Olympic Preview – Light Heavyweight

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Olympic boxing oracle Matt Donnellan takes a look at the light heavyweight division in Brazil,

At 81kg Ireland are represented by the one and only Joe Ward, who amazingly won the European gold at seventeen in 2011 and again in 2015. He also took the World silver in Doha and bronze in 2013. Joe has defeated Mullenberg, Sep, Dauhaliavets, Katende, Michel, Niyazymbetov, Soloneko, and Rasulov of the Rio field. Add in wins over Kenny Egan and Ivanov and you can see why Ward is second favourite for Gold. Since becoming a senior in 2010 only LaCruz has clearly beaten him in regular amateur boxing, Rozbahani won a countback in 2011, Muzaffer robbed him in 2012 and he lost on an injury to Tryc. Benchabla, Ivanov and Bauderlique have beaten the Irishman in WSB and APB where his fitness sometimes let him down. Shortly before the London Games 18 year old Joe beat the soon-to-be Olympic champion Mekhontsev 20-14 in the Chemistry Cup final – that’s how good he can be.

Other Qualifiers:

Michel Borges (Brazil). Sports a win over 75kg qualifier Marlon Delgado but little else points to anything other than an early dismissal for the Rio native. Mina, Benchabla, Carillo, Rasulov, Mullenberg and LaCruz have all defeated the home fighter.
Major Honours: None

Valentino Manfredonia (Italy). Defeated Darren O’Neill 2-1 back in 2014. He qualified here through the WSB where he was unbeaten and overcame the likes of Sep. A loss to Mammadov in the European Games final of 2015 gives us a good handle on his ability. He has suffered losses in April and May to the unheralded Strnisko of Slovakia and Altayev from Kazahkstan.
Major Honours: European Games silver (2015), EU Championships gold (2014).

Hrvoje Sep (Croatia). Lost to the best in Ward, Manfredonia, Ivanov,and LaCruz. Beat Carillo at the Worlds before running into LaCruz. A WSB veteran he has defeated Michel, Dauhaliavets and many others in that format. Michel won over him 2-1 in the Chemistry Cup 2016 final in Germany.
Major Honours: European Championships bronze (2015, 2011), EU Championships bronze (2009).

Ehsan Rouzbahani (Iran). Beat Ward on a countback in 2011 and dropped a few to Niyazymbetov and Rasulov . Lost to Ivanov in the APB in 2014 but has since defeated Bauderlique to become their number one. A tough fighter, probably more suited to APB.
Major Honours: Asian Championhips bronze (2013), Asian Games bronze (2014).

Mathieu Bauderlique (France). Stopped Ward in the APB when Joe ran out of steam in the fourth round, after dominating up to then. Mathieu is no mug, he also beat Ivanov and Niyazymbetov in the APB but Rouzbahani has his number in that discipline. Now an unbeaten pro with ten wins under his belt.
Major Honours: None

Abdelhafid Benchabla (Algeria). Multiple African and African Games champion. Also the Mediterranean games winner. Great WSB record and he is now in the APB. Wins over Salah, Katende, Mammadov, Borges, Ward (2012 WSB) but also the odd loss, La Cruz in 2013, Michel, Ivanov in WSB and APB fare but perhaps more telling, a defeat at the 2015 Worlds in Doha to Khizhnyak of the Ukraine 3-0. Ward then beat Khizhnyak 3-0 in the next round. Benchebla also lost to an unknown Azeri Buttybekov in February over the traditional three rounds.
Major Honours: African Games gold (2015, 2011) and silver (2013), African Championships gold (2009, 2015).

Abdelrahman Salah (Egypt). An African qualifier with no hope really, lost twice last year to Benchabla.
Major Honours: African Games silver (2015), African Championships silver (2015),

Kennedy Katende (Uganda). Has losses to Ward, Michel and Benchebla, no chance either despite experience in WSB and a spell representing Sweden..
Major Honours: 2008 Olympian

Albert Ramirez (Venezuela). A serious contender, has split fights with Carillo and lost to Mina in the past but boxing in the WSB has seen him run Sep to 2-1 and win five other contests. In 2015 he won silver at the PanAms losing to LaCruz after defeating Borges but then in the American Championships he won gold, beating the great LaCruz 3-0 in the final! Rasulov brought him back to earth in Doha, beating him 3-0. Still Ramirez is not to be underestimated.
Major Honours: American Championships gold (2015), PanAmerican Games silver (2015).

Carlos Mina (Ecuador). Another WSB boxer. He lost to Dauhaliavets but he defeated the great LaCruz 2-1 in the WSB. Beat Carillo, Borges, Ramirez and Khizhnyak with losses to LaCruz. Mina could spring a surprise or two. Beat a good European field to win the Strandja Memorial in February and he also annexed the Viktor Liventsev Memorial in Minsk the same month.
Major Honours: None

Erkin Adylbek Uulu (Kyrgyzstan). Has lost to Dauhaliavets and Rasulov with no standout wins.
Major Honours: None

Julio César la Cruz (Cuba). One of boxing’s greats. In regular competition only Ramirez has defeated him since London. Suffice to say that he has won the last three World Championships. Of the Rio field he has won over Ward, Niyazymbetov, Mullenberg, Buatsi, Unal, Mammadov, Dauhaliavets, Michel, Carrillo, Benchabla, Salah, Ramirez, Mina and Sep. A ray of hope for the rest, he lost to Ivanov and Mina in the WSB.
Major Honours: World Championships gold (2011, 2013, 2015), PanAmerican Games gold (2011, 2015), American Championships silver (2010, 2015).

Adilbek Niyazymbetov (Kazakhstan). A perennial runner-up, silver was his lot in the 2012 Olympics losing on a count-back to Egor Mekhontcev, now a professional. LaCruz defeated him in the 2011 and 2013 (2-1) World finals. He did however win the Asian Games in 2014 and the Asian Championships in 2015. Ward beat him 3-0 in the 2014 Chemistry Cup. Previous victim Rasulov surprised him at the Doha Worlds. Adilbek also has wins over Mullenberg, Michel, Rouzbahani and Darren O’Neill, the latter from 2013, 8-5.
Major Honours: Olympic silver (2012), World Championships silver (2011, 2013), Asian Games gold (2014), Asian Championships gold (2015) and silver (2013).

Elshod Rasulov (Uzbekistan). Now thirty years old was a former underage prodigy and World military winner. He claimed 2009 World silver and Asian Games gold in 2010. In 2011 he won World bronze, losing to Niyazymbetov after overcoming Rouzbahani. Ward beat him 20-9 the following year. Borges was defeated along the way and Uulu also at the Asian Championships where he took silver, conceding a walk-over in the final. He turned the clock back at the Doha Worlds, defeating Ramirez and Niyazymbetov before Ward again defeated him, 3-0.
Major Honours: World Championships silver (2009) and bronze (2011, 2015), Asian Games gold (2006, 2010), Asian Championships gold (2007) and silver (2015).

Peter Müllenberg (Netherlands). An anomaly, an improving veteran. He holds wins over Saada, Buatsi, Michel and Borges but Ward (2015 Euro final), LaCruz, Niyazymbetov, Ivanov(2013 Euro final) and Mammadov have lowered his colours. A World Military Champ he beat a young Jason Quigley in 2011. Defeated Unal in the European qualifier but lost the final to Buatsi who he had previously defeated in the WSB.
Major Honours: European Championships silver (2013, 2015).

Joshua Buatsi (Britain). Born in Ghana, he lost to Mullenberg, LaCruz and Mammadov but beat Mammadov early this year to continue his improvement. These Games could be occurring just a fraction too soon for him. Gary Sweeney outscored Buatsi as a Youth in 2011. Buatsi also gained revenge on Mullenberg at the European Olympic qualifier final in April. Joshua had defeated Michel and Khitnyak at that tournament.
Major Honours: European Championships bronze (2015).

Mehmet Ünal (Turkey). Lost to LaCruz and Zhang in APB. In the European qualifiers in his native Turkey he stunned the boxing World with a 2-1 win over Mammadov before Mullenberg defeated him. He then won the box-off with Khyzhniak of the Ukraine. Unal is also an accomplished kick-boxer.
Major Honours: None.

Petr Khamukov (Russia). Moving up from 75kg where he is the European champion. Petr qualified easily at the World qualifier and it’s difficult to know just how good he is. Showed class in the WSB at 75 kg so I feel he will be in the final shake-up. His compatriot Ivanov would have been perceived as a major player if present in Rio.
Major Honours: At middleweight – European Championships gold (2015).

Teymur Mammadov (Azerbaijan). One of the big names at the weight, and at 6’5″ towers over most light heavyweights. Moved down from heavyweight where he won World silver and bronze medals, a Euro gold and a London Olympic bronze. Tommy McCarthy was a 2013 victim as was Savon of Cuba. At 81kg he has lost to LaCruz in the WSB but won European gold again, defeating Mullenberg, Buatsi, Silyagin of Russia and Manfredonia. Silyagin gained revenge in Doha and Buatsi also reversed his earlier loss in February this year. Teymur clinched his Rio place helped by three walkovers in a row, in Baku.
Major Honours: At heavyweight: Olympic bronze (2011), World Championships silver (2011) and bronze (2013), European Championships gold (2011) and silver (2013).
At light heavyweight – European Games gold (2015).

Mikhail Dauhaliavets (Belarus). Lost to Ghossoun in April of this year. Qualified from the European section by defeating Khyzhniak but then lost to Michel. Mikhail has lost to LaCruz four times and Ward a couple of times, no shame in that. He also has a previous win over Michel and Uulu. He lost a pair to Sep in the WSB but got a good win over Mina.
Major Honours: None.

Serge Michel (Germany). Has a good WSB record where he beat Benchabla but lost to Sep and Rouzbahani. Losses to LaCruz, Saada, and Dauhaliavets suggest he won’t medal in Rio. He did defeat Dauhaliavets to secure his place in the draw and took the Chemistry Cup with a split decision over Sep.
Major Honours: None.

Hassan Saada (Morocco). Defeated Michel in the final of this year’s World Cup of Petroleum Countries. Surprised Steven Nelson of the USA in Doha but then lost to Mullenberg. Overcame Katende at the African Championships and then lost to Benchabla. Very fortunate at the Baku qualifier, he conceded a walkover to Mammadov who then went on to win (via two more walkovers!) thus letting Saada in.
Major Honours: African Championships bronze (2015).

Juan Carlos Carrillo (Colombia). Went under to Joe Ward in the 2010 World Youths. Since then he has defeated Borges and Ramirez, but he lost to Mina, La Cruz a load of times, and Saavedra. He dropped a decision to Sep in Doha and a bad defeat to Sangwan of India in the Baku qualifier. He also lost to Mina in an attempt to qualify from the American region. A couple of WSB fights in 2016 allowed Juan one last hurrah at the APB/WSB event and he grabbed it by scoring four good wins, culminating in a win over N’Dam in the final.
Major Honours: American Championships bronze (2015), PanAmerican Games bronze (2015).

Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (Cameroon). Defeated Andy Lee at the 2004 Games on a countback. Turned pro and challenged David Lemieux for the IBF middleweight title last year and also holds a win over Dubliner Anthony Fitzgerald. He qualified for Rio with an easy win over Esquival of the USA and then Solonenko before Carrillo brought him back to earth in the final, beating him 3-0. Bizzarely N’Dam has since had another successful eight-round pro fight on July 30th.
Major Honours: at middleweight – African Games silver (2003), African Games gold (2003).

Denys Solonenko (Ukraine). A WSB fighter with reverses against Ward, Mina and Rouzbahani. He made Rio by virtue of a walkover against the Pole Tryc after losing to N’Dam N’Jikam. No chance.
Major Honours: None.

Looking over the field we can discount Solonenko, Saada, Michel, Uulu, Salah, Katende, and Borges. That leaves us with 19 of the 26 entrants. Carrillo, Manfredonia, Sep, Dauhaliavets, Unal, Buatsi and N’Dam N’Jikam, Mullenberg and Ramirez will upset some more fancied fighters but I can’t see any of them winning gold.

One Hell of a field but I can’t see past Ward or La Cruz. Ward is strong, confident, and skillful but his main attribute is speed, the problem for Joe is that La Cruz is so elusive and quick on his feet. However if Ward is, as I believe he is, focused and fitter than ever he can pressure the Cuban into mistakes. I, for one can’t wait!

My top ten is;
1 – La Cruz
2 – Ward
3 – Niyazymbetov
4 – Rouzbahani
5 – Bauderlique
6 – Benchebla
7 – Khamakov
8 – Mina
9 – Mammadov
10 – Rasulov

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish).

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie