Taras Shelestyuk of the Ukraine is the #1 welterweight in the world as has been judged by AIBA (International Boxing Association),. And he has been accorded status as the top seed in the welterweight tournament for the 2012 Olympics.
He’s earned his way to this point, having won the World Championships last year with a decision over Serik Sapiyev of Kazakhstan, after having already defeated Krishan Vikas (who lost on an overturned decision to Errol Spence in this year’s Olympic tournament).
Shelestyuk’s path to a medal might not be all that difficult – he has to face Alexis Vastine of France, a much less accomplished boxer who is rated just #39 by AIBA – but his eyes are clearly on the gold.
If he wants that, it may come to a showdown with the second seed (and AIBA #4) welterweight. And that means a rematch with Sapiyev, a southpaw who competed, without a lot of success, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but who nonetheless has won two world championships. In 2005 he literally dismantled the field, winning all of his decisions by double digits, beating Dilshod Mahmudov in the finals. Then in 2007 he did it again, this time in even more dominant fashion, taking care of four of his opponents inside the distance, and winning the other two bouts by scores of 22-6 and 20-5. Make no mistake, he is formidable.
Of course, those earlier tournament triumphs were in the light welterweight class, so he is moving up in weight. Shelestyuk managed to get the better of him before. That happened last year in Baku, where he scored a 16-10 victory over Sapiyev in the finals of the welterweight tournament. Interestingly, in that event, Shelestyuk defeated three contenders who are still involved in the “:final eight” as we approach the Olympic quarterfinals – Andrey Zamkovoy of Russia is one of them, as is Sapiyev. And then there’s Vastine, who he beat by the decisive count of 18-11.
That’s not to say any of this was not surprising. In fact, Shelestyuk was not in the AIBA top twenty at the time, and was not seeded. Sapiyev was the #9 seed. Even Vastine had a seed (#6). So it is fair to say that Shelestyuk’s rise to the top has been swift.
Is it fleeting?
That’s a great question we’ll find out in the next several days. First he must get by Vastine, and if so, then it’s the winner of the bout between Custio Clayton and Freddie Evans. Then maybe Sapiyev.
In these Olympic Games the plot thickens.