The home side came away with a 3-2 advantage on Day One of the World Series of Boxing (WSB) Team Finals.
The Fight of the Night performance was almost certainly provided by Astana Arlans Kazakhstan’s young boxer Mihai Nistor who almost caused an upset, pushing 2012 Olympic Champion Oleksandr Usyk the distance in the final bout of the night.
Clearly revelling in the opportunity, Nistor made the most of his chance to have a crack at the Olympic Champion. He came out with a very strong performance in the first round with Usyk taking the time to work his opponent out. The Ukrainian’s caution and several mistakes, including twice dropping his hands to adjust his shorts, and twice being punished for it, gave the young Arlans boxer confidence. Nistor began to feel that Usyk wasn’t untouchable after all and it showed in his round two performance. Slowly however, Usyk began to find his own range and landed the more accurate shots. Although Usyk won the round it was a close fought thing. In round three Nistor came on even stronger and rattled Usyk a couple of times to take the round. This was now the surprise performance of the season and the crowd in the packed Saryarka Velodrome soaked it up with astonishment. Although Nistor pushed the Olympic champion the distance, in the end Usyk managed to hold it together for long enough. But no one expected it to go this far, so perhaps although the actual victory went to Usyk, performance-wise Nistor will be the happier man tonight.
Elsewhere, at Bantamweight (50-54kg), Kazakhstan’s Meirbolat Toitov won the opening bout of the evening, cutting the Ukraine’s Viktor Gogolyev early in the second. The Arlans boxer boxed cleverly to stay safe and ahead, to take his WSB record to 2-1.
At Lightweight (57-61kg) Otamans two-time World Champion and 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist Vasyl Lomachenko went toe-to-toe with the Arlans captain Samat Bashenov.
Lomachenko started very quickly. He looked in fantastic shape and was extremely mobile throughout. Late in the first round he landed a hard left to drop the WSB number two seed Bashenov, who struggled initially to find his elusive target. Bashenov, credited as being one of the few with the potential to stop Lomachenko’s unbeaten run, came out faster in the second and had an improved result from the judges, but he was still unable to score significantly on Lomachenko. As the bout wore on, Bashanov bravely adjusted his tactics and switched from a southpaw to orthodox stance as he tried to claw his way back. The technical switch seemed to work as he began to improve notably. The Kazakh fighter had a strong final round but it was not enough to stop Lomachenko’s truly masterful display.
At Middlewieght (68-73kg), 19 year old Barabanov showed phenomenal spirit to even get into the ring let alone go the distance with his compatriot, and former WSB number 1 seed Derevyanchenko. The young boxer came out and pushed the more experienced boxer for all five rounds. Derevyanchenko never looked in danger however and was able to dominate his younger opponent with beautiful combinations and intelligent ring-craft.
Light-Heavyweight (80-85kg) saw the most one-sided bout of the night as Ukraine’s Sergiy Lapin took on the far more experienced Hrvoje Sep. The Ukrainian entered these finals with the dubious distinction of being the boxer with the weakest record in the Otamans’ selection. In what was now an absolutely crucial bout to decide the first night, Hvoje was clearly favourite to pull his team clear of the Ukrainian Otamans.
In the first round Lapin attempted to use his reach advantage but found himself pressed against the ropes by the more experienced Kazakh fighter. This brought his feet square and opened him up for some serious body shots. Lapin, unable to keep his opponent at bay received a cut in the second round, as the Kazakh fighter continued to press, pit-bull like. The Croatian closed the gap but was then ruthless in offloading his shots. Although the Ukrainian was brave in hanging on in the end even the commentators were suggesting his corner should throw in the towel. In the end the Ukrainian stayed on his feet but only just.
All in all it was an exciting night’s boxing, leaving the hosts 3-2 up on their Ukrainian rivals. Join us tomorrow for day two where we will see if they can hold onto their lead.