O'Neill expecting tough fight in bid for Rio berths
Darren O'Neill believes that the European Olympic qualifiers, which begin in Samsun, Turkey today, represent his best opportunity of becoming a two-time Olympian.
Ireland's nine-strong squad, which includes Katie Taylor, arrived in Samsun in midweek ahead of the 39-nation tournament; 233 men and 59 women have entered - 22 in Taylor's 60kg class. The bottom line for Ireland is that the top three men - the finalists and winner of box-offs between the beaten semi-finalists - and the top two women qualify for Rio.
The days of her great rival, Sofya Ochigava, who Taylor beat in the 2012 World and Olympic finals, appear to be finished in a Russian vest. Anastasia Beliakova is in her place at lightweight, while Taylor wryly shakes her head at speculation about winning gold in Rio.
"I haven't even qualified yet and I'm asked about winning a second Olympic gold. I've prepared for a tough qualification process," she said.
Taylor's dad Pete won't be working her corner in Samsun. The Irish coaching staff are interim head coach Zaur Antia, Eddie Bolger and John Conlan.
If Taylor doesn't make Rio in Samsun, she'll have one final opportunity at May's World Championships in Kazakhstan. A top four finish will suffice for Rio in Central Asia.
Likewise with Kilkenny southpaw O'Neill at the final male qualifier in AIBA Open Boxing - the awkward-sounding new term for regular amateur boxing in Baku.
If he doesn't make the cut in Samsun he must win gold in the Azeri capital.
"To win gold in the world qualifier is a position no Irish heavyweight has reached in 80 or 90 years, but my focus is on Samsun and the top three," said O'Neill.
"I thought moving up to heavy (from middleweight) the boys would be a little bit slower and wouldn't be as fit and wouldn't work as much- I got a rude awakening."
Meanwhile, Carl Frampton has been stripped of his WBA super bantamweight title for refusing to defend it against veteran Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux.
A WBA statement said: "In light of Frampton's announced intention to face an opponent other than his mandatory, and for failing to respond to WBA inquiries as to his intent, Frampton's recognition as champion is removed."
The Belfast boxer, who still holds the IBF version of the super bantamweight title, added the WBA belt in February when he beat Scott Quigg.
The WBA claim they granted a special permit to allow Quigg defend his title against Frampton on condition that the winner would face Rigondeaux.
Meanwhile, an agreement is in place for the world heavyweight rematch between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko to take place in Manchester on July 9.