For the second day in succession, Great Britain’s bid for boxing gold was stymied by a Cuban, as Ben Whittaker was beaten by Arlen Lopez in the light-heavyweight final at the Olympics in Tokyo via a split decision on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old from West Bromwich was seeking to become the first Briton to win light- heavyweight gold since Harry Mitchell in 1924.
The charismatic Whittaker, who is also an aspiring hip-hop artist who performs under the name B£NZO, performed with flair but the stylish skills of the switch-hitting Lopez from Guantanamo ultimately won favour with the judges.
The 28-year-old Lopez, who won middleweight gold at Rio four years ago, thus joined Roniel Iglesias, who beat Britain’s Pat McCormack in the welterweight final, as a double Olympic boxing champion; an illustrious list that also includes his fellow Cubans Ariel Hernandez, Angel Herrera, Hector Vinent, Mario Kindelan, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Robeisy Ramirez.
The opening round was tight, with Whittaker seeking to box, move and use his superior height and reach to land his jab. Lopez, however, landed the bigger and more telling shots to win the round on all five judges’ cards.
The Cuban continued to try and walk Whittaker down in round two, as the Briton failed to show the necessary aggression to catch the judges’ eye. A good combination in the closing seconds of the round not proving enough, as the judges went for Lopez 4-1, leaving Whittaker needing an extraordinary final round to triumph.
Whittaker won the final round 4-1 and took the fight on one judges’ overall card, but Lopez’s superior, effective aggression made him a deserved champion.
Cuba have now won two boxing gold medals at this games, with Julio Cesar La Cruz (heavyweight) and Andy Cruz (lightweight) still in the hunt to win their respective weight classes.
Earlier, a few days short of his 30th birthday, Frazer Clarke, the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, was thwarted in his bid for a place in the Olympic final by the top seed, Uzbekistan’s Bakhodir Jalolov.
The 27-year-old Uzbek won on a cuts stoppage in round three. Jalolov started fast, landing his left with regularity in round one as Clarke endeavoured to get inside.
In round two, Clarke rocked Jalolov with a big right, causing the referee to administer a standing eight count. But the key moment in the stanza came when a sharp counter left from the Uzbek opened a bad cut on the Briton’s visage, which had suffered several nicks and cuts in his controversial DQ quarter-final win against Mourad Aliev.
The Uzbek took the second round on four of the judges’ cards leaving Clarke needing a sensational final round to win.
In the event, the rapidly worsening cut saw the referee rightfully call the contest off in the final round, thus handing Jalolov a 37th successive amateur win since 2017 (he has also already assembled an 8-0 with 8 KOs record in the pro ranks).
The sole remaining Uzbek representative in what has been a disastrous boxing tournament for the nation that topped the pugilistic medal table in Rio in 2016, Jalolov will now fight for the gold against America’s Richard Torrez Jr, who sensationally won his semi-final against Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev by brutal stoppage. Torrez thus became the first American to reach a super-heavyweight Olympic final since Riddick Bowe in 1988 as the USA hunt a first gold medal in male boxing since Andre Ward’s triumph in 2004.
As for Great Britain, they are already guaranteed six medals in total. The remaining hopes are flyweight Galal Yafai in semi-final action tomorrow and Lauren Price who fights in the female middleweight semi on Friday.
Main image: Ben Whittaker. Photo: GB Boxing.