12 August 2008 – by Conor Ward
John Joe Nevin took to life as an Irish Olympian like a duck to water (or should that be like a Michael Phelps to water?) on Tuesday at Beijings Workers Gymnasium, overcoming the challenge of Algerias Abdelhalim Ourradi on a 9-4 scoreline in the opening round of the bantamweight competition.
Not that it was all plain sailing mind you, as the 18-year-old found himself having to overcome several difficulties which threatened to scupper his hopes of advancing to the last 16. For starters, his opponent was nine years his senior and in his physical prime at 27. But of more concern than that, as it turned out, was the Algerians scrappy approach, which at times threatened to drag the contest down to base level.
For a fighter of Nevins technical gifts, that had to be frustrating, especially so when the referee chose to penalise him initially for holding in a fractious third round. With Nevin clearly looking to utilise his slicker movement on the outside, in the face of brawling tactics, that refereeing decision was more than a touch baffling. Thankfully that penalty was cancelled out when the Algerian was also adjudged to be holding later in the round.
Nor were the judges looking to do the Mullingar youngster any favours, refusing to score him at all in an opening round where he took the initiative and appeared to land cleanly on several occasions. In fairness, the failure of the referees to score punches has been a recurring theme during these games, therefore it was not entirely surprising to see Nevin return to his corner empty-handed after the opening stanza.
But Nevin had a few factors in his favour too. Not least was the sizeable and vocal Irish support inside the arena, who certainly made their presence known and cheered instantaneously each time he registered on the scoreboard. He also had the benefit of team coach Billy Walsh providing him with sound advice between rounds. And above all, he had the fast hands to unlock the Algerians defence in the third and fourth rounds, together with crafty footwork, superb lateral movement and cunning which allowed him to slip away from danger.
Once Nevin established a healthy lead early on in the fourth and final round, he was never going to let Ourradi back into the contest, and even indulged himself in a little celebration as the seconds ticked away.
All those hours spent moulding his fight strategy in Cavan Boxing Club paid off here for this self-professed slippery customer, who now has the competitions latter stages in his sights.
At times RTE commentator Jimmy Magee became tongue tied mixing up Nevin with team mate John Joe Joyce, But whether Nevin goes on to contend for a medal or not, you get the feeling therell be no mistaking the name of John Joe Nevin by the time hes finished in Beijing.