Kurt Walker puts his name in bright lights at Tokyo Olympics
KURT Walker says he needs to get his mind back on an even keel after causing one of the biggest upsets so far at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Lisburn fighter is through to the quarter-final in the men's featherweight division after a thrilling split-decision 4-1 win over gold medal favourite and world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov yesterday morning.
A bruising contest saw Walker take the better of the opening round, as the pair tested each other on every turn, with the Irishman delivering some brilliant combinations to put his Uzbekistani opponent on the back foot.
Mirzakhalilov was not going down easy though and fought back in a relentless second round, with Walker defending extremely well and landing some key blows to hold a slight edge going into the last. A superb third round display from Walker saw him power through, upping his speed and intensity to tire out Mirzakhalilov and push on to deservedly win the fight.
“It’s indescribable. I just need to get my head level again and try and relax and recover, but I am buzzing,” the Canal Academy boxer said.
“I just tried to keep him off – feinting, jabbing, body work. I knew I was fit, so I knew I could definitely do it for two rounds anyway and get the two rounds up, which I did. I knew he was going to push on strong, so I am delighted.
“I knew he is relentless. I knew it was going to be a tough fight. I have a really big heart, I really do and I knew I could dig deep. I have the best coaching staff in the world, 100 per cent. I was delighted to see how happy they were – it brings me on, I am buzzing.”
Walker, 26, insisted the cuts he received over both eyes in yesterday’s fight were just “scratches” and that he has never been more confident.
“This will be hard topped. This is the highlight of my career so far. Biggest stage in the world – beating the champion of the world – a fairy tale, definitely,” he added.
"My confidence was through the roof, there are always doubts in your head before the fight, but the team believed in me. I believed it too and it has happened.”
Walker will now fight for a medal against Duke Ragan of the USA at 3.30am, Irish time, on Sunday. Looking ahead to that quarter-final, Walker said: "I'll listen to my coaches, try and get the tactics right, win and bring a medal back."
The clash also has an interesting side story as it will pit current Ireland boxing coach Zaur Antia against his former boss Billy Walsh, who will be in Ragan’s corner as the current head-coach of US boxing.
"This is going to be Billy Walsh and Zaur Antia coming together in both corners. It's going to be an interesting tactical dilemma. This is going to be fantastic to watch. Who has the boxing brain? Who is going to outwit the other," former Olympic silver medallist Kenneth Egan said on RTÉ yesterday.
Also in the ring on Wednesday, Aoife O'Rourke lost out to China's Qian Li in their round-of-16 middleweight bout in what was the Roscommon fighter’s Olympic debut.
O’Rourke showed arguably the greater work-rate throughout the three rounds, but Li landed the more accurate punches and the 2016 bronze medallist eventually won on a unanimous decision.
“It’s not the result I wanted today. I was beaten by the better girl and everything is a learning curve,” the woman from the Castlerea Boxing Club said afterwards.
“I’m here in Tokyo. Six years ago, my goal probably would have been for Paris 2024 and I’m lucky enough that I got into this Olympic cycle and I’ll go back to the gym now and work for Paris 2024.
“I’ve been working really hard in training and working with the coaches. We had a good plan going in, I put the pressure on her, hoping that she’d back down a bit, but again she just picked me off. She was the better girl on the day.
“Everything is a learning curve. You learn every day. I’ll take it on the chin, go back to the gym and keep working.”