London 2012: Saturday Olympic Bantamweights: Irish Eyes Could Smile for John Joe Nevin


by Charles Jay

Saturday’s opening round for bantamweight action kicks off Olympic boxing, as Joseph Diaz of the United States takes on Pavlo Ishchenko of the Ukraine. Diaz is the #12-rated bantam (56 kg) in the world, according to the AIBA (International Boxing Association). But there are many other rated boxers who will be in competition.

Mohammad Amine Ouadahi of Algeria, who is rated fifth in the worlds, has a first-round match against Merab Turkadze of the Republic of Georgia. Detelin Dalakliev of Bulgaria will tackle Ayabonga Sonjica of South Africa. Braexir Lemboumba of Gabon, who’s #16, and William Encarnacion Alcantara of the Dominican Republic will do battle. Sergey Vodopiyanov of Russia faces Alberto Ezequiel Melian of Argentina,. The #19-rated boxer in the division, Jahyn Vittorio Parrinello of Italy, fights Jonas Matheus of Namibia. And Uzbekistan’s Orzubek Shaymov, who AIBA has as its #18 bantam, will meet Robinelson Verra de Jesus of Brazil.

The highest-ranked AIBA competitor who is involved in the round of 32 on opening day is fourth-rated John Joe Nevin of Ireland, who will take on Dennis Ceylan of Denmark. Nevin has just turned 23, yet he is in his second Olympic Games. He’s been an outstanding competitor for years; at the age of 16 he competed in the World Junior Championships and just two years later he won the European Qualifying Tournament. In Beijing he won his first-round bout before losing in the next round of competition. This time around, he is more experienced and more formidable.

He has twice won a bronze medal in the World Amateur Championships. In the second instance, in 2011, he qualified for these Olympics by reaching the quarterfinal round, but for good measure he took a close decision from the aforementioned Shaymov. With that he traversed new ground as far as Irish boxing history was concerned, a she became the first Irishman to win two medals in world championship competition.

Nevin, like many boxers these days on the world-class amateur scene, has competed in the World Series of Boxing, which has allowed competitors to actually earn money, in effect going pro, while retaining their official amateur status with AIBA. In his particular case, he put on the gloves for Paris United. And with the inclusion of five-round bouts, not to mention the exclusion of headgear, the boxers go to a place not many of their Olympic opponents have seen. The downside is that he suffered a broken jaw in a World Series bout in March, although those connected to the Irish boxing program insist that it is no longer a factor.

Earlier this year he did something that few, if any, of his fellow Olympic competitors have probably done, which was to fight his own cousin for a national title. He was dominant in taking a 23-3 decision from Michael Nevin to win the All-Ireland crown.

It was surprising to some, and somewhat upsetting to Irish boxing fans, that Nevin missed out on gaining a bye to the next round, considering his lefty world ranking. team coach Billy Walsh wasn’t particularly concerned that Nevin would get to the next round in the bracket. Ceylan lost to Ishchenko in the European qualifier this year, and is not expected to pose too serious a challenge for Nevin to move forward.

And by the way, “moving forward” is not necessarily what Nevin does best in the ring. He really has outstanding lateral movement and good footwork, and he’s very good and getting in and out. Four years ago, the speculation was that Nevin might turn pro right after the Beijing Games, but he asserts that was never a consideration. With his speed, ability to throw combinations and ring savvy, it’s little wonder that Nevin is being hailed as a legitimate professional hope for Ireland, which has not had a lot of world champions to brag about.

Nevin thinks of himself as someone who can not only box with some flair, but who can punch as well, and looks at himself as “five times better” than he was when he experienced his first Olympiad as a teenager.

His approach here? “If they are going to beat me, they’re going to have to change tactics,” he told one Irish reporter. “I’ll stick to my own game. The simple stuff. One fight at a time. One round at a time. One minute at a time. That’s the way we look at it.”

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