Tokyo Olympics: Irie makes boxing history for Japan, Walker shocks Mirzakhalilov

By Sports Desk July 28, 2021

Sena Irie made boxing history for Japan and Kurt Walker produced a huge upset by ending Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov's bid to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday.

Featherweight Irie became the first woman to win an Olympic boxing medal with a points victory over Maria Claudia Nechita at the Kokugikan Arena in her homeland.

Irish featherweight Walker eliminated world champion and top seed Mirzakhalilov of Uzbekistan in the round of 16, claiming a split decision.

We take a look at the pick of the action in the ring.

 

IRIE WANTS JAPANESE WOMEN TO SWAP JUDO FOR BOXING

The 20-year-old Irie will win at least a bronze medal after her defeat of Nechita and faces Team GB's Karriss Artingstall, who edged out Skye Nicolson of Australia, at the semi-final stage.

Irie hopes her exploits will inspire Japanese women to pick boxing over judo.

"Judo is a much more famous sport in Japan so I hope this makes boxing a lot more famous and inspires more Japanese women to take it up," she said.

"I've shown other women who might not be good at sport that you can achieve something if you work hard.

"This medal is the result of 13 years' hard work. I've made history but it is still just a little contribution. I want to do more. Winning gold would be so much bigger."

 

KURT WALKING TALL 

Walker produced the performance of his career to eliminate Mirzakhalilov.

Mirzakhalilov was strongly fancied to take gold, but Walker had other ideas as he pulled off a shock victory.

The 26-year-old said: "I'm over the moon. I really can't explain it, but I worked on it and I knew it was going to happen. I believed. I knew. I'm not surprised. 

"It's just brilliant. I never would have thought it before I came, it's a fairytale. But there is still more work for me to do. I need to recover, go back and get more tactics and hopefully get a medal."

Asked how he ranks the win, he said: "The best I'd say. I beat the current world champion, the number one seed, in the Olympics Games, the biggest stage of the lot."

Duke Ragan will be Walker's quarter-final opponent on Sunday after the American dominated Serik Temirzhanov of Kazakhstan.

 

FONTIJN: PRICE NOT IN MY HEAD

Nouchka Fontijn and top seed Lauren Price could be on a middleweight semi-final collision course after securing midweek victories.

Fontijn of the Netherlands beat Pole Elzbieta Wojcik in the first round, while Price got her quest for Olympic glory by dominating Mongolia's Myagmarjargal Munkhbat.

Dutch boxer Nouchka thought she had won the world title in 2019, but Price took the title in Russia after the British team launched a successful appeal.

The two will meet it again if they come through their quarter-final bouts this weekend and Fontijn says Price is not in her head.

"I’m not busy with Lauren Price any more than other opponents," said the Rio 2016 silver medallist. "Some people think I need revenge and that she's always in my head and that's not true. I am just working towards my next fight and we'll see what happens then.

"I've already got the silver, and gold would be perfect in my collection. But every Olympic Games is another chapter and it’s been five years since Rio. There's a whole new squad of opponents, so it’s a different story."

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  • If I were fighting King Kong then I'd give it a go, says Joshua If I were fighting King Kong then I'd give it a go, says Joshua

    Anthony Joshua is relishing the chance to fight Oleksandr Usyk in London and said he would "give it a go" against King Kong for the love of the sport.

    The IBF, WBA and WBO belts will be on the line when the Ukrainian faces the heavyweight champion at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

    Usyk came to Thursday's pre-fight media event dressed like The Joker, but the formalities were very professional as the pair faced off and shook hands in a respectful, if intense, manner.

    Former undisputed cruiserweight champion Usyk, 34, might be facing a height and weight disadvantage, but Joshua has plenty of admiration for a fighter he is excited to face.

    "I wasn't on the amateur scene long enough to know much about Oleksandr but when I turned professional I did a lot of research and I love the Ukrainian style and the Ukrainian people," he said.

    "He was fighting 10 or 12 years as an amateur before he went to the Olympics and worlds, so he is probably happy to be in this position – the cream always rises to the top.

    "I love throwback fighters. I do watch a lot of boxing and I don't fight good people just to get respect.

    "If you tell me I was fighting King Kong, I would give it a go. This is my job. I'm going to work. It's the best days of my life.

    "I work hard to make sure boxing is really respected, and I pay them back by putting in a lot of work in the gym.

    "I'm not an easy fight for anyone, I like fighting. God has blessed me, shown me the path to get into boxing. I'm here, blessed, happy and don't take it for granted."

    Usyk's promoter Alexander Krassyuk described Joshua as "the best in the division" with "the heart of a warrior", although he warned the Briton he was facing the toughest fight of his career.

    "I can do a lot more," Usyk said through an interpreter. "I feel fine, and I look forward to this. I want to thank the team and Eddie Hearn, and I'm grateful this is happening on Saturday.

    "Every fight makes history and I think me and Anthony will make another step in history, something that people will be talking about, remember and will be watching on television."

  • Joshua v Usyk: Ukrainian aiming to follow Klitschko brothers, Povetkin and Valuev Joshua v Usyk: Ukrainian aiming to follow Klitschko brothers, Povetkin and Valuev

    Oleksandr Usyk will aim to make the most of his opportunity on Saturday, with the Ukrainian looking to upset the odds and dethrone Anthony Joshua in London. 

    Already holding the IBF, WBA and WBO titles, heavyweight Joshua appeared set for a hugely lucrative unification showdown with Tyson Fury, holder of the WBC belt, that would identify an undisputed champion in the division. 

    An arbitration hearing put paid to that plan, though, as Fury was ordered to face Deontay Wilder for a third time, denying boxing fans the fight they desperately wanted to see. 

    However, Usyk is an intriguing prospect for Joshua to deal with. Dominant at cruiserweight before stepping up, the 34-year-old has the potential to cause problems, considering both his boxing skills and outstanding resume. 

    Britain may dominate right now, but fighters from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics have ruled the roost at different times, albeit with varying degrees of longevity.  

     

    VITALI KLITSCHKO

    The baton passed from the famed heavyweights of the 1990s to the coming generation when Lennox Lewis uncharacteristically slugged his way to victory over Vitali Klitschko in Los Angeles in June 2003. The last man standing from his era after comprehensively beating Mike Tyson, Lewis was given hell by "Dr Steelhammer" but managed to inflict enough damage for the challenger to be stopped on cuts after six gruelling rounds.

    Lewis never boxed again and Klitschko never lost again, winning 13 fights in succession either side of a four-year retirement. He lifted the WBC title and settled a family grudge by stopping Corrie Sanders in April 2004. He was never without the famous green belt in the ring up until he hung up his gloves in 2012 to focus full-time on a political career than now sees Vitali serving at the Mayor of Kyiv.

    WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO

    The younger Klitschko was the first eastern European to lift a heavyweight title in the 21st century when he twice floored Chris Byrd on the way to a unanimous decision to win the WBO belt in October 2000. Byrd became champion in his previous fight when, way down on the cards, Vitali withdrew on his stool due to a shoulder injury. It meant Vitali was returning a favour against Sanders, who demolished Wladimir over two harrowing rounds in March 2003.

    Another knockout loss followed a little over a year with the vacant WBO strap on the line against Lamon Brewster. At that stage, it was impossible to foresee the imperious dominance that would follow a second win over Byrd for the IBF and 18 successful defences. Closing out his career with losses to Fury and Joshua carried a heavy sense changing eras, as with his brother and Lewis a decade and a half earlier.

    NIKOLAI VALUEV

    All the men on this list could lay claim to the moniker of "Beast from the East" but none would be able to pull it off as well as the preposterously proportioned Valuev. Standing at 7ft and tipping the scales at over 300lbs, he became the tallest and heaviest heavyweight champion in history. Valuev's skills were akin to a rudimentary club fighter, but he was just far too big for most opponents to handle.

    Each of his two stints as WBA ruler began with prophetically forgettable points wins over John Ruiz and after a 2008 loss to a pot-shotting David Haye he walked away to a varied post-fight career. Like Klitschko he entered politics, winning election to the State Duma in Russia's 2011 parliamentary election. He also became an unlikely face of children's television in his homeland, presenting the long-running "Good Night, Little Ones!".

    SIARHEI LIAKHOVICH

    Liakhovich's period reign as WBO champion lasted seven months. The Belarusian won a unanimous decision win over Brewster in April 2006, despite taking a knee in the seventh. He was up on the cards when Shannon Briggs dramatically knocked him through the ropes during the closing seconds of his first defence. Briggs was the last American to get his hands on any portion of the heavyweight title before Wilder's WBC reign began in 2015. Two years earlier, the "Bronze Bomber" left Liakhovich quivering on the canvas after a terrifying first-round KO.

    OLEG MASKAEV

    Three months before Briggs' late show against Liakhovich, Maskaev battered one-time Lewis conqueror Hasim Rahman to defeat inside the final minute of their August 2006 rematch in Las Vegas. A product of the Soviet amateur system, Maskaev based himself in the US for the majority of his professional career. He was 37 by the time he ripped the WBC crown from Rahman and, after a successful defence against Okello Peter in Moscow, the Kazakh-born fighter was knocked out by Samuel Peter - the "Nigerian Nightmare" who was himself stopped by a returning Vitali Klitschko next time out.

    RUSLAN CHAGAEV

    If the WBA was a sofa, Chagaev would be the loose change they continue to find lurking between the cushions. He first won the organisation's belt with a majority decision win over Valuev in April 2007, although subsequent illness and injury led to him being declared "champion in recess". As such, the WBA belt was not on the line when his corner waved off a June 2009 shellacking at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko after nine rounds.

    The organisation then elected to install Chagaev not as its champion but number one challenger, and he dropped an August 2011 decision to Alexander Povetkin for the vacant belt. The story did not end there, however, as Chagaev and the unheralded Fres Oquendo were selected to box for the WBA's vacant "regular" title in July 2014. Almost two years and one competitive round later, Chagaev was knocked out by Lucas Browne, who then failed a drugs test. The Uzbek was given back his title, only to be stripped in July 2016 for failing to pay the WBA sanctioning fees for that already barely remembered Oquendo contest, seemingly ending the saga.

    SULTAN IBRAGIMOV

    Not one to linger like Chagaev, Russia's Sydney 2000 heavyweight silver medallist Ibragimov outpointed Briggs in his 22nd professional bout to lift the WBO belt in June 2007. Under the tutelage of Jeff Mayweather, he comfortably beat the great Evander Holyfield in his first defence. A unification showdown with Wladimir Klitschko was most notable for the Madison Square Garden crowd booing a safety-first affair. With that sole defeat, Ibragimov was gone, retiring in 2009 due to persistent injuries to his left hand.

    ALEXANDER POVETKIN

    Another decorated amateur, Povetkin won super-heavyweight gold at the 2004 Olympics and made four defences of the WBA title after beating Chagaev. To repeat a theme, all roads led to an uncompromising Klitschko, with Wladimir sending him to the canvas four times during a landslide Moscow triumph in October 2013. Failed drugs tests did little for Povetkin's wider reputation and put paid to a proposed meeting with Wilder.

    A promising start unravelled to a seventh-round stoppage when challenging Joshua in September 2018, although Povetkin sensationally recovered from two knockdowns to ice Dillian Whyte this year. After losing the rematch, the Russian announced his retirement at the age of 41.

  • Joshua ready for Usyk: There is no strategy except for winning Joshua ready for Usyk: There is no strategy except for winning

    Anthony Joshua insists he has no specific game plan for his fight with Oleksandr Usyk, other than to win.

    Joshua returns to action against former undisputed world cruiserweight champion Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

    Usyk, who has 13 knockouts from his 18 professional victories, has only previously fought twice against a heavyweight.

    While the Ukrainian has insisted the pressure is all on Joshua, the reigning IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion says he has no particular strategy heading into the bout.

    "I'm in there with the ultimate aim of winning. My goal is to either hurt you or beat you until I get the win," Joshua told Sky Sports.

    "Whether it's the right hand, the uppercut or the jab... As long as it leads to a win. I could box on the front foot or the back foot. There is no real strategy except for winning."

    Usyk beat Derek Chisora on points in London last year, while the 34-year-old has also previously defeated Tony Bellew on English soil.

    "I'm physically conditioned and mentally conditioned. I should be fine. It's a big occasion, big pressure," continued Joshua, who had been set to face Tyson Fury before talks broke down due to the latter having to face Deontay Wilder in a trilogy bout.

    "Bellew was at a different stage of his career when he took the fight. I'm at a different stage. So, what it means to me is different to what it meant to Bellew.

    "Bellew put up a really good fight, and he came up short, which can happen in boxing. I will do everything to reverse what happened to Bellew and make it into my favour."

    If Joshua and Fury both win their respective fights, then a heavyweight title bout could be on the cards yet again.

    "I feel like I've got nothing else if I don't get this win," said Joshua. "It's not the end of the road but it's the start of a new chapter."

    Usyk, meanwhile, insisted he will feel no anxiety in the hours leading up to the fight.

    "The lack of nerves will help me," he told the Guardian. "I am not going to be nervous. Why would I be? It would not change anything. I will not get stronger, only weaker.

    "I will be calm and confident and probably read a book before or watch a film and speak to my loved ones or my son. I am not going to do nerves at all."

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