Kurt Walker was right, Mirazizbek Mirzahailov had to be more worried about him than he was of the gold medal favourite.
Just like the Uzbek standout, the Lisburn fighter is a world-level operator with the ability to beat anyone on his day and he did just that on the biggest stage on Wednesday morning.
The Irish feather produced the performance of his already distinguished career and one of the best ever Irish Olympic boxing displays to progress to within touching distance of an Olympic medal.
Walker was sensational over three rounds against the gold medal favourite, top seed and reigning world champion to stick two fingers up to a tough draw, moving into the quarter-finals via a 4-1 split decision in the process.
The decorated 26-year-old, who has had a turbulent last 18 months, showed skill supreme and guts galore to progress past a fighter deemed a medal shoe-in.
Wonderful Walker, who never let the draw get him down, started extremely confident and won the first round wide on the cards. He was again impressive in the second but had to navigate some rough waters to maintain his lead going into the last. Competing in just his second-ever Olympic bout, Walker remained composed in the final stanza and made sure he wasn’t caught. As a result, he got the nod in an extremely entertaining clash of styles.
The result was reminiscent of John Joe Nevin’s win over then reigning bantamweight world champion Lázaro Álvarez of Cuba in London 2012 and Darren Sutherland’s defeat of 2007 Worlds finalist Alfonso Blanco Parra in Beijing in 2008.
Unfortunately, unlike the ‘Mullingar Shuffler’ and the late great ‘Dazzler’, Walker’s win doesn’t secure him a medal. There is still a fight to win before he adds Olympic hardware to his glittering collection – although if he continues to perform as he has anything looks possible.
Up next for the Irish talent is American Duke Ragan.
#Boxing— Team Ireland (@TeamIreland) July 28, 2021
HE’S DONE IT!!
The upset has been achieved 👏🏻
Kurt Walker has beaten number one seed Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov (UZB) in the Men’s Feather Round of 16 on split decision and advances to the quarter finals!!! 💪🏻🇮🇪🥊 #LetsGo #TeamIreland #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/FjMCCWozdv
The difference in styles was obvious from the off as Walker looked to hit and move, while his opponent attempted to close the space and let his hands go.
The Lisburn stylist certainly didn’t look overawed, used his footwork and the ring well, landing sharp shots in the process. Mirzahailov did have success up close but Walker looked to match him in close quarters and ultimately won the round 4-1.
Walker showed guts and guile in a sensational second round. The Irish fighter started brilliantly scoring from range and frustrating the top seed as he ploughed forward. The uppercut proved an effective punch as Walker dominated the opening half of the round. A big left hook then rattled the Lisburn feather and the gold medal favourite unloaded some big hurtful shots over the next minute or so.
However, just when it looked as if momentum had swung Mirzahailov’s way Walker responded and finished the stanza well, a clean right hand and body shot catching the eye in particular.
Going into the last it was in the European gold medal winner’s hands, he was 3-2 up with three minutes to go. Again his footwork proved frustrating for his foe early in the round but as was always going to happen in the last, he was forced to hold his feet on occasion. At those points, Walker held his own. He fought fire with fire – and although he did ship one big shot, he emerged relatively unscathed.
To add to the drama a cut then appeared over the Team Ireland representative’s left eye and it was back to hitting and moving, which he did well over the last few seconds to eventually take the fight via a split decision.
57kg Kurt Walker (Ireland) beat Jose Quiles (Spain) 5-0
81kg Emmet Brennan (Ireland) lost to Dilshod Ruzmetov (Uzbekistan) 0-5
52kg Brendan Irvine (Ireland) lost to Carlo Paalam (Philippines) 1-4
57kg Michaela Walsh (Ireland) lost to Irma Testa (Italy) 0-5
69kg Aidan Walsh (Ireland) beat Albert Menque (Cameroon) 5-0
75kg Aoife O’Rourke (Ireland) v Li Qian (China)
57kg Kurt Walker (Ireland) v Mirazizbek Mitzakhalilov (Uzbekistan)
60hk Kellie Harrington (Ireland) v Rebecca Nicoli (Italy) or Esmerelda Falcon (Mexico)
69kg Aidan Walsh (Ireland) v Mervin Clair (Mauritius) or Hussein Eashash (Jordan)