DAY ONE – FRIDAY JULY 29
TELEVISION crew, coaches and officials outnumbered the crowd when the boxing got underway in the cavernous Hall Four of the NEC on Friday at midday.
Best-supported boxers in action during the opening session were English middleweights Lewis Richardson and Kerry Davis – and a light-welterweight from Lesotho! On Wikipedia, Lesotho is described as “a landlocked country enclaved by South Africa” and some of their two million residents found their way to Birmingham to cheer on Qhobosheane Mohlerepe.
They saw him have his hands full with Cyprus prodigy Odyesseas Atmatzidis in the opening round and then got behind him in the last two as he found the answers to win unanimously.
The first English boxer in action was female middleweight Davis. She edged out Ghanaian veteran Ornella Sathoud after losing the opening round on three of the five scorecards. Davis won the second round clearly with her long, straight punches when some of the steam left Sathoud’s attacks. Sathoud dragged more out of herself in the last, but Davis had more in the tank and outpunched her to win 4-0 on the cards.
Richardson, meanwhile, unanimously outpointed Haaris Khan (Wales) in a meeting of tall technicians at 75kgs. The southpaw from Colchester had Khan on his knees in the first after shipping his feet smartly to walk him onto a southpaw right hook. That left Khan chasing the fight and he was docked a point in the second before rallying in the last.
There was some quality action at 63.5kgs, with Namibia’s long Jonas Jonas, gold medallist four years ago on the Gold Coast four years ago, getting the boxing underway. Colan Caleb (Nautu) oozed all the confidence of a gulity schoolboy outside the headmaster’s office ahead of the opening bell and his doubts were justified. Jonas set about him and Caleb barely landed a punch before being stopped in the first.
Equally emphatic was the second bout, Scotland’s Reese Lynch handing outclassed Timon Aaree (Kirabati) two counts for a first-round stoppage.
Best bout of the opening session was between lofty Ugandan left-hander Joshua Tukamuhebwa and John Paul Hale (Northern Ireland). Hale did enough work on the inside in the opening two minutes to win the first on four of the five cards before Tukamuhebwa came blazing back with combinations in the second to leave the bout in the balance going into the last round.
The referee denied Tukamuhebwa a knockdown after Hale hit the canvas, but the rest of the round was fought at the Ugandan’s pace and range and he won a 3-2 split.
That set up a last-16 clash with the fighter who threw the best punch of the opening session, Australian light-welter Billy Polkinghorn. His right hand found the chin of Fabio Roselie (Seychelles) and took everything out of him. The ‘eight’ count wasn’t long enough for Roselie to recover and it was waved off.
Joe Tyers had the home crowd cheering in the evening session as the stylish light-welterweight comprehensively outboxed Sanjeewa Rajakaruna Wasa (Sri Lanka) in the opening two rounds. Towards the end of the second, Tyers picked up a nick on his left eye and got on the back foot in the last to protect the wound.
There was further English interest in a Liverpudlian boxing for the Isle of Man, a Londoner representing Antigua and Barbuda and a Welshman who’s from Southampton!
Jamie Devine rediscovered his love for boxing after a seven-year break when he moved from the Isle of Man to Liverpool and represented his home country in Birmingham, losing on points to Abdul Omar (Ghana). The second round was pivotal. After clearly losing the first, Devine started to land his combinations, but only two of the five judges gave him the round and that left him too much to do in the last.
The spindly and fast Alston Ryan, who’s won Haringey Box Cup for Repton in 2017 and 2019, was a winner for Antigua and Barbuda, using his fast jab to win all three rounds on the five cards against Alex Isendi (Tanzania) at 63.5kgs.
Up at 80kgs, Taylor Bevan, from Southampton and representing Wales, produced a devastating end to the opening day’s boxing. The robust and heavy-handed Bevan soon knocked New Zealand champion Onyx Lye onto his heels with head shots and then switched his attacks downstairs to drop him twice with thunderous left hooks for a first-round finish.
DAY TWO – SATURDAY JULY 20
IT was a good day for the crowd as the 18 bouts produced plenty of drama – and a bad day for veteran fighters. Carl Hield (Bahamas) and Nicholas Okengo-Okoth (Nigeria) – combined age 74 years old – were competing in their fifth and fourth Commonwealth Games respectively – and both made early exits. Hield was stopped inside a round by Abdul Afeez Osoba (Nigeria), while Keevin Allicock (Guyana) was too fresh for 39-year-old Okoth and sent him into retirement with a unanimous points win.
Those who were there for the midday start possibly didn’t have much interest in the clash between featherweights from Botswana and Uganda – until the bell went.
George Molwantwa (Botswana) and Jonah Kyobe (Uganda) gave everything as they fought for a place in the last 16. The taller Kyobe loaded up on sweeping hooks and uppercuts, while Molwantwa kept his chin down, his hands up and his punches straight. There were back-and-forth exchanges in every round with Kyobe proving vulnerable after he had launched his haymakers. He was on wobbly legs in the first and going into the last, the Ugandan needed a knockout.
He steadied Molwantwa with an uppercut, but as was the case throughout, Kyobe was then caught cleanly himself. The decision went Molwantwa’s way.
The swelling crowd were engaged in the final-round drama produced by English southpaw Jodie Wilkinson and Bolance Shogbamu (Nigeria) at 71kgs.
Both were docked a point in the second and that left the fight in the balance going into the last, with Wilkinson up by two points on one card and the scores level on the other four. The action was messy at times in the last as well, Wilkinson landing the cleaner punches to snatch victory. The verdict was loudly cheered and the noise went up several decibels when it was announced England heavyweight Lewis Williams was on his way to the ring to face Nazeer Ullah Khan (Pakistan). Every jab the 6ft 6ins Williams landed on the smaller Pakistani was cheered and by the final minute of the second, the Englishman appeared to be enjoying himself as much as his supporters.
There were cries of ‘Ole’ as Williams picked Khan off with jabs and lead rights. So dominant was Williams in that second round, two of the judges scored 10-8. The Pakistani ran at Williams at the start of the third – and onto a right hand that put him on his knees. The referee ruled Khan had slipped and Williams comfortably boxed his way to the final bell.
Elsewhere at 92kgs, there was a shock loss for one of the medal favourites in the final bout of the day as Sanjeet Kumar (India) was on the receiving end of a dramatic turnaround. Though he felt several body shots thrown by Samoan southpaw Ato Plodzicki-Faoagali in the opening two rounds, Kumar picked enough clean punches off the back foot to be 20-18 up on three cards going into the last. That left the Samoan needing a miracle – and he produced it.
He didn’t leave Kumar alone in the final three minutes and had enough successes to win the final round 10-8 on one of the cards. That left the scores tied and the deciding vote went to the Sri Lankan judge, who preferred Plodzicki-Faoagali’s work.
There was more late drama when stylish Mauritius southpaw Merven Clair faced Shain Boniface (Seychelles) at 71kgs. Clair, quarter-finalist at last year’s Olympics, had beaten Boniface twice before and was well on his way to beating him again as he produced six near punch-perfect minutes to win the opening two rounds 10-8 on all the cards.
Out of the blue, Boniface found a left hook in the last and suddenly Clair was on the brink. His legs stiffened and his arms dropped for a second or so. Clair quickly pulled himself together and punched with Boniface as he went for the finish. Clair won the exchanges to seize back control.
Northern Ireland featherweight Judge Gallagher made a promising start. The 20-year-old stuck to his boxing to outpoint heavy-handed Zweli Dlamini (Swaziland).
DAY THREE – SUNDAY JULY 31
THE most replayed moment of the day was a punch that missed. Cameroon super-heavyweight Maxime Yegnono Njieyo slung a hook at Sagar Ahlawat that came closer to finding the chin of the referee than his opponent.
Paola Falorni gave him a reproachful look before allowing the bout to continue and replays of the incident drew gasps from the crowd. Njieyo didn’t have much success finding Ahlawat’s chin throughout. The Indian showed impressive savvy in his first contest outside his home country to win the opening round clearly and then preserve his advantage to win unanimously.
The name on every flag at ringside was “Lewis Richardson.” Richardson had plenty of supporters going into the Commonwealth Games and the Colchester southpaw gained a few more during his stirring, come-from-behind points win over Yusuf Nkobeza. The result took him through to the quarter finals at 75kgs.
The Ugandan landed enough heavy rights to win the opening round on four of the five cards. The tall and polished Richardson took the centre of the ring at the start of the second and got his long, straight punches working – until Nkobeza caught him. Richardson was rattled and decided to respond. The crowd roared as he punched with the Ugandan and he got the better of the exchanges to set up a deciding final round. Richardson turned brawler in the last, pushing Nkobeza back into the corners and outworking him to win the session on all the cards.
Because there was no seedings, there were several quality matches in the early rounds including Reese Lynch-Shiva Thapa. Both have won World Championship bronze – Lynch last year, Shapa seven years ago – and they met for a place in the last eight at 63.5kgs in Birmingham.
Scottish southpaw Lynch towered over the Indian veteran, but the opening round went to Thapa on all the cards as he repeatedly found the target with fast rights from the outside. Lynch adjusted to be quicker to the punch with his jab in the second, leaving the scores tied for four of the judges.
For two minutes of the last round, there wasn’t much between them. Lynch was busier, Thapa scored with eye-catching singles, but it was the Scot who finished stronger. He made the tiring Thapa miss and pumped out combinations to win a 4-1 split.
Jonas Jonas (Namibia) and Joe Tyers (England) also went through at 63.5kgs.
Though Jonas, gold medallist on the Gold Coast four years ago, was up on the cards after two rounds against Rashield Williams, the momentum appeared to be with the Bahamas pressure fighter. The minute’s break revived Jonas and he boxed beautifully at times in the third, moving and picking his punches. The doctor ruled John Ume (Papua New Guinea) out of his fight with Tyers in the opening round after he was cut over both eyes.
Best bout of the day – and of the Commonwealth Games to this point – was the middleweight clash between Indian punching machine Sumit Kundu and Callum Peters, an unknown 19-year-old from Australia.
One of the favourites for gold, Kundu tore into Peters and gave him a count inside 40 seconds. Peters refused to be overwhelmed, started to find the gaps with right uppercuts and left hooks and was also helped by some bizarre officiating. Kundu was harshly docked a point for using his head and took a count in the dying seconds while he had Peters pinned on the ropes.
The Indian kept churning out combinations in the second, but Peters remained cool and picked the cleaner shots, knocking Kundu onto his heels to hand him another count. Peters was ahead on the cards going into the last – and had more left in the tank. He forced two more counts to seal a unanimous points win.
The noisy Indian supporters in the crowd got a result they wanted earlier when world champion Nikhat Zareen was a stoppage winner over Helena Bagao (Mozambique). The referee stepped in during the third of their light-flyweight contest after Zareen had found her chin with yet another combination.
DAY FOUR – MONDAY AUGUST 1
THE South Pacific island of Vanuatu sent one boxer to Birmingham and Namri Berri must have wished he had stayed at home. He had no idea what to do with the very stylish and fluent Indian southpaw Amit Panghal when they met for a place in the flyweight quarter-finals.
The referee asked for more from Berri in the second and Panghal, beaten by Galal Yafai in the light-flyweight final four years ago, dangled his hands invitingly low. But every time Berri threw a punch, he missed and was countered. Panghal won convincingly to set up a match with Lennon Mulligan.
The 20-year-old Scot made a confident start against Eriu Temakau (Kiribati). He was busy with his jab and quick to counter with precise twos and threes.
Also at flyweight, Welsh whirlwind Jake Dodd threw non-stop punches at Retselisitsoe Kolobe (Lesotho) until the referee waved it off in the second.
Sunderland southpaw Kiaran MacDonald, silver medallist at the European championships in May, was the first of four English boxers in action and dominated M Vidanalage Ishan Ranjeewa Senevirartne (Sri Lanka).
Gemma Richardson gave the home crowd more reason to cheer, unanimously outpointing Scottish veteran Megan Reid at 60kgs. Richardson took around a minute to find her rhythm and then started to counter with combinations, often finishing with a body shot.
There were huge cheers for Birmingham featherweight Niall Farrell and then boos after he couldn’t convince the referee to let him carry on against Jude Gallagher after the Northern Irishman had handed him a second count in the opening round with a right hand to the chin.
The well-supported Aaron Bowen dominated Innocent Ehwarleme at 80kgs. Bowen soon figured out the gangling Nigerian and took control with a thumping jab that Ehwaleme had no answer to. Bowen says he’s hoping for a fan-friendly final against Sean Lazzerini and the Scot also went through.
He stopped Jean Luc Rosalba (Mauritius) in the third and put on a show. They stood in front of each other and Lazzerini had the better defence, quicker fists and better punch variety. The referee gave Rosalba a count late in the second after Lazzerini made his knees deep with a three-punch combination and waved it off in the last after a body shot had Rosalba looking disinterested.
Welsh puncher Taylor Bevan scored another stoppage. Jancen Poutoa (Samoa) put up more resistance than New Zealand champion Onyx Lye did in the previous round, but was outgunned by the 21-year-old.
Bevan switched his fast power punches from body to head effectively in the second and third rounds to drop Poutoa and force the stoppage. Botswana featherweight George Molwantwa had another Best Bout of the Commonwealth Games contender, but this time he was edged out, Alex Mukuka (New Zealand) winning a 3-2 split.
Molwantwa decided to walk through whatever was thrown at him after losing the first on four cards, but by the final minute of the last he was feeling the pace and Mukuka tagged him with some clean shots.