Sunday 21 January 2018

Conlan in final but O'Reilly set for Rio box-off

Michael Conlan, right, goes on the attack during his bantamweight semi-final against against Dzmitry Asanau from Belarus in Doha.
Michael Conlan, right, goes on the attack during his bantamweight semi-final against against Dzmitry Asanau from Belarus in Doha.
Ireland's Michael Conlan celebrates

Sean McGoldrick

Michael Conlan remains on course to secure a historic world title but there was disappointment for Portlaoise middleweight Michael O'Reilly who lost his semi-final on a majority 2-1 verdict to 19-year-old sensation Bektemir Melikuziev from Uzbekistan.

O'Reilly still takes home a bronze medal to add to the European Games gold he won in Baku earlier this year. But his biggest fight has yet to come in the Qatar capital.

On Thursday he meets the other defeated middleweight semi-finalist, Homas Abdin from Egypt, with the winner guaranteed a place at next year's Olympic Games in Rio.

"Michael's next fight is a world title fight and he has got to win it," said team coach Billy Walsh while O'Reilly acknowledged that he must now focus on the box-off despite his obvious disappointment, declaring: "I came here to qualify for the Olympics."

Essentially Conlan was in cruise control in his bantamweight semi-final against 19-year-old Dzmitry Asanau from Belarus.

Even before he stepped into the ring, a nervous-looking Asanau was already on a losing docket. He had stepped outside the ring after just one round of sparring against 23 -year-old Conlan at the Irish team's final warm-up camp in Assisi before they travelled to Doha.

"I needed to have patience," said Conlan, who dedicated the win to his older brother Jamie who was celebrating his 29th birthday yesterday. "I didn't panic and I stuck to the game plan. He is a young lad and I knew he would fold because he wouldn't have the patience."

Astonishingly, two of the judges gave the Belarussian the second round, prompting Walsh to say: "I was absolutely surprised as the guy never hit Michael. But by the end of the third round we had no doubt about the verdict.

Conlan won 3-0 with the three judges scoring the fight 30-27, 29-28, 29-28.

Even though Conlan is only the second Irish fighter to reach a World championship final - Jason Quigley contested the middleweight decider in 2013 - he has his sights set on winning the title on Wednesday.

"The final will be for my daughter," said Conlan who takes on Murodjon Akhmadaliev from Uzbekistan in the decider.

An hour later, 22-year-old O'Reilly faced Bektemir Melikuziev from Uzbekistan in his middleweight semi-final. The fight probably hinged on closing half minute of the first round.

"We thought we might have nicked the first round we weren't sure," explained Walsh.

"But at the end of the round Michael got hit by a couple of shots which might have swung the round for the other guy."

"Had Michael won the final round he would never have been caught because he won have gone on the bike. Instead he had to go after the fight."

Once the same two judges gave Melikuziev the second round he had an unassailable 20-18 advantage.

O'Reilly did win the last round on two of the judges' cards but bowed out on a majority 2-1 decision (30-27, 29-28; 27-30)

"I gave it my best but that's the way it goes. I thought myself that I did enough to get it but that's boxing. It was my fourth fight in a week. I have to focus on the box-off now and that's what I came here for to qualify for the Olympics," said O'Reilly.


Meanwhile, two-time European champion, Joe Ward faces arguably the most important fight of his career when he meets the experienced Elshod Rasulov from Uzbekistan in the light heavyweight semi-finals tonight.

Having already secured his second World Championship bronze, the 21-year-old Moate southpaw has set his sights firmly set on securing his Olympic qualification in Rio at these championships, which means reaching the 81kg final.

"For me winning a bronze medal and not qualifying for the Olympic Games would be a disaster," said Ward who still has painful memories of his loss - on a countback - at the 2012 World Championships in Baku which effectively cost him a place at the London Olympics.

Ward comfortably beat Rasulov in the Chemistry Cup tournament in Germany in 2012, but the Uzbekistan fighter is a dangerous opponent.

He won silver and bronze medals at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships and lost to eventual gold medallist Egor Mekhontsev from Russia at the London Olympics.

And, worryingly for Ward, the 29-year-old appears to be hitting form again - as evidenced by his victory over defending champion Adibek Niyazymbetov in the quarter-finals.

Irish Independent

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