Irish boxer Steven Donnelly is through to the quarter-finals of the men’s welterweight division of the Rio Olympic Games after a split decision victory over Byamba Tuvshinbat of Mongolia.
The Ballymena native will now face current world champion Mohamed Rabii of Morocco. Donnelly, who was close to quitting boxing a few years ago amid personal problems, is now just one fight away from claiming a medal.
The Irish fighter may have been a slight underdog going into this bout but showed no nerves as he confidently bounced his way into the ring and he immediately took the fight to the experienced Mongolian.
With a height and reach advantage, Donnelly got straight into things, unloading a powerful combination from the centre of the ring, pushing his opponent back as he started the first round with real intent. Byamba was forced onto the defensive but was able to catch Donnelly with some quick counters, working his body.
There was a flash of indiscipline from Donnelly when he was warned for hitting on the break, but he quickly regained his composure and set up behind his left jab.
That jab was causing big problems for Byamba as Donnelly connected with it time after time and it was that jab that may have convinced the judges to give him the edge in what was a tight round, with two judges going for Donnelly and one for his opponent.
The pace dropped slightly at the start of the second round and although Donnelly was still finding his range with that left jab, the slower tempo seemed to suit Byamba more as he was able to get inside and connect with a series of body shots and uppercuts. Donnelly started to show some flashes of quick footwork but was being dragged into a brawl by the Mongolian fighter who was warned for leading with his head.
Byamba began to dictate affairs, forcing Donnelly into a static punch-up. The Ballymena fighter allowed himself to be pulled into a dogfight, abandoned his footwork and, as the pace dropped, Byamba took over. Donnelly’s advantage was negated, as was his long jab, and it was no surprise when the scorecards saw the fighters level going into the final round.
Coach Zaur Antia obviously had some harsh words for Donnelly after the second round and the Ballymena man suddenly went back to what was working for him.
He was again fighting on his terms, dancing around his opponent and used his superior footwork to leave Byamba punching air. Donnelly looked to have found a second wind and began to frustrate his opponent, making that left jab really count and working his body before skipping out of danger.
Byamba did manage to get inside on a couple of occasions and caught Donnelly with some stamina-sapping body blows, but the Irishman was able to absorb them and kept his cool, continuing to do what was working for him as he moved around his less mobile rival.
The final round was Donnelly’s best of the fight and although Byamba raised his arms at the end of the fight it was in hope rather than expectation. When the decision came it was Donnelly’s arm which was raised as he deservedly won on a split decision to extend his Olympic journey.
Afterwards a jubilant Donnelly insisted that ‘anything is possible’, as he faces the number one ranked fighter in the world next. Speaking of his next opponent he said: “He’s a classy operator and he’s not the world champion for nothing but as I said in my last interview, I believe in myself and I’m going to give it everything.”
“I’m going to go in and give it my all, I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”