Kurt Walker got Ireland’s Olympic boxing campaign in Tokyo off to a winning start in exciting and dramatic fashion in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The Canal BC featherweight beat Spaniard Jose Quiles Brotons in the Round of 32 to set up a mouthwatering clash with Uzbekistan’s gold medal favourite and reigning world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov.
The decorated stylist consulted fight and flair to beat talented opposition in a highly entertaining bout at the Kokugikan Arena to get the ball rolling for the seven-strong boxing team.
Walker’s back foot ability and fast hands won in the first round quite clear. He was drawn into a fight in the second, much to the delight of his opponent, who managed to level things up on four of the five cards to set up a tense deciding round.
The 26-year-old Irish fighter had to battle in parts in the third, but passed a real Spanish Inquisition, showing he has much will as skill to again take the round across the board and register an Olympic debut win in the process.
Brotons, like Walker was a bronze medallist at the 2017 European Championships. Since then the Irishman won gold at the 2018 EUs and the 2019 Euros while the Spaniard claimed no more major medals. However, while Walker’s world ranking somewhat bailed him out in terms of Olympic qualification during a time he was dealing with injury and difficult personal circumstances, Brotons reached the European Olympic Qualifier quarter-finals to seal his tickets to the Games.
🥊 RESULT 🥊— IABA (@IABABOXING) July 24, 2021
Just the start we were hoping for in Tokyo as @KurtWalker7 rewards the early rising Irish fans with a win via unanimous decision v 🇪🇸
After a strong performance he advances to the R16 on Wednesday v 🇺🇿
Well done Kurt! 🇮🇪🥊#IABA #TeamIreland #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/7G6RNeJ2dW
Walker found his range early in the fight and dominated the first round. He moved brilliantly and sharp straight accurate shots won him the round across the board.
“Manage the distance and you win the fight” was the corner’s advice between rounds but the Lisburn boxer held his feet more. There was still flashes of class and more variety to the shots. However, the pressing Spaniard was afforded the chance to land some big eye-catching hooks and impressed four judges enough to set up a winner-takes-all final stanza.
Walker showed both grit and flair to win an all-action last. The first 30 seconds saw him on the back foot and producing the kind of stylish work he is known for, one beautifully timed uppercut certainly caught the eye.
As the round wore on the decorated operator had to stand his ground and go to war. Both men were quite literally fighting for their Olympic life and it showed as they let an abundance of damaging leather fly.
Walker then ended the fight as he started it, boxing and moving from range, possibly landing the shots that cemented his first every Olympic win, Ireland’s first since Michael Conlon defeated Armenia’ Aram Avagyan in the last 16 of Rio.
The Irish fighter did pick up a cut over his right eye, which isn’t ideal ahead of a crucial fight with the gold medal favourite but three high-paced rounds will stand to him going into a clash with an opponent that has received a bye.
Next up for Ireland is Emmet Brennan, the Dublin Docklandss light heavyweight takes on World Championships silver medallist Dilshod Ruzmetov, another Uzbek, on Sunday July 25 at the more reasonable hour of 12:45pm.