Boxing starts at the Olympics on Saturday, most notably with the round of 32 for featherweights and welterweights. Who are the favorites and which outsiders can hope for something given their draws?
Pat McCormack (2019 world silver medalist) should be considered the safest pick for gold. At 24 he is the youngest of the gold medal favorites with Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy (2009 world silver medalist, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, 2019 world champion) and Cuba’s Roniel Iglesias (2008 Olympic bronze medalist, 2009 world gold medalist, 2012 Olympic champion, 2017 world silver medalist) both on the wrong side of 30.
The British fighter has also been handed a fairly generous draw. The only world level medalist in his half of the bracket is 2019 world bronze medalist Bobo-Usmon Boturov, whom he beat once already.
Zamkovoy should also have a straightforward path to medaling with only the aging Lorenzo Sotomayor (2016 silver medalist) whose results have been declining lately providing a threat prior to the semis where he’ll presumably battle with Iglesias or Ablaikhan Zhussupov (2017 and 2019 world bronze medalist) for a spot in the final.
The dark horses
The draw ended up being pretty unbalanced and some fighters who might have hoped for something prior to the games face an uphill battle and some unlikely names have a real shot at sneaking in a bronze medal spot.
USA’s Delante Johnson (2016 youth world champion) is one who will be disappointed in his draw. He is a talented fighter, though he gets backed to the ropes a bit too easily and should get past his first round opponent without too much trouble but will need two sizeable upsets if he is to make the semi-finals.
Japan’s Sewon Okazawa is in a similar position. Okazawa made the quarterfinals of the 2019 world championship and his mobile southpaw style is a bit tricky to deal with but three wins over world level medalist is a tough ask for him. He’s also got two recent losses to Krishan Yadav (2011 world bronze medalist) so even getting out of the first round won’t be easy.
Yadav has two recent wins over Zhussupov so would theoretically only need an upset of Iglesias to get a bronze and can have some hopes despite being on the tough side of the draw.
But the real winner of this draw is Aidan Walsh. Few would have listed the Irishman among the medal hopefuls prior to the games, but with no world level medalists standing between him and the semi finals, a bronze medal looks very achievable.
Gold: Pat McCormack
Silver: Roniel Iglesias
Bronze: Andrey Zamkovoy/Aidan Walsh
There are two clear favorites at featherweight, Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez, a 3 time world champion and 2 time Olympic bronze medalist who will be desperate to finally add Olympic gold to his great résumé. The other is Uzbekistan’s 2019 world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov. The Olympic champion will likely be found between these two and Albert Batyrgaziev whose last loss was to Alvarez in 2019 when he was 21 and looked very good in winning the European qualification tournament.
The dark horses
Outside of the three mentioned above, 5 fighters in the tournament have previously won world level medals. Ukraine’s Mykola Butsenko (2013 world bronze medalist) has been handed a very easy draw and has a clear path to a bronze medal.
The USA’s Duke Ragan was a silver medalist at the world championships in 2017 but initially elected to turn pro following the game’s postponement. He hasn’t fought as an amateur since 2019 and went 7-5 that year. His fight with France’s Samuel Kistohurry who came in second at the European qualification tournament is one of the highlights of the first round but after being away from meaningful competition for 2 years, it is hard to envision a deep run for Ragan.
Peter McGrail (2017/2019 world bronze medalist) vs Chatchai Butdee (2013 world bronze medalist and 2 time olympian) is the other fight really worth a look in that first round. The Thai is always in fun fights and was hard done in a second round loss at the Rio Olympics. I wouldn’t expect either to go through Alvarez and medal but they are definitely fighters to watch.
On the bottom of the bracket, only Mongolia’s Erdenebatyn Tsendbaatar (2019 world bronze medalist) looks like a credible threat to Batyrzagiev to me.
Gold: Lazaro Alvarez
Silver: Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov
Bronze: Mykola Butsenko/Albert Batyrgaziev