Russia emerges champion

IT was an event which, besides throwing up the usual controversies, also rung in several new changes in the ring.

IT was an event which, besides throwing up the usual controversies, also rung in several new changes in the ring. Prominent among those was the emergence of Russia as the new champion in the world of amateur boxing at the expense of the perennial powerhouse Cuba.

In fact, the 12th World amateur boxing championship had it all as 333 pugilists from 58 countries fought hard over seven days in their quest to glory. And the two rings specially erected at the Nimibutr gymnasium within Bangkok's National stadium were indeed packed with some great action before the meet ended with only four boxers being able to manage a second straight world title — repeating their success from Belfast in 2001.

The Cuban army had demolished almost everything within its sight in Northern Ireland, two years ago, before winding up its campaign with an enviable haul of seven golds out of the total 12 at stake. But in the Thai capital, Cuba, though arriving with the limited expectations of retaining only five of those seven titles, could win only three after it received quite a few unexpected blows along the way.

That only four of its boxers were able to make it to the final round of their respective weight categories was by itself a telling commentary on the unexpected slide that Cuban boxing suffered in Bangkok before the nation was displaced by Russia from the top of the medals tally. Russia had six of its men in the ring on the final day and though it won only three golds, the two additional silvers that it picked up, when compared to Cuba's haul of three golds and one silver, finally decided the team title in its favour.

Two of the remaining five golds, up for grabs, were garnered by Kazakhstan — for sure, the surprise packet of the championship — while the host Thailand, France and Azerbaijan shared the rest of the spoils. Somjit Jongjorhor's golden win against Frenchman Jerome Thomas, the reigning world champion in the 51kg class, not only marked Thailand's first ever title triumph in the history of the event but also provided sufficient compensation for the three final heart-breaks that the country had suffered in 1990, when Bangkok had hosted the premier tournament for the first time.

Germany, considering its performance in the previous editions and the failure of such boxing heavyweights as Romania and Turkey to land even a single medal, too had a profitable outing in the Thai capital with five of its nine-member squad progressing to the semifinal stage. And though only Vitali Tajbert (57kg), a former World junior champion, reached the final, it was still a creditable show by Germany even as the world mourned for the pugilists from the United States, a former powerhouse, which, in the end, was left to cling on to a lone bronze. The 11-member American team had arrived after a strenuous three-week-long training camp but soon found itself in tatters as eight of its pugilists were black-eyed in the first round itself amid allegations of biased officiating.

The U.S., which gave the boxing world Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Oscar de la Hoya, had failed to win a gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and had again left the 2001 World championship in Belfast without a title, forcing its head coach, Frank Gentile, to confess: "It is back to the drawing board for us. This is damaging just one year out from the Olympics. We have got to change tactics. We had top liners at these championships and a lot of them lost to controversial decisions. It was one of those tournaments."

Like in the Cold War days, Russia would beg to disagree with this American assessment. Especially, as Bangkok was the last stop for the boxers prior to the much-awaited Olympic Games next year when the world's largest sporting event would be returning to its original home after a gap of exactly 108 years. Having wound up its campaign in Belfast with a tally of two golds, the gain of an additional gold plus the coveted team title in the Thai capital could well make Russia a dangerous opponent for the rest in Athens.

The Bangkok event is also certain to be remembered for yet another reason. That of China's medal-winning entry on to the boxing scene, signalling the possible beginning of a major push for medals of the golden hue at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The Chinese presence for the first time in the history of the championship was confirmed by Zou Shimming, a pencil-slim 22-year-old with quick hands and feet, who stunned the Cuban defending champion Yan Varela Bateleny on his way to the final of the lightfly (48kg) division. And although Russia's Sergey Kazakov proved too strong for Zou Shimming in the title-round, the coaches of other nations, watching the proceedings, were aware that a sleeping giant had been aroused as the Chinese lost the close battle by only a mere four points.

Shimming's second round win over Varela, was by no means a flash in the pan. He proved this as he scalped Euro 2002 bronze-medallist Rudolf Dydi (Slovakia) and Belfast 2001 third place winner Harry Tanamor (Philippines) in successive rounds to enter the final. Two-time European champion Kazakov, a veteran hunter for the World championship gold, too, was faced with a tough draw all along after he overcame India's Qamar Ali Mohammed, on points, in the opening round. However, the Russian's biggest obstacle was Suban Pannon, one of the two hopes for the host Thailand, in the quarterfinals, before he met Busan Asian Games silver-medallist Karim Nouman (Pakistan) in the semifinals. The final bout, as such, was a close affair and it was the inexperience of the young Chinese boxer, which finally helped Kazkov to prevail over his opponent.

Despite Pannon's early exit, Thailand still found its first ever World championship gold through Somjit, who had some luck with the draw and met only one tough opponent before he ran into his French rival, 24-year-old Jerome Thomas, in the final. That one was up against the hard punching Cuban Yulielki Gamboa in the quarterfinals, which the Thai won narrowly on points (23-22). Somjit then had it easy against Germany's Rustam Rahimov in the semifinals, winning the tie comfortably by a 12-5, 31-19 margin. If the Thai thus was blessed with luck en route to the final, it was not the same for Thomas who had to battle tough opponents such as Philippino Violito Payla and Bulgarian Alexandar Vladimirov in successive bouts to get to the gold medal round. However, in the final, the French pugilist proved to be of no match to his Thai rival, who settled the issue in the first two rounds itself.

The 54kg class saw some interesting match ups before Agassi Mamedov Agagologlu emerged a <147,4,0>deserving winner and presented Azerbaijan, his new adopted country, with its lone gold of the championship. The bantamweight fighter had won the 2000 Euro title and a silver in Belfast under the Turkish flag, but had proved to be unlucky, soon after his nationality change last year, losing to eventual champion Khavgasi Khasigov (Belarus) in the 2002 Euro meet. But this time around, the technical fighter that he is, Mamedov won the respect of the specialists once more after passing through a tough road to reach the title. The first big hurdle itself for the Azerbaijan boxer was very tough — reigning champion Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba. He was pitted against Tajikistan's Sokhib Usarov and Bulgaria's Detelin Dalakliev in the next two rounds before he met Gennady Kovalyov in the title-round. The Russian had stopped Khasigov in the quarterfinals to gain revenge for his loss at the hands of his rival in the final of the 2002 Euro championship.

Kazakhstan, which had a real good time in the ring in Busan, once again proved its mettle in fine fashion as it had the rest of the world at its feet in Bangkok. The breakaway Republic of the former Soviet Union was represented by a 14-member squad in these championships and <147,5,0>had four of its fighters in the quarterfinals and two in the final. One among them was Galib Jafarov, who took the gold in the 57kg categroy with an easy win over German Vitlati Tajbert on points (43-35). Earlier, the World junior champion Alexey Tischenko (Russia), who was preferred over two-time World champion Raimkul Malaklbekov, 2001 World bronze medallist Joni Turinen (Finland) and former European champion Viorel Simion (Romania), faded away with unimpressive performances.

It would have been a real surprise in the event of any other result emerging from the light (60kg) category. But two-time World champion Mario Kindelan (Cuba) hardly gave any chance to his opposition before he expectedly took his third straight title. The Cuban was once again in fine form as he took Euro 2000 silver-medallist Boris Georgiev (Bulgaria), Asian Games runner-up Baik Jong-Sub (South Korea) and former World junior champion Gyula Kate (Hungary) in his stride before out-punching local hope Pichai Sayotha quite convincingly in the final.

But for Jerome Thomas' failure to retain his title in the 51kg class, France still had some of its prestige redeemed through Willy Blain in the 64kg division, who after his cake-walk final win over 1997 World champion Alexander Maletin (Russia), was also adjudged as the best boxer of the championship. The 25-year-old pugilist from Paris was also quite convincing as he outclassed another spectacular boxer and 2001 World champion Diogenes Luna (Cuba) in the quarterfinals and then stopped Thailand's Manas Boonjamnong, the earlier conqueror of Asian Games winner Karimzhanov Nurzhan (Kazakhstan), in the semifinals.

Like Mario Kindelan in the 60kg class, another Cuban, Lorenzo Aragon, too had it easy in the 69kg category. But not before he was taken to the full distance by 2000 Euro champion Bulent Ulusoy (Turkey) in the second round. The rest of the campaign was quite easy for Aragon before he scored over Uzbekistan's Sherzod Husanov in the final, in a repeat of his semifinal win over the same opponent at Belfast in <147,6,0>2001. The easy ride for Aragon was in a way made possible by the early exit of the 1997 World champion Dorel Simion (Romania), 2002 Euro gold-medallist Andrey Mishin (Russia), 2001 World bronze-medallist James Moore (Ireland), Asian Games winner Kim Jung-Joo (South Korea) and Sebastian Zbik (Germany).

It was Gennadiy Golovkin's triumphant march over Oleg Mashkin (Ukraine) in the 75kg, which eventually helped Kazakhstan gain the third spot in the medal classification. The young boxer came to the fore with terrific wins over the biggest Romanian hope Lucian Bute in the quarterfinals and the 2001 World bronze-medallist Yordanis Despaigne (Cuba) in the semifinals. Incidentally, Golovkin's final win over Mashkin, the lone medallist from his country at the event, was also the one single fight which did not go the full distance on the last day. The Ukrainian was battered by his rival right through the first round and the early part of the second, before the referee stepped in to stop the bout.

Yevgeniy Makarenko (Russia) was one of the four lucky winners from Belfast who could defend their titles in Bangkok. The Russian, who had won the 2002 Euro heavy title, was ruthless as he moved back to his pet lightheavy (81kg) category and mowed down his opposition in style. His second World title was confirmed with a 29-11 points win over Magomed Aripgadzhiev (Belarus) in the final. The rest of the two categories — heavy and superheavy — saw direct battles between Russia and Cuba. In the 91kg class, Cuba's Odlanier Sollis won over Alexander Alexeev with a narrow margin, but his compatriot Pedro Carrion was not that lucky against Alexander Povetkin in the +91kg category. In fact, it was Povetkin's win over Carrion, which helped Russia to conquer the rest of the world in Bangkok.

The results (all finals):

48kg: Sergey Kazakov (Rus) bt Zou Shiming (Chn), on points (23-19); 51kg: Somjit Jongjohor (Tha) bt Jerome Thomas (Fra), on points (24-17); 54kg: Agassi Mamedov Agagologlu (Aze) bt Gennady Kovalyov (Rus), on points (17-8); 57kg: Galib Jafarov (Kaz) bt Vitalti Tajbert (Ger), on points (43-35); 60kg: Mario Kindelan (Cub) bt Pichai Sayotha (Tha), on points (45-27); 64kg: Willy Blain (Fra) bt Alexander Maletin (Rus), on points (32-13); 69kg: Lorenzo Aragon (Cub) bt Sherzod Husanov (Uzb), on points (17-9); 75kg: Gennadiy Golovkin (Kaz) bt Oleg Mashkin (Ukr), RSC 2nd round (10-6); 81kg: Yevgeniy Makarenko (Rus) bt Magomed Aripgadzhiev (Blr), on points (29-11); 91kg: Odlanier Solis (Cub) bt Alexander Alexeev (Rus), on points (18-15); +91kg: Alexander Povetkin (Rus) bt Pedro Carrion (Cub), on points (29-27).