What we learned: Boxing highlights from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

From Cuba’s resurgence to Turkey’s historic first gold, we reflect on boxing's most memorable moments at Tokyo 2020, recap the medals, and look forward to Paris 2024.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The spiritual home of sumo wrestling, Kokugikan Arena, played host to 15 days of thrilling boxing action at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The first Olympic tournament run by the IOC Boxing Task Force was considered a huge success, with a distinct lack of judging controversies which had marred some previous Games.

Cuba and Great Britain were the only nations to win multiple golds in the ring, while the expansion of women’s weight classes from three to five helped Turkey to its first boxing gold, as Japan and Bulgaria clinched first women’s titles.

The Philippines also starred with three medals in its best ever Games, while the United States failed to top the podium for the first time since 2008, although four medals was their best tally since 2000.

Read on for some of the most memorable moments, a recap of the medal winners, and who to look out for at Paris 2024.

Arlen Lopez podium Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Top 5 boxing moments at Tokyo 2020 in 2021

Here are some of the highlights from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

1: Arlen Lopez and Julio Cesar La Cruz head up Cuban resurgence

Cuba returned to the summit in Tokyo, winning four golds and a bronze in men’s boxing.

Roniel Iglesias got the ball rolling with victory over Pat McCormack in the welterweight final.

McCormack was on the canvas early in round two after a solid left from Iglesias, but the referee adjudged it a slip rather than a knockdown. It had little bearing on the outcome as the Cuban out boxed the European Games champion and scored a unanimous points decision.

It was a remarkable triumph for the 32-year-old southpaw in his fourth Olympic Games after bronze at Beijing 2008 and gold at London 2012 at light-welterweight, and a controversial welterweight quarter-final exit at Rio 2016.

Roniel Iglesias celebrates Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Luis Robayo - Pool

Arlen Lopez beat another British boxer, Ben Whittaker, in the light-heavyweight final to make it two Cuban golds in Tokyo.

Whittaker was never able to get back into the bout after being too passive in the opening round, and his disappointment at defeat manifested itself in him refusing to wear his silver medal during the victory ceremony.

That was of no concern to Lopez, who followed up his middleweight gold in Rio with a second Olympic title at a higher weight class.

Rio light-heavyweight gold medallist Julio Cesar La Cruz was trying to do the same in the heavyweight final against ROC’s reigning world champion Muslim Gadzhimagomedov.

This was always going to be a contrast of styles with the question whether the resolute Gadzhimagomedov – who had overpowered his previous opponents - could make his presence felt against the fast, flashy Cuban.

In the end, it was barely a contest as La Cruz put on a clinic to make another top fighter look very ordinary indeed. Gadzhimagomedov could barely land a punch with La Cruz’s movement and hand speed a sight to behold.

The 31-year-old Cuba boxing captain was simply magnificent with his opponent cutting a frustrated figure at the end.

Julio La Cruz Gadzhimagomedov Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

On the final day, Andy Cruz made it four golds with victory at lightweight over Keyshawn Davis.

Cruz had beaten the American in both the finals of the Pan American Games and World Championships in 2019, and he did so again in Tokyo.

The 26-year-old started the busier and Davis, who has already been talked of as a potential world champion in the professional ranks, struggled to land telling blows.

Davis was given the second round on all five scorecards to leave him ahead with one judge and all square with the other four. But it was Cruz who upped the intensity in the third, landing the crisper shots to take a deserved 4-1 split decision.

It means Andre Ward (Athens 2004) remains the USA’s last men’s boxing Olympic champion with Cuba taking their gold tally to 41, just nine behind their North American rivals.

Andy Cruz Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

2: Kellie Harrington follows Katie Taylor into Irish hearts

As the 2018 lightweight world champion, Kellie Harrington had genuine hopes of winning gold in Tokyo.

Harrington made headlines at the Strandja Memorial in February when she gave the judges in Sofia a piece of her mind after finishing on the wrong end of a very debatable decision in the quarter-finals.

She proved her quality with victory in the rescheduled European qualifiers in Paris, beating Caroline Dubois in the final having previously outclassed French professional star Maiva Hamadouche.

After making smooth progress to the semi-finals, the 31-year-old faced Thailand’s Sudaporn Seesondee – Dubois’ quarter-final conqueror - in a repeat of the 2018 Worlds final.

As was the case in New Delhi three years ago, it was tight with both boxers fighting out of southpaw stances and demonstrating similar styles and skills.

And exactly as in 2018, it was Harrington who got the verdict on a 3-2 split decision, sending her through to the final against reigning world champion Beatriz Ferreira.

The relentless Brazilian was considered the favourite going into the bout, and her trademark aggression served her well in the opening exchanges.

But Harrington sized her up in the first two minutes and worked out exactly what she needed to do. She confused Ferreira by switching between southpaw and orthodox stances and hit her opponent with almost unerring accuracy.

A unanimous decision was the verdict with Harrington’s tears of delight in the ring matched by joyous scenes in Portland Row, Dublin where her family and friends watched the bout on a big screen early Sunday morning.

Harrington, who works part-time as a hospital cleaner, is taking time out to "recharge" before deciding whether to follow London 2012 lightweight champion Katie Taylor into the pro ranks.

Paris 2024 is also an option but, whatever Harrington chooses to do, she has joined the ranks of Irish Olympic heroes.

Harrington Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

3: Hebert Sousa stuns Oleksandr Khyzhniak to take middleweight gold

If there was anything like a certainty in boxing at Tokyo 2020, it was that Oleksandr Khyzhniak would maintain his five-year unbeaten record and claim middleweight gold.

The 2018 world champion missed the following year’s competition, but showed he was the best middleweight in Olympic boxing at April’s rescheduled European qualifier in Paris with victory over his Russian successor Gleb Bakshi in the final.

The Ukrainian, whose last defeat came at light-heavyweight in qualifying for Rio 2016, came through one of the bouts of the tournament against Eumir Marcial of the Philippines in the semi-finals. There were signs of vulnerability in a tough nine-minute slugfest, but Khyzhniak would not be denied and a big last round saw him take a 3-2 split decision.

Gold looked on the cards when Khyzhniak took the opening two rounds in the final against Hebert Sousa.

The rangy Brazilian did not appear to have too much in response to the top seed’s aggression from the opening bell, except for a couple of solid rights at the end of round two, but he had a surprise in store.

Khyzhniak carried a two-point lead on all five scorecards and only needed to avoid being caught to take gold, but he continued to charge forward in trademark fashion with Sousa trying to load up the right uppercut.

Just before the midway point of round three, he left himself open and Sousa landed a left hook flush on the jaw.

Hebert Sousa knocks out Oleksandr Khyzhniak

The favourite looked stunned as he hit the deck and immediately sprung back up rather than take his time to regain his senses. His legs were like jelly as he leant on the referee for support before remonstrating with the man in the middle who judged him unfit to continue.

Joy for Sousa with a disbelieving Khyzhniak resuming his position as if to start again, but the fight was over and the 23-year-old Brazilian was Olympic champion.

Sousa celebrates Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

4: History for Japan, Bulgaria and Turkey’s Busenaz Surmeneli

The expansion of women’s weight classes from three to five in Tokyo reflects the sport’s growth and there was home joy in the first featherweight Olympic tournament.

Local favourite IRIE Sena used her reach and speed to good advantage as she got the better of the Philippines’ Nesthy Petecio to take the first boxing gold in Tokyo.

After coming through 3-2 split decision verdicts against Romania's Maria Nechita and Britain’s Karriss Artingstall, the 20-year-old was more convincing in the final.

Petecio improved in the second round, but Irie edged the third on all five scorecards to become Japan’s first women’s boxing Olympic champion.

Irie Petecio Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Luis Robayo - Pool

Bulgaria also won its first women’s boxing gold thanks to two-time World Championship silver medallist Stoyka Krasteva.

The 35-year-old got the better of fellow southpaw Buse Naz Cakiroglu with Krasteva’s jab catching the eye and the Turk not doing enough on the counter to sway the judges.

Krasteva retired in 2018, but came back to claim her country’s first boxing gold since Atlanta 1996.

Disappointment for Turkey, but it would not last long as Busenaz Surmeneli took the first Olympic women’s welterweight title to secure her country’s first ever gold in boxing.

Having cruised into the final, the 2019 world champion was far from her best with Gu Hong operating effectively on the back foot and not letting her opponent find her rhythm. The Chinese was harshly deducted a point for holding as Surmeneli bored in early in the second round, and given a standing eight count later that period after appearing to take a couple of big shots well.

It was far from a classic, but the judges gave it 3-0 to Surmeneli with that point deduction not having a bearing in the end. While Gu looked non-plussed at the decision, the 23-year-old from Trabzon was ecstatic at making boxing history.

Surmeneli decision Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

5: Double delight for Team GB

Galal Yafai and Lauren Price saw Great Britain join Cuba as the only countries to win more than one boxing gold at Tokyo 2020.

Yafai came through a stacked men’s flyweight class, subduing Kazakhstan’s flashy southpaw Saken Bibossinov in the semi-finals by getting in close and attacking from the start.

Bibossinov took a standing eight count in the opening minute as he walked onto a straight left, and Yafai poured on the pressure as well as covering up on the inside.

The two went toe-to-toe in the final round of what was a cracking contest, but Yafai remained calm despite taking some good shots and gained a 3-2 split decision.

In the gold medal bout, he met Carlo Paalam who defeated Rio 2016 champion Shakhobidin Zoirov in the quarter-finals.

There was scarcely a backward step early on, but Yafai landed a big left and followed up with a solid right to score a rare knockdown at flyweight.

Despite that, the five judges at ringside only scored it 10-9 rather than 10-8, but four of them gave Yafai a close second round to put him in a commanding position.

That was the cue for the Briton to get on his bike, knowing he just had to stay out of trouble to gain the points verdict. And so it proved with Paalam unable to land anything of serious note.

The youngest of three boxing brothers, Yafai now looks set to follow Beijing 2008 Olympian and world professional champion Kai and former European professional champion Gamal into the paid ranks.

Galal Yafai Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

After coming through a tight middleweight semi-final against old rival Nouchka Fontijn, Lauren Price added Olympic gold to her world title in Tokyo.

Price, who played international football for Wales and won a world title in kick boxing, was too quick and accurate for Rio bronze medallist LI Qian.

The 27-year-old southpaw managed to get inside the Chinese boxer’s long reach, scoring with the right jab and some quick combinations to win a comfortable unanimous decision.

Britain’s six-medal haul was one more than their five from London 2012, although they did win three golds at their home Games.

Lauren Price gold Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

One last look

Bakhodir Jalolov is set for a lucrative professional career after taking super-heavyweight gold in Tokyo.

The California-based Uzbek was beaten in the quarter-finals at Rio 2016 by eventual silver medallist Joe Joyce, and won eight pro bouts before his second Games.

In a repeat of their quarter-final bout at the 2019 World Championships, which Jalolov won by knockout on his way to gold, Richard Torres of the United States was unable to overcome a massive height and reach disadvantage.

Torres actually won the first round on three scorecards, but took a standing eight count and had a point deducted in round two as Jalolov powered to victory.

Jalolov flag Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

This was a last Games for Mira Potkonen who claimed her second lightweight bronze medal.

At 40, the Finn would normally have been too old to compete in Olympic boxing but that was due to the postponement from last year when she was eligible.

Potkonen, who defeated Katie Taylor in Rio to take bronze, ended her career on the podium again as she went down to Beatriz Ferreira in the semi-finals.

Mary Kom was unable to reach the podium on her last Olympic appearance, and the Indian star had a somewhat strange end to her Tokyo Games.

The 38-year-old lost her flyweight last 16 bout to old rival Ingrit Valencia of Colombia on a 3-2 split decision, but did not realise she had been beaten until checking social media posts hours later.

Mother-of-four Kom intends to fight on and another tilt at the World Championships, where she can box in her preferred light-flyweight class, is a possibility.

Mary Kom Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Luis Robayo - Pool

Albert Batyrgaziev won ROC’s sole boxing gold in Tokyo as he got the better of Duke Ragan in the men’s featherweight final.

The two 23-year-olds both arrived in Japan on the back of professional experience, and Batyrgaziev avenged his defeat to Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez at the 2019 World Championships with a 3-2 split decision in the semi-finals.

The former kick boxer from Dagestan made history, becoming the first professional to win an Olympic gold in boxing.

He believes there is little distinction between Olympic and pro boxing, saying, “I think that being here for any athlete means that it’s a professional or a near-professional experience. Here at these Games, any athlete can consider himself or herself a professional.”

Ragan was unable to live with his opponent’s fast pace, particularly in the first two rounds, and would relish a rematch over a longer distance as a professional.

He said, "If that was to happen, I really look forward to getting revenge. I’m pretty sure that everyone that tuned into the Olympics would want to see that again, especially on a bigger level."

Batyrgaziev Ragan Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Hello Paris 2024

With only three years to go until Paris, there is a chance we may see some of the Cuban champions again with Julio Cesar La Cruz aiming for a third gold medal.

Many medallists will no doubt head for the professional ranks, but India’s Lovlina Borgohain could go for gold after winning bronze in the women’s welterweight division.

After six medals at Rio 2016 including two golds, France failed to make the podium in Tokyo after surprise defeats for flyweight medal hopeful Billal Bennama and Rio lightweight silver medallist Sofiane Oumiha who was stopped by Keyshawn Davis.

They will be hoping for far better on home soil with 23-year-old Bennama – who won the European qualifier and felt somewhat aggrieved by the judges after his defeat to eventual bronze medallist Saken Bibbosinov - telling L’Equipe that he would “think about” Paris.

Lovlina Borgohain with her coaching staff after reaching the 69kg semi-finals at Tokyo 2020

When and where to watch boxing replays on Olympics.com

We've got you covered. You can watch everything right here.

When do the top boxers compete next?

The AIBA Men’s World Boxing Championships will be held in Belgrade from 26 October to 6 November.

The AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships are scheduled for October with the venue and dates yet to be confirmed.

AIBA has increased the number of men’s weight classes at its World Championships from 10 to 13, and women’s weight classes from 10 to 12.

Bennama Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Full medals list in boxing at Tokyo 2020 in 2021

Women's flyweight (51kg)

Gold - Stoyka Krasteva (BUL)

Silver - Buse Naz Cakiroglu (TUR)

Bronze - NAMIKI Tsukimi (JPN), HUANG Hsiao-Wen (TPE)

Women's featherweight (57kg)

Gold - IRIE Sena (JPN)

Silver - Nesthy Petecio (PHI)

Bronze - Karriss Artingstall (GBR), Irma Testa (ITA)

Women's lightweight (60kg)

Gold - Kellie Harrington (IRL)

Silver - Beatriz Ferreira (BRA)

Bronze - Sudaporn Seesondee (THA), Mira Potkonen (FIN)

Women's welterweight (69kg)

Gold - Busenaz Surmeneli (TUR)

Silver - Gu Hong (CHN)

Bronze - Lovlina Borgohain (IND), Oshae Jones (USA)

Women's middleweight (75kg)

Gold - Lauren Price (GBR)

Silver - LI Qian (CHN)

Bronze - Nouchka Fontijn (NED), Zenfira Magomedalieva (ROC)

Krasteva gold Tokyo
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Men's flyweight (52kg)

Gold - Galal Yafai (GBR)

Silver - Carlo Paalam (PHI)

Bronze - Saken Bibossinov (KAZ), TANAKA Ryomei (JPN)

Men's featherweight (57kg)

Gold - Albert Batyrgaziev (ROC)

Silver - Duke Ragan (USA)

Bronze - Lazaro Alvarez (CUB), Samuel Takyi (GHA)

Men's lightweight (63kg)

Gold - Andy Cruz (CUB)

Silver - Keyshawn Davis (USA)

Bronze - Harry Garside (AUS), Hovhannes Bachkov (ARM)

Men's welterweight (69kg)

Gold - Roniel Iglesias (CUB)

Silver - Pat McCormack (GBR)

Bronze - Andrei Zamkovoi (ROC), Aidan Walsh (IRL)

Men's middleweight (75kg)

Gold - Hebert Sousa (BRA)

Silver - Oleksander Khyzhniak (UKR)

Bronze - Gleb Bakshi (ROC), Eumir Marcial (PHI)

Men's light-heavyweight (81kg)

Gold - Arlen Lopez (CUB)

Silver - Ben Whittaker (GBR)

Bronze - Loren Alfonso (AZE), Imam Khataev (ROC)

Men's heavyweight (91kg)

Gold - Julio Cesar La Cruz (CUB)

Silver - Muslim Gadzhimagomedov (ROC)

Bronze - Abner Teixeira (BRA), David Nyika (NZL)

Men's super-heavyweight (+91kg)

Gold - Bakhodir Jalolov (UZB)

Silver - Richard Torres Jr (USA)

Bronze - Frazer Clarke (GBR), Kamshybek Kunkabayev (KAZ)


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