Kurt Walker got the Irish boxing team off to a winning start at Tokyo 2020 with a hard-earned unanimous decision victory over Spain’s Jose Quiles Brotons.
The Lisburn featherweight prevailed on four scores of 29-28 and one of 30-27, securing safe passage through to the Last 16 in the 57kg bracket.
Although an Olympic debutant, Walker’s international credentials are long-established, the 26-year-old having secured European Games gold in 2019, as well as further medals at continental as well as commonwealth level.
That pedigree ensured he settled quickly to the task versus his Spanish foe, weaving adroitly in and out of range, timing his opponent with crisp hooks and leads off the back foot.
Walker’s fleetness of movement remained to the fore throughout, Quiles Brotons made to miss with much of his output as the Irishman got the nod in round one.
His opponent, who himself boasts a 2017 European bronze, began with greater impetus in the second, again seeking to establish ground in centre-ring, increasingly finding a home for his comparatively robust barrages.
Walker, although still counterpunching well in spots with one-twos and leads to head and body, was at times swimming against the waves of Spanish pressure, with Quiles Brotons’ swarming work duly rewarded on the round two scorecards.
With ostensibly all to play for, the third and final round assumed an even more intense pace, the frenetic nature of the contest seeming to suit the Spaniard, whose clubbing hooks continued with abandon, piercing Walker’s guard and opening a cut above the eye of the Canal BC fighter.
It would be Walker's superior shots which would win out in the deciding frame, however, as he endeavoured to stand and trade in the eye of the storm, while also scoring expertly on the move to book his place in the next phase.
Walker’s prospective path to the Olympic podium could scarcely be tougher, however, a seismic meeting with number-one-ranked Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov of Uzbekistan now slated for Wednesday.
Mirzakhalilov, who turned pro in April, remains the reigning world amateur champion and will make his bow at these games as a prohibitive gold medal favourite.
Come what may, Walker’s maiden win caps what has been a tumultuous personal path to Tokyo.
His mere status as an Olympian looked to be in jeopardy after defeat at March 2020’s qualifying event.
The cancellation of last summer’s Games, however, plus a recalibration of the qualification process at large, saw him secure his spot for this refixed 2021 iteration by dint of ranking points accumulated at international level. Despite a rib injury, and a bout of Covid at the turn of the year, Walker belatedly nailed down his Tokyo ticket.
Any concerns around those sporting vagaries were dwarfed by more profound hurdles outside the ring, though, with Walker’s boxing endeavours put on hold after his daughter was born three months prematurely in May last year.
Thankfully, 14 months on, baby Layla now leads the family fan club back home in Stoneyford.
Next up on the Irish boxing ledger is light-heavyweight Emmet Brennan. The Dubliner is pegged for a 12.42pm start [Irish time] on Sunday against Uzbekistan’s formidable world silver medalist Dilshodbek Ruzmetov.