By Ciarán Gallagher in Doha
Michael Conlan has become the first-ever Irishman to claim a World Championship gold medal in the 41-year history of the tournament after claiming a 3-0 unanimous decision win over Murodjon Akhmadaliev (Uzbekistan) in their 56kg bantamweight final.
Irish hearts stopped in the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena after a big right hook from the Uzbek floored the 23-year-old Belfast native in the latter half of the final round, but Conlan survived to claim a 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 win, claiming Ireland’s first male gold medal at the 18th edition of the tournament in the process.
The Irish captain fought somewhat recklessly in the bout, abandoning his trademark hit-and-move style to fight on the inside for large parts of the bout, trading with Akhmadaliev and reviving an old tendency to go to war which he has sometimes displayed in the past before.
"The Irish crowd, I have never seen anything like in my life."
“I'm a world champion so there’s not much else you can say,” said a delighted Conlan, who was upset to suffer the late knockdown.
“I'm a bit embarrassed at getting knocked down in the last round. It is the first time I have been on the canvass in my life. He hit me right on the button,” said the Falls Road fighter.
"It was probably the best punch I’ve ever been hit with in my life. I’ve never been down in my life. It hit me sweet on the chin, but I have phenomenal fitness so I recovered really quickly and I’m really happy," continued Conlan, who was cheered on by a vocal Irish support in Doha.
“The Irish crowd, I have never seen anything like in my life. I don't even have this support at home, I’m completely over the moon,” added Conlan.
“The plan today was to box but the way he was coming forward it was going to be hard to box him for the full three rounds so I knew I just had to take the steam out of him and push him back.”
O'Reilly loses out in box-off
There was heartache for Michael O’Reilly, however, after he lost a highly-controversial decision to Hosam Abdin of Egypt in their Olympic box-off.
O’Reilly, a heavy favourite to win the middleweight showdown was left visibly shocked when the decision was announced, with the judges scoring the first two rounds against him despite the 22-year-old Portlaoise native appearing to land the cleaner shots.
African champion Abdin fought with intelligent pressure in the first round, but landed few shots of significance, with the judges all surprisingly scoring the bout 29-28 in favour of the Egyptian. O’Reilly won only the last round on the cards.
The judges – from Uzbekistan, Cuba and Mongolia – all had identical cards, while live scoring was not shown at the arena for the first time at the tournament so far.
“I’m absolutely gutted myself, I don’t know what went on, it’s just ridiculous. In my mind I was up and won every round easy. I’m still in shock,” said O’Reilly immediately after the bout.
While O'Reily takes home a bronze medal as minor consolation, there is a slight chance that he may yet earn an Olympic qualification place depending on quota decisions which are due to be confirmed by AIBA by December.
In an historic World Championship campaign of firsts for Team Ireland in Doha, Joe Ward will attempt to create another record tonight by becoming the first boxer ever to claim world titles at three age grades.
The Moate light-heavyweight meets Cuba’s two-time world champion Julio La Cruz, who defeated Ward in their 2013 World semi-final.
Head coach Billy Walsh explained that the 21-year-old is determined to add senior gold to his world junior (2009) and world youth (2010) titles.
“He’s very ambitious and he wants to go and have the complete set,” said Walsh. “The Cuban gave us a boxing exhibition last time. He did a merry dance around the ring and we hardly hit him, but we have a better Joe Ward now.”
As it happened: Michael Conlon v Murodjon Akhmadaliev
Round 1 Akhmadaliev starts at 100 miles an hour, swinging wildly and chasing Conlon around the ring but he's hitting air for the most part. Conlon catches the Uzbekistan fighter in the ribs with a quick right which seems to slow him. As the round wears on the pace of Akhmadaliev drops, allowing Conlon to pick his shots but the Uzbek continues to land on the Irishman. Conlon finishing the round with a flurry of punches, most of which appear to land and that might just give him the edge. The judges are split, two for Conlon, one for Akhmadaliev.
Round 2 Akhmadaliev hasn't been able to keep up the pace he started with and Conlon is beginning to dictate things. The Irishman is making his slight reach advantage count, tagging the Uzbek and bouncing back out but he also shows that he's willing to go toe-to-toe and the two fighters plant themselves in the centre of the ring and trade blows. This in a great fight and right on the edge. Conlon's quicker hands appear to be giving him the edge and he's landing with more precision. The judges see things the Irishman's way and all three give him the round.
Round 3 Conlon is three minutes away from becoming Ireland's first male World Boxing Champion. Akhmadaliev is increasingly looking like a spent force as Conlon's ranging hooks sap the strength from the 20-year-old. Conlon looks more and more confident and dances around his opponent, picking his spots.
There's big trouble with 30 seconds to go however as Akhmadaliev sends Conlon to the canvas with a powerful right hook which catches the Irishman flush on the jaw. Conlon recovers well to see things out and that knock down isn't enough to change things as Conlon gets the judges verdict, winning the round for a 3-0 victory and a World Championship gold medal.
As it happened: Michael O'Reilly v Hosam Abdin
Round 1 It's a lively start from O'Reilly who uses his longer range to get in and score off the body of the Egyptian fighter. Abdin catches O'Reilly with a stinging right with a minute to go but the Irishman shakes it off and comes back with a sweet left of his own that rattles his opponent.
There's surprise however as all three judges score the round 10-9 in favour of the Abdin.
Round 2 A confident looking Abdin plants himself in the centre of the ring and invites O'Reilly on. The Irishman appears to land several scoring blows to the body without reply but it's hard to know just how the judges will see this. O'Reilly rattles Abdin with a powerful uppercut before there's a break in the round as the Irishman's gum-shield pops out. Abdin is fighting on the counter and doesn't appear to be landing with much but again all three judges score it 10-9 in his favour.
Round 3 The scoring in both of the previous rounds has been highly questionable and leaves O'Reilly chasing a stoppage. Abdin continues to show a strong defence and decent upper body movement but there's little in the way of offensive boxing and again it's O'Reilly who's the aggressor. He continues to land punches to the body of his opponent but are the judges recognising this? The Egyptian continues to fight defensively and is landing more punches than at any other stage in the fight - this is his best round - but I still think O'Reilly wins it.
Abdin appears to be in pain and clutches his side as the fight ends but while the judges finally give the round to O'Reilly, it's not enough and he loses 29-28.
Michael O'Reilly loses on the back of some very questionable judging.
Shocking decision in #Doha O'Reilly robbed. No live scores in arena... says a lot!— Ciarán Gallagher (@Ciaran_Gally) October 14, 2015