Win over Byamba puts Steven Donnelly on the brink of medal

Ireland's Steven Donnelly fights Mongolia's Tuvshinbat Byamba. Picture by PA
Bernard O'Neill

IRISH boxing is off the ropes and back in the fight after Steven Donnelly delivered a crucial win at the Rio Olympics yesterday.

The Ballymena BC welter beat Mongolia’s two-time Olympian Tuvshinbat Byamba on a split decision and is now one win away from claiming at least bronze.

The victory was Donnelly’s second at the tournament in five days.The final scores read 30-27, 29-28, 28-29 to the Antrim man.

Donnelly ended up with a bit of a shiner after yesterday’s encounter, the black eye bearing testament to the battle he came through to get his country back to winning ways after three successive losses this week and Michael O’Reilly’s expulsion from the Olympic village for admitting taking a banned substance.

“We’re (Team Ireland) still in this competition and we’ll be there until the end. I needed to raise the spirits.The dream is still alive, anything is possible,” said the Rio 2016 quarter-finalist.

“It went to plan, a really tough fight, I knew it would be. He was coming forward the whole time, heavy hitter. Plenty of feinting, long one-two, side step when he comes in. I done that most of the fight. I’m flying, starting to feel really good.”

The Ulster ace began sharply with a cluster of combinations against his static opponent, but Byamba, a vastly experienced and durable orthodox, shook off a sluggish start to trouble Donnelly in the close exchanges.

Donnelly,working the body well at midway and straightening Byamba on a number of occasions with his jab, lashed home three solid head shot to take the frame 2-1.

Byamba picked up the pace of an untidy second round to leave the scores level on two cards with Donnelly ahead on one.

But the Irishman was back on his toes, and switching from orthodox to southpaw, found the target with all the big punches going down the final stretch to book his ticket into the last eight.

He’ll now meet Morocco’s number one seed Mohamed Rabii – who beat Kenya’s Nduku Okwiri yesterday – in the quarter-finals tomorrow with a bronze medal up for grabs.

Rabbi, a Casablanca-born orthodox, had an excellent 2015, winning a World Elite title in Doha, Qatar, an African Confederation gold medal in his hometown and six World Series of Boxing (WSB) fights on the trot.

However, he has not been so prolific in 2016. He dropped a unanimous decision to Paul Kroll of the USA in the WSB and was beaten in the semi-finals of the Chemistry Cup by Germany’s Araik Marutjan.

Okwiri also won the second round on two cards against the World champion yesterday. Donnelly reckons he has nothing to lose against the North African.

He added: “He’s a classy operator and he’s not the world champion for nothing but I believe in myself and I’m going to give it everything. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

No Irish boxers are in action today, but the remaining members of the eight-strong team are facing into a massive weekend with Donnelly, Brendan Irvine, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor between the ropes on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Both Conlan and Taylor are the number one seeds in their respective bantam and light classes in Rio.

Irish boxing will be keeping an eye on the result of the women’s lightweight clash between Finland’s Mira Potkonen and Brazil’s Adriana Araujo today.

The winner will meet Taylor, who received a bye, in the quarter-finals at 3pm (Irish time) on Monday.


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