By Cain Bradley
The light heavyweight division has changed shape since the last Olympics where it was arguably one of the strongest. Gone are Joe Ward, Carlos Mina, Joshua Buatsi, Elshod Rasulov, Adilbek Niyazymbetov and Julio Cesar La Cruz. It is the absence of the Cuban that is most notable here. Between 2011 and 2017 he won four straight world titles in the division. After losing in the 2019 semi final he has moved up a division. Replacing him will be Arlen Lopez (Cuba). He was the Olympic champion at Middleweight in 2016, putting on a supreme performance. Since then he has not reached the same level. He medalled at neither of the last two World Championships, going down to Amankul and Backshi, precipitating a move up in weight. He has not competed internationally at Light Heavyweight but at his best he is a serious danger. His punch variety is excellent and he is comfortable in either stance throwing precise punches from all angles with good power at Middleweight. The man who ended the reign of his compatriot in 2019 is Bekzad Nurdauletov (Kazakhstan). He beat Julio Cesar La Cruz in the semi final, dropping him in the second and went on to become World Champion. He is a southpaw who times his punches well, landing a solid one-two from his southpaw stance. He won the Governors Cup earlier this year but has been defeated twice by boxers who will not compete in Tokyo.
Another veteran who has moved up from the middleweight division is Jorgé Vivas (Colombia). The 33-year-old is short for the division but previously won silver at the 2015 Pan-American Games. He is confident defensively, often keeping his hands low and swings his punches with serious power. In a young division, Emmett Brennan (Ireland) is another boxer over 30. He performed well to qualify but has lost to most of the top boxers he has fought in international competition. He mainly prefers to fight in a phone booth, looking to land big hooks. He had to win a box-off after losing to Luka Plantic (Croatia). The 2014 European Youth Champion and 2017 European Championship bronze medalist has already had his first professional win. He is an effective worker to the body who uses his size and strength to overwhelm opponents. The reigning European champion is Loren Alfonso (Azerbaijan). He is another boxer of Cuban descent who represents Azerbaijan. He made the 2019 World Championship quarter final as the number two seed. He had almost two years off following the 2019 World Championship, returning to a stoppage defeat by Nadir Unal. Unal is the number two Turkish boxer and it will be Bayram Malkan (Turkey) representing in Tokyo. He reached both the quarterfinals at the 2019 European Games and World Championships. Only 21, he prefers to be on the back foot, looking to counter punch.
Another country with more than one good option is Russia. Georgy Kushitashvili was the clubhouse leader, representing Russia in the 2019 World Championships but following an arrest for possession of drugs and assault of an officer, the spot instead went to Iman Khataev (Russia). He is another big and strong boxer who uses his physicality to his advantage. He uses educated pressure and lands powerful punches. At the European qualifiers he was defeated by Alfonso. Abdelrahman Salah (Egypt) is one of the top African contenders. He won at the 2019 African Games and the Olympics qualifiers. He lost in the World Championship round of sixteen. He fights in a crouched stance and often leaps in, looking for big hooks. He competed in 2016 where he lost to Hrvoje Sep in the first round. The other competitor with links to a previous Olympics is Shakul Samed (Ghana). He had two brothers who competed in the 2008 Olympics. Neither progressed past the round of sixteen so he will be looking to improve on that. He is willing to take a punch to give one and his lack of movement means he will stand in the middle of the ring and engage. He is short for the weight but can put his combinations together nicely. The Asian champion and arguably the favourite is Dilshodbek Ruzmetov (Uzbekistan). The Southpaw also won the Strandja tournament this year. He’s the World Champion silver medalist and the 22-year-old’s best combination is his straight left, right hook which he times really well. He had to rely on the rankings to qualify though as he was knocked out in the Asian qualification tournament.
The man who beat him was Paulo Aokuso (Australia). Another young fighter at 23, he is new to the international boxing scene. He is very hard to pin down, an evasive southpaw, who is has quick movement both from his feet and head. He has the full repertoire of punches and you can tell that he is inspired by Roy Jones Jr. Another upset came in that qualification as Chen Daxiang (China) defeated Adylbek Uulu. He was the busier boxer in that matchup. He is a tall fighter who times his punches well. Keno Machado (Brazil) is another young contender at only 21 who may be ready to really compete. He is tall with long arms, although he often keeps his lead hand low. He won the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 and won the Tammer tournament the following year. He also won silver at the 2019 Pan-American Games where he beat Rogelio Romero (Mexico). The Mexican is 6’3 but has mainly lost when stepping up in competition, most notably in five defeats to Julio Cesar La Cruz. He boxes in a southpaw stance and likes to step in behind his long punches. The other bronze medal at the Pan-American Games was won by Nalek Korbaj (Venezuela). He is 5’8 and has gone unbeaten as a professional. He is short and stout, looking to put pressure on his opponents and he can land with power. He tries to duck under opponents punches and has good head movement on the way in.
Another of the taller boxers is Ben Whittaker (Great Britain). He was the EU Champion in 2018 and won bronze in the 2019 World Championship. He is a slick fighter with great footwork and defensive instincts who punches with power.
Arguably the most powerful puncher in the division is Gazimagomed Jalidov (Spain). Born in Dagestan, he moved to Spain at ten. One of his big stoppage wins came against Odai Al-Hindawi (Jordan). He won silver at the 2014 Asian Games but tends to struggle with a step up despite his experience. He is a rugged, smart fighter. Shabbos Negmatulloev (Tajikstan) won bronze at the 2021 Asian Championships. He is an intelligent fighter who prefers to throw hooks. He made the quarter final of the 2017 World Championship. Another aggressor is Mohamed Assaghir (Morocco), but he is not fast on his feet. He upset the number three seed Peter Pita in the African qualifiers, before losing a decision to Mohammed Houmri (Algeria) who is another tough but hittable boxer who won the bronze medal in the 2019 African Games.
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