Kurt Walker one bout from Olympic medal after sensational win against world champion

The Lisburn featherwight is through to an Olympic quarter-final after producing a career-best display to eliminate top-seed Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov
Kurt Walker one bout from Olympic medal after sensational win against world champion

Kurt Walker of Ireland: One win away from a medal. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Kurt Walker was short on words this morning but that was alright given he had done all his talking in the ring.

The Lisburn featherwight is through to an Olympic quarter-final after producing a career-best display to eliminate top-seed Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov.

A sizable pre-fight underdog against the reigning world champion, Walker delivered a sensational performance to prevail via split decision on four scores of 29-28, and one of 27-30.

Walker will now box for a podium place on Sunday, with Team USA’s Duke Ragan awaiting in the last eight at Tokyo 2020.

A former European champion and serial international medalist in his own right, Walker was patently unperturbed by the task as he flew out of the traps here, his supreme movement allowing him to dictate the pace in the opening round.

His slicker skills were also immediately apparent, the Belfast native dexterously firing off crisp jabs and blurring one-twos from ever-changing angles.

Mirzakhalilov’s clubbing barrages, though at times effective, were largely in vain through the first frame as Walker took a decisive lead in the early going.

The Canal BC alum continued to score adroitly in round two, this time with excellent lead right hands up stairs and down, his control of distance still pointedly precipitated by the jab.

Mirzakhalilov’s marauding style eventually began to close the gap, however, the Uzbek star at one point threatening to assume the ascendancy midway through the second with decisive shots of his own.

Briefly in retreat as the pace became evermore frenetic, Walker rallied well to retrieve the initiative heading into the final round, pivoting under and away from Mirzakhalilov’s advances with blazing check hooks in response.

Needing a big finish to salvage matters, the number-one seed threw caution to the wind in the closing stanza, Walker beginning to sport the wounds of war as a cut opened above his eye.

The Irish man was not to be denied, though, as he continued to time his ripostes with great precision from the perimeter, stepping into range with scoring shots to close out a momentous win.

“Indescribable,” he said. “I just need to get my head level again and try to relax and recover but I’m buzzing.

“Just try to keep him off, jabbing, feinting, bodywork and try… I knew I was fit so I knew I could definitely do it for two rounds anyway and get the two rounds up, which I did, and I knew that he was going to push on strong so I’m delighted.

“That would be the highlight of my career. Biggest stage in the world, against the champion of the world.” Walker’s mesmeric display caps what has been a tumultuous personal path to Tokyo.

His status as an Olympian once seemed in jeopardy after defeat at March 2020’s qualifying tournament.

The postponement of last summer’s event, however, plus a recalibration of the qualification process for these games, saw him take his spot for this refixed 2021 iteration courtesy of ranking points racked up at international level.

Despite a rib injury, and a bout of Covid earlier this year, Walker eventually nailed down his Tokyo ticket.

Any sporting concerns ultimately gave way to starker hurdles outside the ring, though, with Walker’s boxing exploits 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 “It’s madness. Life throws mad things at you, I fully believe now, though, and I think that belief will bring me through here.

“I went 16 months without a fight and I’m flying in there at the moment, I’m just in the best possible shape."

Walker now joins compatriot Aidan Walsh in the last eight, the latter having secured his own medal bout yesterday after comprehensively overcoming Albert Mengue Ayissi of Cameroon in the welterweight classification.

Next up on the Irish boxing ledger is Aoife O’Rourke. The Castlerea woman is primed for a 10.18am start Irish time today when she squares off against Rio medalist - and former world champion - Li Quan.

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