Rio Olympics: Steven Donnelly through to welterweight quarter-finals
Ballymena's Steven Donnelly is through to the Olympic welterweight quarter-finals as he edged Mongolian Tuvshinbat Byamba.
Donnelly's aggression was evident from the first bell, with the welterweight landing two powerful flurries within ten seconds of the start. Byamba responded in kind with some big shots but Donnelly was able to pick off his Mongolian opponent with some strong jabs. Right before the final bell, Donnelly landed a nice shot flush on Byamba's face and two of the judges gave Donnelly the first round.
Donnelly continued to move well in the second, picking his opponent off with some precise shots. Although the power punches from round one were missing, the Irish fighter did enough to get the nod from two judges once again.
However, such are the vagaries of Olympic boxing that Donnelly needed to win the final round to guarantee his progression.
Irish fans needn't have worried though, as Donnelly skipped around Byamba in the final three minutes and landed enough telling punches to ultimately earn an overall split decision and move into the welterweight quarter-finals.
Steven Donnelly is on the right road as quest for glory hots up
By Sean McGoldrick
Steven Donnelly sports three tattoos on his left arm. He celebrated becoming an Olympian by having the image of Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue added to his forearm.
But it is the two other words - redemption and dedication - stamped on his biceps which reveal the true nature of the journey he has taken to make the 2016 Games.
It has been well documented that Donnelly was sent home early from the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. And for the next two years his life went into a downward spiral.
But his club coach in Ballymena's All Saints boxing club, Gerry Hamill, refused to give up on him. One day he turned up at Donnelly's home.
"I heard his jeep stopping outside: I wanted to walk past him but he asked me to come into the room and told me to sit down. I couldn't look him straight in the eye," Donnelly said.
He made his second chance count; so much so that he is two wins away from securing an Olympic medal having won his first fight in Rio on Sunday.
Seeded at No.8, he had an emphatic 3-0 (29-28, 30-26, 30-27) win over Algerian Zohir Kedache in the first round. Today's fight against 29-year-old Tuvshinbat Byamba of Mongolia (4.45pm) represents a step up in class for the 27-year-old welterweight.
But according to Irish assistant coach Eddie Bolger, Donnelly can't wait to get back into the ring. "Steven is in great shape. His run-in, his taper are fantastic. He's really ready to go and I'd say that couple of rounds will do him the world of good. It's all about performing in those three rounds," Bolger said.
Donnelly achieved his Olympic dream through the World Boxing Series - though his passage wasn't as straightforward as those of his fellow Ulstermen Michael Conlan, who has his first fight on Sunday, and Paddy Barnes, on the wrong end of a shock first round defeat at the hands of Spaniard Samuel Carmona Heredia on Monday, ending the two-time bronze medallist's dreams of gold.
The Polish-based Hussars team provided Donnelly with a lifeline after seeing him win the gold medal in the Feliks Stamm tournament in Warsaw.
For the first time in his career he was being paid - €500 for each appearance with a €1500 win bonus. He exceeded expectations by winning four of his five fights but still only finished fourth in the rankings, with only the top two qualifying for Rio.
But there was one twist left in the tale. Two Russian boxers, Andrey Zamkovoy and Radzhab Butaev, qualified in the 69kg category but countries are only allowed one boxer per division.
The showdown between the pair took place at the Russian championship in Samara last November. Donnelly celebrated when the 'right' result came through. Zamkovoy won which meant the Irishman had secured his spot through his WSB rating.
Zamkovoy is already out of the Games. But Donnelly remains on target to fulfil the prophecy made by Irish coach Zaur Antia when he first saw him as a 17-year-old. He predicted that one day he could be an Olympic champion.
Given their experiences so far in Rio - middleweight Michael O'Reilly off home after a doping violation, the Laois boxer saying he unintentionally took a supplement that may have contained a banned substance - the Irish camp will be happy to see Donnelly win, especially after Joe Ward's exit on points last night to Ecuador's Carlos Andres Mina.