The Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent is warming up to host the sixth World Series of Boxing final on Saturday 4 June, and whilst the Cuba Domadores are no strangers to this stage of the competition, for the surprise team of Season VI British Lionhearts, performing on one of boxing’s biggest stages will be a career-affirming experience.
The contrast in experience between the Domadores and Lionhearts line-ups is marked. With Olympic champions and multi-time World Champions among the ranks, the majority of the Cuban side have been there and done it in the world of boxing. Their opponents have fully come to terms with the demands of the WSB format during this campaign, however, and shown they know how to win tough on the road.
While it remains to be seen whether the Cuban experience and flair or the Brits’ youthful exuberance will prove more successful, we take a look at some of the key bouts coming up in Saturday’s WSB final.
Light Flyweight (49kg)
Johanys Argilagos (CUB) vs Galal Yafai (GBR)
The opening bout of the Season VI final could set the tone for the match, and both corners will be desperate to get off to a winning start. The responsibility for the Cuban side falls on the shoulders of Johanys Argilagos, the 19 year-old light flyweight who already has a World Championship title and precious experience of a WSB final in the locker. Unbeaten in Season VI so far, Argilagos’ impressive display against Astana Arlans’ Nodirjon Mirzakhmedov in the Semi-Final proved once again that he has the self-belief and natural ability to beat the best in the world.
Equally blessed with an innate talent is his English opponent for the final’s opener, Galal Yafai. A revelation for the Lionhearts so far this season, Yafai’s eye-catching Semi-Final triumph over Kazakhstan’s Yerhan Zhomart was that of a man who has fully come to terms with the unique demands of WSB boxing. The 23 year-old’s speed could hold the secret to his success in Tashkent.
Yosbany Veitia (CUB) vs Muhammed Ali (GBR)
Cuban 24 year-old Yosbany Veitia boasts a superb WSB record. 18 wins already under his belt after just three seasons in the competition, Veitia is always one of the first names on the teamsheet for the Domadores, and unanimous wins in this year’s quarters and semis against Mexico’s Jose Rojas and Uzbek Abrorjon Kodirov showed that the southpaw is back to his very best form.
Britain’s Muhammed Ali will have studied Veitia’s Week 7 defeat to Ukrainian Maksym Fatych closely, however, as proof that the Cuban lightweight isn’t undefeatable. The 19 year-old made his WSB debut in Cassablanca with a narrow win over Morocco Atlas Lions’ Abdelai Daraa, before going on to beat USA Knockouts’ Gaurav Bidhuri in Week 8, but the WSB finals will be a huge occasion for the boxer from Bury.
Lazaro Alvarez (CUB) vs Luke McCormack (GBR)
Cuba’s lightweight star Lazaro Jorge Alvarez may have only joined the national team five years ago, but the 24-year-old already has three AIBA World Championships and a WSB Season IV title to his name. With 20 WSB bouts and 19 victories to his name, Alvarez’s record in the competition speaks for itself, and the southpaw will be looking to add to that tally in the Season VI final.
If there is a glimmer of hope for Britain’s Luke McCormack it is that Alvarez’s sole WSB defeat came in the 2014 final against the Azeri Albert Selimov. The 20 year-old has just four bouts in the competition but remains unbeaten going in to the final, and has been sharp enough in the ring so far in 2016 to cause his decorated opponent real problems.
Erislandy Savon (CUB) vs Lawrence Okolie (GBR)
Another of the Cuban team’s big names, Erislandy Savon has been in excellent form on route to the Season VI final. Savon won gold and an Olympic quota place at the AIBA American Olympic Qualification Event in Buenos Aires, and after defeating Ukraine Otamans’ Dmytro Lisovyi in the Group Stages, the big heavyweight took his Semi-Final in style against Mirzobek Khasanov, taking his WSB record to 17-0.
Lawrence Okolie only took up boxing at the age of 17, but his ability on the international stage was underlined when he beat USA Knockouts’ Cam F Awesome on his WSB debut in Miami earlier this year. Okolie then secured his place at Rio 2016 with a win at the European Olympic Qualification Event in Turkey, leaving him to dedicate his training to the five-round format for the year’s big final.