Michael Conlan is backing his Irish teammate and fellow World champion Katie Taylor to rebound from yesterday’s stunning defeat to Azerbaijan’s Yana Alexseevna at the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey.
The Azeri lightweight beat the Bray woman on a unanimous decision – 39-37 across the board. Italy’s Irma Tessa edged Bulgaria’s Svetlana Staneva in the other semi-final.
David Oliver Joyce and Brendan Irvine also lost their bids to qualify for Rio yesterday after dropping decisions to Great Britain’s Joe Cordina and Armenia’s Narek Abgaryan in the light and fly classes on a desperately disappointing day for Irish boxing.
Cordina took the first round against Joyce, but Irish team manager Joe Hennigan described the scoring in the second round — where two judges opted for the Welsh fighter despite Joyce rocking his opponent with three massive rights and looking as if he was going to stop him — as totally shocking.
But both Irvine and Joyce will have a second shot at qualifying today and tomorrow against Bulgaria’s Daniel Asenov and Turkey’s Volkan Gokcek in box-offs between the beaten semi-finals to decide the third-placed berths for Rio.
Taylor, meantime, sportingly congratulated her opponent. She said: “I’m obviously very disappointed. She’s a fantastic boxer and you can’t take it away from her. She deserved it today.
“There’s very little between the two of us really and the difference between winning and losing is marginal. I don’t know what went wrong today. It was just one of those days.”
Both Alexiseevna and Tessa have now qualified for Rio by virtue of reaching the final. They clash in Sunday’s gold medal fight, while Taylor and Svetlana box-off for third place tomorrow.
Seven of the 12 female lightweights - Alexseevna, Tessa, Shelly Watts (Australia), Yin Junhua (China), Mikaela Mayer (USA), Adriana Araujo (Brazil), who took the host place, and Hasnaa Lachgar (Morocco)— - have now qualified.
Conlan, the only Irish boxer to claim a World Elite title besides Taylor, believes the Olympic champion will book a Rio place at next month’s World Women’s Championships in Kazakhstan, where a top-four finish will suffice.
The Belfast bantam, who has qualified for Rio, said: “She came back a 100 times stronger after her last defeat five years ago and won an Olympic gold medal.
“The same thing is going to happen again. The work she puts in is phenomenal. I don’t know anyone more dedicated than her. She’ll bounce back, I know it.
“All the best lose, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson. They lose, but they come back stronger and so will Katie.”
Taylor will get an immediate opportunity to return to winning ways from the eighth loss of her 173-bout career against Staneva tomorrow.
A win won’t qualify her directly for Rio, but if Alexseevna and/or Tessa meet the qualification standard again (top four) in Kazakhstan next month if could qualify Taylor.
In the event of a boxer qualifying twice, the World Championships place prevails and the Rio ticket earned in Samsun kicks back to the third-placed boxer.
Taylor, however, can negate the need for anyone do her any favours by reaching the semi-finals in Kazakhstan. “Thank God I have another chance to go and qualify and I’m going to do everything I can do to book my place in Rio,” she added.
Alexseevna, who last year described Taylor as her inspiration, can now legitimately claim that she is the top lightweight in the world.
The Russia-born leftie, who found the target with some big shots yesterday, served notice that she had the arsenal to challenge Taylor after taking the Wicklow orthodox right down to the wire in the semi-finals at the European Games last summer.
This time out the Azeri went one better to post an impressive decision over the No. 1 seed, who didn’t have her dad and now, apparently former coach, Pete, in her corner for the first time at a major.
The World Championships, where Taylor will be aiming for six-in-a-row, begin on May 19 in Kazakhstan. It’s the end of the road for females fighters, last chance saloon for the 31st Olympiad.
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