The Olympics will officially open on Friday with the first boxing contests scheduled to begin the following day, culminating with the final on August 8 at the Ryoguku Kokugikan.
There will be eight male weight classes, though at a recent AIBA conference it was decided to increase that to 10 divisions. However, that will not take effect until after the Olympics.
We have three returning champions – Julio Cesar La cruz, Arlen Lopez and Shakhobidin Zoirov – who will be bidding to join the likes of their legendary peers such as Felix Savon, Teofilo Stevenson, Laszlo Papp, Ariel Hernandez, Harry Mallin, Oleg Saitov, Mario Kindelan, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux as double Olympic gold medalists. In fact, Savon, Stevenson and Papp managed the feat three times.
There are many strong weight classes, that look primed to create some entertainment and build future stars. Some will also likely make the transition to bolster the professional ranks.
Here we assess what we can expect in each division.
FLYWEIGHT (52 kg) 114.64-pounds
THE SKINNY: The light flyweight and flyweight divisions have merged since 2016. We’ll have all four medalists from the two combined divisions in attendance. Shakhobidin Zoirov is the reigning Olympic and World Champion. The Uzbekistan boxer have to contend with Yoel Finol, who he beat to the gold in 2016. Finol has fought three times as a pro, and will be back looking for revenge against Zoirov. 2016 49 kg silver medal winner Yuberjen Martinez is also returning. Ryomei Tanaka, whose younger brother Kosei is a three-weight world champion in the pros, will have home advantage and might be his country’s best hope of a medal. 2017 World Championship gold medalist and hugely experienced Cuban Yosvany Veita, Rio bronze medalist Hu Jianguan, World Youth gold medalist Thitisan Panmod, 2019 World bronze medalists Saken Bibossinov and Billal Bennama add strength to the lightest weight class. Ireland’s Brendan Irvine and Britain’s Gal Yafai have won medals in European championships. This is their moment to show they can step up.
THE MEDAL HOPES: It’s never easy to repeat your successes and Zoirov will find that out, though it will be tough to unseat him. Veita, Jianguan and Tanaka will be there or there abouts.
FEATHERWEIGHT (57 kg) 125.66-pounds
THE SKINNY: Things have changed since 2016, instead of bantamweight at 56 kg, the division is now featherweight at 57 kg. The big names Shakur Stevenson and Murodjon Akhmadaliev have gone pro with considerable success. Robeisy Ramirez and Michael Conlan have moved a little slower but are close to making their respective moves. None of the medalists from 2016 are returning. Experienced Cuban Lazaro Alvarez has won three World Championship golds but has never been able to get more than a bronze in his two Olympic appearances. Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov, turned pro in April, but the 2019 World Championship gold medalist is back and looking to complete the double. Perennial contender Chatchai Butdee will look to use his vast experience. Peter McGrail from Great Britain has won bronze at the past two World Championships and is a solid contender. Duke Ragan turned pro before getting an unexpected opportunity. It will be interesting to see how the young American does. Albert Batyrgaziev is another who went pro. The 23-year-old Russian looks to be one to keep an eye on.
Duke Ragan throws a right hand at Sebastian Gutierrez
THE MEDAL HOPES: Mirzakhalilov to claim gold with Batyrgaziev picking up silver, leaving Alvarez and Ragan having to settle for bronze medals.
LIGHTWEIGHT (63 kg) 138.89-pounds
THE SKINNY: Some very good fighters but the clear standout performer is Cuban Andy Cruz, who, at 25, is in the thick of his prime. He has won the World Championships in 2017 and 2019 and is ready for his big moment. Keyshawn Davis lost in the final of the 2019 Worlds and Pan-Am games to Cruz. Can the American find a way past his nemesis? Frenchman Sofiane Oumiha is a constant on the amateur scene and collected silver in 2016. Luke McCormack and the physically strong Hovhannes Bachkov also look capable of making some noise. Experienced Japanese fighter Daisuke Narimatsu will be taking part in his second Olympics and have home support.
THE MEDAL HOPES: Cruz will be the strong favorite, while Davis will claim a silver. Oumiha and Bachkov can take home the bronze.
WELTERWEIGHT (69 kg) 152.11-pounds
THE SKINNY: Several fighters will be heading to Tokyo with realistic aspirations of bringing home the biggest prize. It appears a wide-open field with no clear favorite. Cuban Roniel Iglesias won bronze in 2008 and gold in 2012. Cuban beanpole Lorenzo Sotomayor is representing Azerbaijian and claimed bronze for them in 2016. At 36, this is likely his last opportunity at an Olympics. Andrey Zamkovoy is another stalwart in the division, who regularly medals. Pat McCormack, Bobo-Usmon Baturov, Ablaikhan Zhussupov, Delante Johnson and Rohan Polanco add youth and make this one of the toughest divisions to predict.
THE MEDAL HOPES: It will be interesting to see if the old guard are able to summon one big effort to secure medals or if the younger guys can win out. McCormack to win gold, Sotomayor will run him close but have to settle for silver and Iglesias and Zhussupov round out the division claiming bronze.
MIDDLEWEIGHT (75 kg) 165.34-pounds
THE SKINNY: A strong field with several fighters taking aim at to gold. Middleweight is also home to the man some consider the best amateur boxer in the world, Oleksandr Khyzhniak. The uber talented Ukrainian fighter won gold at the European and World Championships in 2017 and will likely be courted by the major promoters after the Olympics. When Khyzhniak didn’t take part in the 2019 World Championships, Gleb Bakshi made the most of his opportunity and bested Eumir Marcial in the final. When you factor in Abilkhan Amankul from Kazahkstan, who beat Arlen Lopez en route to winning silver, losing to Khyzhniak in the final, you have added strength. Troy Isley from America and Darrelle Valsaint, who is from Florida but fighting for Haiti, have both turned pro but were allowed to jump back to the amateurs are both worth keeping an eye on.
THE MEDAL HOPES: I like Khyzhniak to win gold but it won’t be easy due to the overall strength of the division. Bakshu, Macial and Amankul could also contest medals.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT (81 kg) 178.57-pounds
THE SKINNY: With long-time No. 1. Julio Cesar La Cruz now up at light heavyweight the field has opened up. However, it no weaker and has extra star power with the addition of his countryman and Olympic and World Championship gold medalist Arlen Lopez. Bekzad Nurdauletov of Kazahkstan is the reigning World Championship gold medalist and may be seen as the man standing in Lopez way. Benjamin Whittaker of Great Britain is just 24 and Dilshodbek Ruzmetov of Uzbekistan is 22 and seem to be growing as fighters and will be worth watching. Cuban ex-patriot Loren Alfonso, who now boxes out of Azerbaijan, holds wins over Whittaker and will have aspirations of showing his former homeland what they are missing.
THE MEDAL HOPES: The hunch is that Lopez and Nurdauletov will meet to decide who takes home the gold and Whittaker and Ruzmetov settle for bronze.
HEAVYWEIGHT (91 kg) 200.62-pounds
THE SKINNY: Vastly experienced Julio Cesar La Cruz is the class of the division, winning 11 medals internationally, which includes Olympic gold in 2016 and has a hugely impressive haul of four World Championship gold medals to his name. However, it should be noted all those titles came at light heavyweight. It will be interesting to see how the Cuban star does in the higher weigh class. Vassiliy Levit has been the cornerstone of the division for several years. He claimed silver at the 2016 Olympics and bronze at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. His class is undeniable, but can he get over the hump? His chances are doubtlessly aided by no clear favorite to win the top prize. Muslim Gadzhimagomedov is the reigning World Champion is could well complete the double. Britain’s Cheavon Clarke, Ecuadorian southpaw Julio Castillo and perennial contender Abdelhafid Benchabla add experience and depth to the division while New Zealander David Nyika, who turned professional in February, will bring some youth and the x-factor.
THE MEDAL HOPES: Gadzhimagomedov might be the slight favorite to claim gold. La Cruz and Levit are well placed to medal and Nyika could be considered an outsider.
SUPER HEAVYWEIGHT (91+ kg) 200.62-pounds +
THE SKINNY: All four medalists from the last Olympics have made the switch to the professional boxing. That cleared the way for Bakhodir Jalalov, who has been able to box professionally, whilst also taking part in amateur tournaments with considerable success to step into the breach. The division has been hit by the late omissions of Justis Huni, who has also boxed professional and Leuila Mau’u. Dainier Pero from Cuba, will follow in his brother Lenier’s footsteps by representing Cuba at the Olympics. He has won the World Youth Championship in 2016 and has also won national titles as a teenager and has a bright future. American representative Richard Torrez will hope to fair better than he did when he was knocked out by Jalalov at the 2019 Worlds. Kamshybek Kunkabayev has been the bridesmaid, winning silver at five major tournaments, including the last two editions of the World Championships. Can the Kazakh go one better? Hulking Ukrainian Tsotne Rognova is experienced and will add depth, as will perennial medalist Frazer Clarke from the U.K., who has had to patiently watch more celebrated countrymen Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce have their moments in 2012 and 2016 respectively. It is also worth keeping an eye on Russian born, French southpaw Mourad Aliev, who claimed silver at the 2019 European games.
THE MEDAL HOPES: Jalalov is reigning World Championship gold medalist and will be widely favored to double up in Tokyo, anything else would be a big surprise. Kunkabayev should be around the medals and might again claim silver leaving the likes of Pero, Rognova, Torrez, Clarke and Aliev to fight it out for the bronze. I favor Aliev and Clarke to gain bronze.
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