Female Boxing – Boxers from the Republic of Kazakhstan, home to nearly 18 million people, have fared well in international amateur competitions. In 1996, future cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov was named the outstanding boxer at the Olympic Summer Games, the first of three boxers from Kazakhstan to win this coveted award (the others didn’t turn pro). Gennady Golovkin (you may have heard of him) advanced to the finals of the 2004 Olympiad, knocking off Andre Dirrell in the semis before succumbing to a 27-year-old Russian (another who didn’t turn pro) in the gold medal round. Now it’s the ladies turn.
Kazakhstanis claimed four of the 10 gold medals at the ninth edition of the AIBA women’s world championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, an eight-day event that concluded on May 27. All told, 22 competitors in this tournament locked up berths in the forthcoming Rio games.
There are only three weight classes – flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight – for women Olympic boxers. However, there were 10 weight classes at the AIBA tournament. The host country won gold in the light flyweight, bantamweight, welterweight, and heavyweight divisions.
Lazzat Kungeibayeva, the heavyweight, overcame the United States entry, Shadasia Green, in the finals. You can expect to hear more about Ms. Green in the future as she was competing in her first international tournament. Hailing from Paterson, New Jersey, the 26-year-old Green started three seasons in basketball during her college days at Old Dominion University.
Green was one of five U.S. boxers in the tournament. The others were light flyweight Marlen Esparza (Houston, TX), bantamweight Christina Cruz (New York, NY), middleweight Claressa Shields (Flint, MI), and light heavyweight Franchon Crews (Baltimore, MD).
Shields, to no one’s surprise, won her division. She has lost only one match in her career, that coming when she was 17 years old. Now 21 years of age, she is on pace to become the first American boxer, male or female, to win a gold medal in back-to-back Olympic games. Shields will be joined in Rio by Los Angeles lightweight Mikaela Mayer who won a different qualifying tournament to secure her Olympic berth (the overseers of amateur boxing move in mysterious ways). The U.S. failed to qualify a representative in the flyweight division.
There was a big upset in the semi-finals when Estelle Mossely of France outpointed Ireland’s most famous athlete, Katie Taylor. Ms. Taylor, who was bidding to become a five-time AIBA world champion, is considered the most successful female amateur boxer of all-time. She had defeated Mossely in their three previous engagements. They may well clash again in August at the Rio games where Taylor will be seeking her second Olympic gold medal.
The Astana tournament attracted 285 boxers from 64 countries – a far cry from the initial tournament at Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2001 which drew several dozen competitors from a handful of nations. Like it or not, female boxing is growing in leaps and bounds.