There was a dramatic climax to the Dolce & Gabbana Italia Thunder’s season, with the Azerbaijan Baku Fires doing just enough to secure passage to the World Series of Boxing (WSB) semi-finals.
In the end it all came down to an error from experienced Italia Thunder boxer Mihai Nistor, who, after dominating for five rounds, chose to aggressively re-engage with his opponent rather than seeing the match to safety… And got knocked out for his trouble with just 25 seconds away from a certain win. The result spectacularly ended the Thunder’s challenge for Season IV.
The Flyweights (52kg), Lightweights (60kg), Welterweights (69kg), Light Heavyweights (81kg) and Super Heavyweights (91+kg) contested this match.
Bout of the match
Andrew Selby was in excellent form against Elvin Mamishzada. Both boxers fought a very technical bout in what was a real game of cat and mouse. That is precisely what you would expect form two boxers with eleven victories in the WSB between them and no defeats. The Azeri, after losing the first two rounds, got himself ahead in the third. Selby began to chase. As a strong counter puncher, this is not his strongest suit and it played into the game that Mamishzada wanted to play. The Welshman did enough though to win the round back and ultimately hold on for the win.
Boxer of the match
Super Heavyweight Mihai Nistor came out like the whirlwind that made him the discovery of the season for last year’s champions the Astana Arlans Kazakhstan. His only losses so far had come in his debut and in last year’s final to Olympic Champion Oleksandr Usyk, which was a close one. Like Selby he has been arguably under-deployed by the Thunder this year, but he made his presence felt early, stunning his opponent Arslanbek Makhmudov in the first round to the extent that the tall Azeri was lucky to make it back to his corner. The match continued that way for the remainder of the five rounds with the Fires boxer barely hanging on. Things got so bad that the commentator began to openly speculate that the corner would have to throw in the towel… Then in the final minute, Nistor got tagged a few times and ended up taking a standing eight count. Rather than accepting this and backing off to shut the match down, he instead lost his cool and went in to make a statement. He was soon on the canvas, but got away with a dubious protestation that he had simply slipped. Failing to take this second chance to stay away from his opponent, he plunged straight back into the Frey and just a moment later, 25 seconds from the final bell, the Azeri produced a shot to the side of the head that both dropped Nistor like a sack of spuds, and sent the Italians crashing out of the tournament. All Nistor needed to do was play safe, but instead he risked it all by charging in one last time. Nistor was so nearly Boxer of the Match for his incredible performance for 4 and three quarter rounds; instead, that award must now go to his opponent Makhmudov!
The turning point
Welterweights Vincenzo Mangiacapre and Mahamed Nurudzinau were both excellentin an extremely close bout. Within the context of the two legged match of course, this bout was an irrelevance following the above result. Still, Italia Thunder had their dignity to preserve, along with their unbeaten home record. They needed to secure two more wins to at least retain that formidable four-year long record into next season. The psychological pressures facing Mangiacapre must have been huge, not least with the disappointment he must have been carrying to the ring, knowing the team were not going to the semi-finals. The Fires boxer had no intentions of making life easy for the Italian star either, and pushed him hard. But Mangiacapre hung tough and earned his sixth WSB victory to keep Italian pride alive. The importance of a cool head at that stage was crucial for the Italians.
Quote of the match
“Nistor was coasting to victory… Coasting is the only word for it… And then suddenly, the real Makhmudov appeared. […] It may go down in WSB history; a boxer that was so far ahead on points, that all he had to do was stay out of trouble for a few seconds, instead went forward and got knocked out at such a critical time” – WSB commentator
Domenico Valentino had a hard fight with Albert Selimov at Lightweight. The Azeri boxer had only ever previously lost in the WSB to the great Vasyl Lomachenko, the double Olympic gold medallist. Selimov proved yet again why this is the case in a display of tenaciousness against the 2009 World Champion from Italy. This could easily have been bout of the night, were it not for some unfortunate head-clashes. One of these ended the bout early after both fighters received cuts from an accidental head collision in the final round. But it was certainly the most competitive bout of the evening all the same.
2011 World silver medallist Teymur Mammadov took on Abdelhafid Benchabla of the Italia Thunder in the last bout of the evening. This was another exquisitely boxed encounter with both athletes demonstrating considerable acumen and ring-craft. It was the Algerian Benchabla who took the win, which ultimately heaped much of the blame for the defeat on the plate of Nistor. Had he held on for just half a minute more, the match would have gone to a decider, which on paper at least, Italy looked likely to win through British boxer Joe Joyce.
Coming up next
The Azerbaijan Baku Fires will now progress to the semis against fellow Group B graduates, the Astana Arlans Kazakhstan. In the Regular Season, both teams won their respective home matches 4-1. That indicates that it could be a close one.