Galal Yafai dodged the temptation to join his brothers in the pro ranks to pursue his dream of bringing home a gold medal.
The flyweight rep for Great Britain is only one fight away from competing for the award after beating Cuban Yosbany Veitia in the grandiose quarter-finals in the flyweight division on Tuesday at the Kokugikan Arena. Yafai won four of the five scorecards (30-27, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28) making it the sixth boxer from Great Britain to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Gafai – whose older brother Kal was a former WBA junior bantamweight champion – was forcing a frantic pace for which Veitia was ready. The flyweight southpaw fight never slowed as both boxers repeatedly scored with straight left hands.
In the end, it was Gafai who bit and ended the show when it mattered most in the fight. It delivers the fourth medal among the British men’s team, matching the booty of the 2012 team that competed at home in London.
Yafai will next face Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov in the men’s flyweight semifinals. Bibossinov advanced after a hard-fought, if not controversial, decisive win over Gabriel Escobar (Spain).
Bibossinov dropped Escobar in the opening round and received a nod on four of the five cards in the third and final round to emerge victorious in his favor with 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. Escobar won 29:28 on two cards, but not enough to advance or keep Spain in the medal hunt.
Bibossinov’s victory gives Kazakhstan its second medal in Tokyo.
The consensus from the men’s flyweight quarterfinal opening bout is that Yuberjen Martinez is destined to make it way into the pro ranks.
Unfortunately, his dream of getting a gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics to Colombia missed two fights – even if it didn’t.
Martinez was considered unhappy to come up short in the quarter-finals on Tuesday against the Japanese Ryomei Tanaka. Their spirited fight – which was the first of the day – resulted in a split-decision victory for Tanaka, who entered the medal round as the first male boxer from the host nation and the third member of the overall standings.
All five judges rated the competition 29-28, four for Tanaka and one for Martinez, who probably deserved much better.
The Colombian flyweight got off to a strong start, winning the first round on four of the five scorecards. Martinez appeared to be just as dominant in round two, except that Tanaka – the older brother of former three-division champion Kosei Tanaka – won three of the five cards, good enough to round all but one card to the final.
Tanaka shot forward in the final three minutes to secure victory and advance into the medal round. He is guaranteed at least bronze, as is Carlo Paalam from the Philippines, who prevailed in a fight that was shortened due to the shortening of both boxers by majority decision against the 2016 Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov (Uzbekistan).
Paalam stormed to an early lead, brought the fight to Zoirov and upset the Uzbek southpaw. The approach was enough to sweep the opening lap and Paalam enjoyed a damn second lap until he nearly fell into disaster.
A clash of heads cut both Boxers, Paalam high above his scalp and Zoirov above his left eye. The fight ended before the bell to end the second round and Paalam was already partying as if he knew what was coming.
The Filipino flyweight instinct proved prophetic, winning on four of the five scorecards. Paalam, the second male boxer from the Philippines to advance to the medal round, will join Eumir Marcial in the middleweight division.
Zoirov is the most recent accidental death on an Uzbek team that underperformed its seven-fold medal in Rio in 2016.
Both semi-finals will take place on Thursday, August 5th. The winner will move into the gold medal on Saturday, August 7th.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox