The Kazak men’s team showed all their experience with all 8 male spots being filled. Vassiliy Levit proved his class defeating the excellent David Nyika in the final and he’ll be aiming to right the wrong of 4 years ago where he was robbed of an Olympic gold in as abhorrent a decision as you will ever see. Middleweight Abilkhan Amankul is among the best in his weight class and Bekzad Nurdauletov backed up his world championship victory by winning the light heavyweight bracket. Zakir Safiullin and Kanshybek Kunkabayev are vastly experienced and Serik Temirzhanov acquitted himself extremely well in his first major assignment. Saken Bibossinov is an outside bet for a medal at flyweight whilst Ablaikhan Zhussupov possesses plenty of skills but might just fall a bit short at welterweight.
Uzbekistan had somewhat of a dream team 4 years ago and whilst the country is still strong a repeat of their performance in Rio is probably not going to occur. Super heavyweight Bakhodir Jalolov barely got out of first gear in Amman but should go into the Olympics as at least the warm favourite to top the podium. Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov can look a little crude at times but his phenomenal fitness and engine make him a difficult man to contain over 9 minutes and no one has managed it so far so he is rightly the favourite at featherweight. Light heavyweight Dilshod Ruzmetov losing in his first fight was a big upset and middleweight Fanat Kakhramonov also has work to do to qualify. As for Sanjar Tursunov, Elnur Abduraimov and Bobo-Usmon Baturov, medals are a possibility but all 3 will be up against it.
China and Chinese Taipei had a bit of a stranglehold of the women’s categories and both nations will expect medals in Tokyo. Featherweight Lin Yu-Ting from Chinese Taipei was the best all round female boxer on display in Jordan. Not only was she fantastic at long range but she could dig in hurtful body shots up close and there was a real snap and authority on her work. China’s Li Qian prevailed at middleweight and will be right in the mix. China’s Chang Yuan will have gained much confidence from winning at flyweight and also defeating Mary Kom and the welterweight pairing of Chen Nien-Chin and Gu Homg contested the final and have form going in with China’s Gu winning by the way.
Local support almost always give home athletes a real boost and that was certainly the case with the Jordanian boxers with the Iashaish brothers playing starring rolls. Featherweight Mohamm Abdelaziz Mohammad Alwadi reaching the final was a terrific result and to qualify for the Olympics at 34 years of age is a remarkable achievement. It was an up and down few days for Thailand who sent a squad of youth and experience but Thitisan Panmod really was the shining light. The 19-year-old fought brilliantly to defeat Shakhobidin Zoirov and the final was an unfortunate finale. Chatchai Butdee pulled out a performance when required and Atichai Phoemsap is young enough to come again.
It was a tough competition for Japan’s men with Sewon Okazawa the only male to qualify and actually their best chance of medals are with the women. Tsukimi Namiki is an excellent all round talent and was unlucky not to win her flyweight final and Sena Irie avenged her loss to Nesthy Petecio and has a chance of a medal at featherweight. The Philippines would have been hoping for more than 2 boxers qualifying but Eumir Marcial is a top contender at middleweight and prevailed in a superb bout with Abilkhan Amankul in the final. Irish Magno powered her way to qualification in a box off and Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio are good enough to come through the world qualifier if it goes ahead.
The 3 hidden gems to emerge from the tournament were Iran’s Daniyal Shahbakhsh, Australia’s Paolo Aokuso and Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Duong. Shahbakhsh is a real sharp shooter with spite in his punches and easily overcame Rex Tso in a box off and at just 19 there is a bright future for him. Aokuso caused the first notable upset dumping out world silver medallist Dilshod Ruzmetov and his hand and foot speed make him an intriguing prospect. Nguyen proved to be a real puncher and his 1 round demolition job on Chatchai Butdee was a real shocker.
Finally the fight of the tournament was undoubtedly the men’s (63kg) final between Zakir Safiullin and Elnur Abduraimov which was an absolute war and is definitely worth checking out.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features