Steve Bunce on Boxing: Signs look good for Rio as Brits live up to hype at the Commonwealth Games

The performances of of British boxers yielded much to look forward to in 2016

They fought their friends for every blood-stained inch of the ring, they had their cuts sealed by grease and, when it was over, nine boxers from the Home Nations moved a fraction closer to the Rio Olympics during Saturday’s finals.

Josh Taylor, Joe Joyce, Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Antony Fowler and Nicola Adams all added gold to the pile of glittering prizes they have collected in rings around the world during a memorable epoch for British and Irish amateur boxing; their gold medals – and those of Savannah Marshall, Charlie Flynn and Scott Fitzpatrick – should serve as the best possible sporting passport to Rio in 2016.

There were high levels of expectation attached to local idol Taylor, golden woman Adams, Barnes of Belfast and the middleweight Fowler, and they all performed when they had to. However, perhaps the best thing to happen in Glasgow is that nobody flopped, nobody fell victim to the ghostly poster campaigns of hope and hype that crushed three or more British boxers at the London Olympics.

Taylor won silver in Delhi four years ago, fell short in London and has been photographed against every conceivable Scottish backdrop during the last two years to occupy the poster-boy slot. On Friday, he beat Sam Maxwell, his English room-mate with the GB squad, in the semi-final and finished Saturday’s first session of finals with the best display of the day to beat Namibia’s Junias Jonas at light-welterweight.

“I have dreamt of getting the gold every night for two years,” said Taylor, who is still only 21. “The only medal that I could win was gold. I can relax now, take a break.”

 

Adams, once again punch and word perfect, won the first female boxing gold at the Commonwealth Games to add to her historic gold in London, but she had a difficult fight against Northern Ireland’s Michaela Walsh. Adams is 31, Walsh 21 and it is clear that a fearless pack of younger fighters are hunting Adams down. “I won the fight and never got the decision,” said Walsh. “The next time there will not be any doubt.”

It was left to Scottish postman Flynn, just 20 but looking about 14, to deliver at lightweight and provide the raw joy when he ended his week of four fights with gold. Flynn beat the best in the tournament, including the Northern Ireland teenager Joe Fitzpatrick in the final, to ruin the guidebook and his tears during an emotionally draining medal ceremony will long be a Glasgow memory. Flynn changed everything in the arena and his every desperate, tired effort was roared on by a crowd that transformed itself into a horde of patriotic fanatics. Incidentally, Taylor followed Flynn into the ring and by the time he had boxed the ears off Jonas, the place resembled a bear pit.

Fowler at middleweight was probably under more pressure than any other English boxer to win and in the middleweight final, he was simply too sharp for Indian veteran Vijender Singh, one of four losing finalists from India.

“Right now, it feels like a dream,” said Fowler, who has spent a lot of time in the gym with Carl Froch and it shows. “It is a long-term plan, always has been, and now the first gold is out of the way, I can start getting ready for Rio.”

The road to Rio for Fowler and the rest of Saturday’s boxers has not yet been clearly established by AIBA, the sport’s governing body.

There are two AIBA alternatives to traditional amateur boxing and oddly both seem to offer an easier passage to Rio. They each drastically move away from the qualification process that was established for Barcelona in 1992 and both the WSB, where fights take place without vests and last for a minimum of five rounds, and the APB, where fights can last as long as 10 rounds, will offer their best boxers most of the Rio spots. It remains to be seen how the WSB and APB boxers will adapt to the Olympic distance of three rounds.

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