Gamal Yafai talks to John Dennen about the uncertainties of the future
Gamal Yafai on the trials and tribulations of international boxing
OLYMPIC boxing is a perilous game. As well as the vagaries of the draw in tournaments, of judging sometimes, there is additional uncertainty at present. AIBA, the world governing body, have indicated they will reduce the number of men’s weight divisions for Tokyo 2020 from 10 to eight, while increasing the number of women’s divisions from three to five. While creating further opportunities for female boxers is most welcome, it’s a drastic move to cut two established categories, especially more than a year after the last Olympics when boxers have already committed themselves to the next cycle. There has been no further clarity on what divisions might lose their Olympic status.
Gamal Yafai is probably one of many uneasy light-flyweights. “If you look at my weight, 49kgs, nearly every person that went to the Olympics and won a medal is still there now. They don’t really go pro at my weight,” he tells Boxing News.
“Look at the other weights, a lot of them have gone, Olympic champions have gone pro, or the silver medallists have moved on. It’s a bit unfair if they get rid of my weight now when 49 kilos are the most loyal to AIBA. They stay, don’t they?
“They could change it to 50 kilos or 51. I’ve just got to go with whatever happens,” he speculated.
The light-flyweight division has retained the gold, silver and one bronze medallist from Rio 2016. “It’s just a case of waiting and seeing,” Yafai mused. “It would be a bit unfair on 49s because they’re the most loyal to AIBA and they’re the ones that stay amateur for longest.
“We’ll just have to see what happens and I’ll just have to adjust.”
In international amateur boxing you have to be adaptable. Yafai performed excellently in the final of the European championships against Russia’s Vasilii Egorov but did not get the decision. “I thought the judging was a bit weird. Three judges had it 29-28 to him and then two judges had it 27-30 to me and 25-30 to me! It was just a bit weird, I don’t get it all. It’s amateur boxing. I was gutted but I thought I won,” Gamal said. “I was gutted but I could move on from it and try and put it right at the Worlds but when I got to the Worlds I didn’t get seeded. Eight boxers got seeded and I wasn’t one of them. Which I wasn’t surprised by but I knew if I’d become European champion I would have got a seed. It could have been the difference between getting a medal.”
In his second contest at the World championships in Hamburg Gamal was drawn against Colombia’s Olympic silver medallist Yurberjen Martinez. “The Cuban [ Joahnys Argilagos] was World champion before and now he’s two time World champion but for me fighting the Colombian was a lot harder, he was so strong,” Gamal said. “There’s a boxer out there who’s stronger than me and I’ve got to use other skills to beat him.
“I can get away with it with kids who are going to try and box me and try and nick it off me. When I come up against someone who’s stronger than me, it’s like what do I do now? I’ve had 41 fights now, I’ve been to the Olympics, Europeans and now the Worlds and I’ve never come up against someone that’s stronger than me and that is going to push me back. I was like what’s going on here now? I’ve never had that before. Which is kind of a surprise that I’ve never had that before,” he said. “But it shows how relatively inexperienced I am because I’ve never come up against someone like that. It’s all learning from now on.”
‘I’D NEVER COME UP AGAINST SOMEONE SO STRONG BEFORE’
FLYING THE FLAG: Yafai takes pride in boxing for England at the Worlds
CLOSE CALL: Yafai [left] deals with the Cuban’s style well at the 2016 Olympic Games