John Joe Nevin will have the opportunity to go farther than he’s ever gone before on Saturday as he pursues Olympic gold, and under ordinary circumstances there would be very little question that the Irishman would have a sizable degree of crowd support.
Except that he is facing a boxer from Great Britain in the final.
Nevin pulled off one of the more significant wins in the 2012 Olympics in the bantamweight semifinals, beating the top seed and AIBA-rated #1 in the world, Lazaro Alvarez Estrada of Cuba.
It was important that Nevin get off to a very good start, and that is exactly what he did. He threw some razor-sharp right hands, and it was apparent that Alvarez was not expecting that Nevin could really deal with him on even terms and then some. At the end of he first round Nevin led the bout by two points, so Alvarez was digging himself a hole.
Alvarez, who won the 2011 World Championships at bantamweight as well as the Pan Am Games, was simply shocked and had a hard time gaining any momentum in front of a crowd that was largely supportive of Nevin, who won all three rounds, the last by a 7-5 score.
He fight for the crowd as well as the gold medal when he faces Luke Campbell of Great Britain, who lost to Alvarez in the finals of last year’s World Championships and came into this tournament as the #3 seed. As such, he had a bye into the second round of the competition. He had it very very tight in the first two bouts he had, beating Italy’s Jahyn Vittorio Parrinello by a 11-9 score and then edging out Detelin Dalakliev by a 16-15 count.
Then he left very little doubt whatsoever in the semifinals, as he scored a decisive 20-11 decision over Satoshi Shimizu of Japan.
Campbell, a southpaw who won the European Championships in 2008, took up boxing when he was 13 years old. Within a decade he had been named the amateur boxer of the year in Great Britain.
Nevin, an Irish traveler, has ranked as high as #4 by AIBA and will almost certainly improve upon that now. He is in his second Olympics, having been eliminated in the second round of competition in 2008. He has won a bronze medal in both 2009 and 2011 in the World Amateur Championships.
That brings us to the head-to-head battles between these two. In 2009, when they faced off at the European Union Championships, Nevin won the bout with very little problem. Then they had a rematch for higher stakes, in those World Amateur Championships, and in that one Campbell short-circuited Nevin’s attempt at making it to the final bout, beating him in a bout that took a countback to decide, after the judges had it deadlocked at 12.