Britain’s Pat McCormack was denied Olympic gold by the accurate and swift fists of Cuban master boxer Roniel Iglesias in the Olympic welterweight final in Tokyo this morning.
The 26-year-old from Tyne and Wear was forced to settle for silver after being outfoxed by the precise punching and ringcraft of the 32-year-old from Pinar del Rio who won via unanimous decision.
There was no disgrace in defeat for McCormack, who found himself up against a man who had won light-welterweight gold in the 2012 Olympics in London as well as a bronze in the 2008 Games.
Iglesias joins the likes of Ariel Hernandez, Angel Herrera, Hector Vinent, Mario Kindelan, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Robeisy Ramirez as two-time Cuban Olympic gold medal winners. Legendary compatriots Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, of course, won three Olympic golds, as did the Hungarian Laszlo Papp.
Round one was a tactical affair, both men looked sharp, but the edge in speed was with Iglesias, whose southpaw jab and work to the body shaded the round on four of the five judges’ scorecards.
Iglesias started the second round fast and looked to have scored a knockdown with a smooth combination only for the referee to inexplicably rule it a slip. McCormack tried to bully his man and enjoyed some notable success in the final minute of the round with his right hand, but Iglesias’ sharper earlier work secured the stanza.
McCormack therefore entered the final round needing a stoppage to win. The Brit took the final session but it was Iglesias who held his boxing together with a composed display to win the fight via a well-deserved unanimous decision.
Elsewhere on a busy day at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, there was disappointment for Caroline Dubois, who lost an extremely tight 3-2 decision in her female lightweight quarter-final to Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand, who is now guaranteed a bronze medal.
The 20-year-old south Londoner was edged out in a cagey first round, before responding magnificently to take round two, landing some sharp right hooks. With the bout in the balance going into the third and final round both women fought with skill and heart.
Ultimately you could make a case for either woman, but the judges marginally favoured the 29-year-old former world silver medallist from Thailand, who will now face Ireland’s Kellie Harrington in the semi-finals.
After the fight a visibly devastated Dubois found herself unable to speak to the media in the mixed zone prior to returning to her dressing room, such was her level of upset.
She will now have to decide whether to stay committed to the British amateur programme and try again for Olympic glory in Paris in 2024 or turn professional.
Dubois’ name and high profile would doubtless guarantee that several promoters would clamour for her signature. A third option, of course, would be to follow the example of boxers such as Keyshawn Davis and turn professional now but also attempt to compete in Paris (as the rules now allow).
However, if Dubois was to do this, she would doubtless face some practical and bureaucratic hurdles and have to sacrifice her Team GB funding and coaching.
In contrast to Dubois’ despair, there was delight for a fellow 20-year-old, in the form of Japanese featherweight Sena Irie, who became their first boxing gold medallist of the Games after beating Nesthy Petecio of the Philippines.
Irie thus became the inaugural female featherweight Olympic champion and just the third Japanese boxer in history to win Olympic gold. After the fight she announced that she would be retiring from the sport, telling the media: “I want to end my career with success.”
It was also a day of success for British flyweight Galal Yafai who guaranteed himself at least a bronze medal after a thrilling victory against highly experienced Cuban Yosvany Veitia on a split decision in their quarter-final bout.
Yafai – fighting in his second Olympics – fought with ceaseless aggression, preventing the Cuban from finding his rhythm in the first round. Round two was an absorbing affair, with both men hammering away on the inside. The Cuban attempted to box and move in the final round, but Yafai walked him down and landed the more telling punches to take a close but well deserved decision.
Yafai’s victory guarantees a sixth boxing medal for the Great Britain team at these Games – their best performance in a post-World War 2 Olympics, overhauling the five won at London 2012.