IN a generally disappointing World Championships for British boxers, Scotland’s Reese Lynch produced an unexpected bright spot by capturing a brilliant bronze medal at 63.5kgs. The 20-year-old southpaw from the Springhill club in Fauldhouse has never even been his nation’s champion in the elite age group, but he rose to the occasion superbly at a two-week-long event dominated by the Cubans and Kazakhs.
Lynch was part of a six-strong Scottish team, separate from the nine English boxers that formed the GB entry. And he made it all the way to the semi-finals, where he lost unanimously to Turkey’s Kerem Özmen. Three judges had him losing only 29-28, alongside two 30-27 scores for Özmen.
The tall, long-armed Lynch made a bad start, getting hurt by a right for a standing count in the first. But round two saw him drop Özmen for a count with a right jab, only for the Scot to take another toll from a right in the last as the muscular Turk finished the stronger.
Lynch had reached the last four with a 3-2 split decision over Sanatali Toltayev (Kazakhstan) in the quarter-finals. Reese used his height and reach advantages to take the first round clearly. He landed plenty of lefts on an opponent keen to get inside, and although Lynch kept his hands low, his quick reflexes enabled him to avoid being tagged.
Rounds two and three were much closer, with Toltayev finding the range for his right as Lynch was forced to stand his ground more. It became scrappy with many clinches, but now and again Lynch found the space to fire off punches – especially his back hand.
It was nip and tuck but Lynch got it on two scores of 30-27 and a 29-28, against two 29-28s for Toltayev.
He became Scotland’s first medallist at the World Seniors, which have been going since 1974.
Lynch had reached the quarters with a unanimous victory over Adrian Thiam Creus in the last 16. The Spaniard opted to move and stay on the outside in round one, which was a mistake – Lynch controlled matters handily with his speed and movement.
Thiam came forward more in round two, but enjoyed little success as he just could not locate the Scot’s chin. By the third, Lynch was picking him off with crisp left hands, then shutting him down when he got inside.
In the end it was a comfortable win for Lynch, with all five judges giving him every round at 30-27.
Lynch’s teammate Sam Hickey didn’t fare so well in the last 16, going out on a 4-1 split decision to Gabrijel Veocic of Croatia.
Hickey, a 21-year-old from Dundee, received a 29-28 from one judge, only for the same score plus three 30-27s to go the way of Veocic, a taller opponent with longer arms.
Hickey tried jabbing his way in, and landed a good left hook in round two, but generally struggled to get into range without being tagged. When Veocic finished the second strongly to take a 20-18 lead for four judges going in the last, Hickey had to go on the offensive – but that simply allowed the Croat to get on his bike to protect his lead.
A solid right-hander was Sam’s biggest success in the last, but Veocic responded with a combination to clinch his victory.
Closest to a medal for England was Conner Tudsbury, pipped on a 3-2 split decision in a thrilling 86kgs quarter-final by Belgium’s Victor Schelstraete.
If just one judge had scored one more round in his favour, Tudsbury would have had victory and at least a bronze medal. As it was, after three see-saw rounds all five judges scored 29-28, with Tudsbury enjoying a 4-1 split in round one and Schelstraete winning the second by the same margin to have all cards level at 19-19 coming up for the last.
Tudsbury was in his first World championships, Schelstraete his second; and the Manchester man was moving up from 81kgs while the Belgian had moved down from 91. So Conner has a bright future, judging by this performance.
With Schelstraete enjoying height and reach advantages, Tudsbury attacked from the opening bell. The Belgian’s fast hands enabled him to land jabs and rights, but Tudsbury held his own in some tasty exchanges.
Conner’s left jab worked well and when the Belgian tired late in round two it seemed the momentum had swung the English boxer’s way. But Schelstraete found new energy in the last to land rights off the back foot and while Tudsbury kept the punches coming, his accuracy had declined with the Belgian edging home.
The quarter-final elimination of England’s Lewis Williams at 92kgs was much clearer-cut. He never got going against Uzbekistan’s rugged Madiyar Saydrakhimov and lost unanimously after three messy rounds.
One judge had Williams only a point down at 28-27, but the other four all scored 29-26 with each boxer having a point deducted in round two for holding.
Williams had advantages in height and reach but could never use them. Saydrakhimov bulled forward and roughed him up, swinging away with both hands and landing plenty, especially the right, as Lewis did not move his head enough. Lewis did get his jab going a bit better in the last, but the Uzbek was too strong and there was never any doubt about the winner.
Ireland’s hopes of a medal came down to Kelyn Cassidy and his all-southpaw quarter-final against Aliaksei Alfiorau (Belarus) at light-heavyweight, now set at 80kgs.
Giving hope to the Irish was the facial damage Alfiorau sustained during his tough last 16 contest the night before: a bruised, cut right eye and cheek. But the Belarus man started more aggressively than usual and soon had Cassidy bleeding from the nose. It survived a doctor’s inspection and prompted the Irishman to let his hands go, but all five judges awarded Alfiorau the session.
The medic examined Cassidy’s nose again early in round two, and although the Waterford man punched the air in triumph at the bell, once more Alfiorau got the session on all cards. That enabled him to box on the move in the last, and although Cassidy tried to unsettle him, a third doctor’s inspection of his bleeding nose interrupted his momentum. Five 30-27 cards made it unanimous for Alfiorau, who would go on to take the silver medal.
The day before, in the last 16, Cassidy had demonstrated his potential when earning a fine 4-1 points decision over Tajikistan’s Shabbos Negmatulloev.
Cassidy started cautiously against a strong, stocky opponent and dropped the opener for three judges. But Kelyn got his jab working in round two, outboxing his slowing rival, and really found his form in the last.
He picked off Negmatulloev with right jabs and combinations, exposing his lack of a plan B, and thoroughly deserving his win on cards of 30-27 twice and 29-28 twice, against a 30-27 for Negmatulloev.
The Tajikistan coach wagged a disapproving finger at the result, but there was no real argument about the Irishman’s win.
With three golds for Cuba and two for Kazakhstan (who also had two silvers), those nations were confirmed as powerhouses in this code of boxing.
Less expected, but by no means unwelcome, was the resurgence of the USA under Irish coach Billy Walsh. The Americans got four through to the finals with golds for Jahmal Harvey (57kgs) and Robby Gonzales (80kgs).
Japan also notched two golds through 54kgs Tomoya Tsuboi and 67kgs Sewonrets Okazawa, while the Russian Boxing Federation – competing under that name because of the IOC sports ban on the doping-plagued nation – had three finalists and a winner in Mark Petrovskii.
However, the super-heavyweight’s 4-1 finals victory was helped by the extremely dubious scoring of round two, which Armenia’s Davit Chaloyan won clearly – only for four of the five judges to award it to Petrovskii.
Holding these championships only three months after the Tokyo Olympics might seem odd, but these Worlds were simply maintaining their place in the sport’s calendar; remember, the Olympics had been postponed by a year owing to the global pandemic.
Comparing standards between the two events is tricky, with many Tokyo Olympians (including five of the eight champions) not competing in Serbia. Nations like England and Ireland sent totally different teams, while France won three medals (including gold for 60kgs Sofiane Oumiha) in Belgrade, courtesy of a trio of boxers who left Japan medal-less. The Americans, too, sent a completely different squad from Tokyo.
And while the Olympics were contested at just eight weights, these Worlds saw action in 13 divisions, which combined with no qualifying tournaments being necessary meant a whopping 497 bouts.
The sport’s international governing body AIBA had been stripped of the right to organise boxing in Tokyo by the IOC owing to various scandals. That meant the Val Barker Trophy, traditionally awarded to the most stylish boxer at an Olympics, was not awarded in Tokyo (the prize belongs to AIBA, not the IOC or the Task Force it appointed to run the Games boxing tournament).
So in Belgrade, AIBA handed the Val Barker prize to Cuba’s brilliant Andy Cruz, who struck gold at 63.5kgs with a dominant unanimous finals victory over Reese Lynch’s conqueror Kerem Özmen.
Cruz, who won 63kgs gold in Tokyo, thus took his third Worlds title – two behind superb compatriot Julio La Cruz, the 92kgs champion in Serbia (having won 91kgs gold in Tokyo). Cuba’s third winner in Belgrade was a newcomer to this level in middleweight Yoenlis Hernandez.
Achieving a remarkable double was Ukraine’s brilliant 19-year-old Yuri Zakharieiev, who in April won the World Youth Championships at 69kgs and here followed with gold at 71kgs.
As part of its bid to boost the Olympic-style code, AIBA announced prize money of $100,000 for all gold medallists, $50,000 for silver medallists and $25,000 for bronze medallists (all US dollars).