Irish boxers primed for fight of their lives
Irish boxers Dean Walsh and Dean Gardiner have just 24 hours to prepare for the biggest fights of their respective careers after clearing the first hurdle on the road to Rio at the Olympic qualifier in Samsun, Turkey last night.
Walsh achieved a unanimous 3-0 decision over Erik Agataljan of the Czech Republic while Clonmel super heavyweight Dean Gardiner had an equally comfortable win over Norway’s Simen Nysater.
Both, however, have been pitted against classy opponents in their next outings.
Walsh – a medallist at the European Championships last year – faces his moment on truth in Monday’s last sixteen bout when he takes on the number one seed in the light-welterweight class, Lorenzo Sotomayor who is representing Azerbaijan.
A native of Cuba, Sotomayor is a nephew of track and field legend Javier Sotomayor, the world high jump record holder. Lorenzo moved to Azerbaijan in 2013 and won a gold medal at the inaugural European Games in Baku last year.
Gardiner, meanwhile, takes on the number three seed Mahammadrausl Majidor who is also representing Azerbaijan.
As expected, another Azeri boxer Yana Alekseevna comfortably outpointed Chantelle Cameron from the UK to advance to the last 16 in the 60kg women’s class which, of course, also features Ireland’s defending Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor.
The odds favour Taylor and Alekseevna meeting in next Friday’s semi-final. Only the winner is guaranteed a place in Rio, though the loser will have another chance to qualify at the World championships in Kazakhstan in May.
Alekeevna faces a more difficult path to the last four than the Bray boxer who meets Czech light weight Martina Schmoranzova on Monday night.
During the same session Alekeevna takes on Turkish veteran and multi medalist Gulsum Tatar, who was once Taylor's nemesis after beating her on three occasions between 2005 and 2007.
Taylor avenged those defeats since and it is Alekeevna who has emerged as the biggest threat to Katie’s world dominance of the 60kg class in the last two years.
Crucially though, Taylor has beaten the Ukrainian native on the two occasions they have clashed – at the 2014 World championships and more recently at the European Games in Baku last summer, though only by a majority decision after all three judges had scored the contest 38-38.
There are no Irish boxers in the ring on Sunday but a total of six face action on Monday.
Apart from Walsh, Gardiner and Taylor, the other two female boxers in the squad, flyweight Ceire Smith and middleweight Christina Desmond make their debuts with the latter facing the number one seed from the Netherlands.
Flyweight Brendan Irvine – who is the number one seed in his category - also makes his debut taking on five time German 52kg champion Hamza Touba, who won a bronze medal at the European Games last year and has experience of action in the World Boxing series.