Galal Yafai dug deep to end a 55-year drought for the UK.
In one of the best fights of the Tokyo Olympics, Yafai outlasted Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov and reached the men’s flyweight final. Yafai forced a standing eight in the opening round and made his way to victory in an entertaining exchange of blows on Thursday afternoon at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.
Yafai is the first British flyweight to compete for a gold medal since 1956.
Bibossinov would never take it easy on himself, although his aggression hurt him early on. Yafai caught the Kazakh boxer in his left hand, forced a standing eight, and did well enough for the rest of the round to win 10-9 on all five cards.
Round two was non-stop action with Yafai right in the pocket. Bibossinov was right with him, wading through a series of left hands to land several straight rights. Little separated the two, but Bibossinov got enough credit to allow anyone to fight into the third and final round.
Yafai ended the show in style, beating Bibossinov to the limit and playing enough defense not to be caught with a dramatic shot that ruined his dream of the gold medal. The youngest of the struggling Yafai family – including former WBA junior bantamweight champion Kal Yafai and bantamweight Gamal Yafai – is the third Briton to reach the finals in Tokyo and the sixth overall to achieve a medal.
Yafai now meets Carlo Paalam, who wants to be the first boxer from the Philippines to win gold. The free-swinging flyweight – one of three Filipinos who won a medal in Tokyo – is now in the finals after defeating the Japanese Ryomei Tanaka.
Palaam won every round on every card with a score of 30-27 across the board. He is now joining Nesthy Petecio to guarantee the Philippines at least two silver medals, but with the chance to bring home the nation’s first gold in boxing.
Tanaka – whose younger brother Kosei is an active flyweight pro and a former three-division champion – will take home bronze, as will Bibossinov.
Yafai and Paalam will meet on August 7th in the first gold medal battle of the day.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox