IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at the stars of the Tokyo Olympics so far with Uzbek southpaw Bakhodir Jalolov seemingly destined to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Joshua, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin and win Olympic gold at super-heavyweight despite the heroics of American Richard Torrez.
Bouts have come and gone in what seems like a blur, two sessions of boxing a day (including 1 a.m. starts in my time zone), but I think it’s safe to say that the boxing at Tokyo 2020 has given us much to savour.
Now we are on the final stretch. We’ve already had gold-medal bouts. Names that were unfamiliar to us have made an impression. Some boxers are clearly going to be pro attractions. Others have already boxed professionally.
Here are some thoughts on what we’ve seen since our last update.
Richard Torrez Jr., who boxes in the super-heavyweight division, is flat out fun to watch. The 22-year-old southpaw from the agricultural community of Tulare, California, is small for a boxer in the big boys’ division but he gets results with a busy, hustling, forward-motion style. Torrez is hittable; attack is his best defence. He has a great engine.
I can see a big-money future for Torrez in the pros regardless of what happens in his gold-medal match against Uzbekistan’s towering southpaw Bakhodir Jalolov, who is a big favourite in the betting. Jalolov has met Torrez before, with an unfortunate outcome for the young US boxer. Jalolov flattened him with a big left hand in the first round. That was in the 2019 World championships.
Torrez has improved since then. He pounded Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev into defeat in the semi-finals, busting open the bridge of his fellow-southpaw’s nose with a crunching left hand. Before this, Torrez biffed and banged his way to victory over Cuba’s Danier Pero despite being cut over the eye in the last round.
Because Torrez is the smaller man in the ring there’s something of a fairy-tale quality about his Olympics success. He meets bigger men and he gets stuck into them and he beats them.
But it looks almost one of those impossible missions when he goes up against Jalolov, who survived a standing count to bust up and stop GB’s Frazer Clarke in the semi-finals. Even though Clarke sent Jalolov back into the ropes with a right hand, the big man from Uzbekistan seemed more startled than hurt. It was Clarke’s sole moment of success.
The 6ft 7ins Jalolov frankly has looked unbeatable in these Olympics. If his opponents stay back and try to counter they are likely to be outboxed from long range, and if they take the fight to Jalolov they run the risk of getting caught by a big left hand.
Jalolov, 27, was 8-0 (8 KOs) as a pro but wanted the chance to win an Olympic gold medal. It’s difficult to see how he can fail to get one.
Moving down the weight scale, Britain’s Galal Yafai used exactly the right tactics to defeat Cuba’s Yosbany Veitia in their all-southpaw flyweight quarter-final. Yafai didn’t give Veitia a chance to get comfortable. He stayed right on top of the flashy Cuban and just kept coming at him with fast pressure. And Yafai looked so much bigger and stronger than Veitia. He fought like a winner and wouldn’t be denied. Yafai’s semi-final took place earlier today.
Cuba’s veteran southpaw Roniel Iglesias seemed to have taken on a new lease on life for these Olympics. After a close call against spirited Japanese prospect Okazawa in his opening bout, Iglesias just seemed to get better and better. He practically dominated Pat McCormack in the welterweight gold-medal bout, even dropping the GB favourite with a left hand (the referee ruled a slip but it was a clear knockdown).
McCormack is extremely talented and he will surely go a long way in the pros, but in the final it was as if Iglesias put it all together, seeming to reach new heights on a night when the stars and planets aligned for him. I’m not sure if Iglesias will ever again box as well as he did to win gold in Tokyo.
GB’s Ben Whitaker has bedevilled opponents in Tokyo with his slippery style. Tall and rangy, Whitaker, 24, is extremely elusive and fast, and he can be a nightmare for slower, more conventional opponents. Whitaker is here, there and everywhere in the ring, always moving. And while his opponents are trying to hit him, Whitaker is tapping out the points. But, in the light-heavyweight gold-medal bout, Cuba’s Arlen Lopez (middleweight gold medallist in Rio) had the solution.
Instead of trying to land big punches, the very seasoned and skilled Lopez employed steady, controlled boxing on the front foot, lots of feints and upper-body movement, switching from southpaw to orthodox, focusing simply on landing enough scoring blows to win rounds.
Whereas Whitaker had been able to befuddle Russia’s powerful Imam Khataev in the semi-finals it was a different story against Lopez, whose flowing pursuit and speed of punch kept the GB boxer thinking defensively for most of the first two rounds.
Whitaker began to get off his punches a bit better in the third, and this was a good round for him — but Lopez already had the bout won on the judges’ cards.
US lightweight Keyshawn Davis has been impressive in Tokyo: fast, classy, sharp and with that “I’m here to win it all” body language.
Davis (3-0 as a pro) looked in danger of being outhustled by Russia’s Gabil Mamedov, who seemed to be coming on in the second round of their quarter-finals bout. But Davis responded with a big third round, wobbling Mamedov severely with a big right hand to bring a standing eight count.
In amateur boxing, of course, a knockdown or standing count is supposed to equal just one punch (not a 10-8 round as in the pros) but Davis had underlined his supremacy. Surprisingly one judge had Mamedov winning. But why am I saying “surprisingly”? It’s been a feature of the Tokyo boxing that a boxer who has been clearly defeated gets the vote of one of the five judges. But at least there haven’t been any egregious decisions.
Female boxing in Tokyo? I was pleased for Japan’s stylish Sena Irie, who stood up to some rough fighting from Filipina switch-hitter Nesthy Petecio to win featherweight gold on a very tight decision. The 20-year-old Irie wept with happiness when she got the verdict. And Turkey’s Busenaz Surmeneli has been fun to watch in the women’s welterweight division. Surmeneli doesn’t mess around. She goes right to her opponents throwing heavy hooks and right hands, but she also shows some nice bobbing and weaving. She’s deceptively clever at making opponents miss. Surmeneli really seems to enjoy her boxing — and I’ve enjoyed her bouts.
Main image: Bakhodir Jalolov. Photo: Alamy/Reuters.