Galal Yafai will fight for an Olympic gold medal on Saturday after a thrilling flyweight semi-final victory over Saken Bibossinov of Kazakhstan at the Kokugikan Arena.
“It’s insane, its like a dream,” Yafai told the BBC cameras after a victory that left his opponent distraught at the end, and Yafai, a 5ft4in live-wire, relishing the prospect of Saturday’s final.
This was an explosive three-round fight that Yafai began with an adrenal surge of precision punches, swarming all over Bibossinov in a start that would have left Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce in the blocks. That early barrage led to a standing count for the Kazakh as Yafai caught him with a right hand.
From there the fight was a battle for space, both fighters trying to assert their own will as to where it would be fought. Yafai managed to spend the entire first round at close range, and swept the judges’ cards. But Bibossinov is a classy fighter and he managed to keep his man at a more comfortable range in round two, picking away at Yafai from distance and taking it 3-2 on the cards.
That left a third round decider and it was breathless stuff, both men attacking relentlessly, and Bibossinov punching himself to state of exhaustion by the end. Yaffai’s close work looked enough to take the fight, although there was still time for the peculiar spectacle of Bibossinov raising his arms in triumph ten seconds before the end of the fight, to Yaffai’s apparent bemusement.
Yafai took the decision, leaving Bibossinov in tears, although he did recover in time to congratulate the winning corner. Yafai is now guaranteed at least a silver medal when he fights Carlo Palaam of the Philippines on Saturday afternoon, 2pm Tokyo time.
He comes from a fighting background: both his bothers Gamal and Kal are professional boxers, and they grew up sparring in the family home, an informal training that has, Yafai says, made up for any gaps in his amateur years as he focused at times on football instead. He looks a seriously talented, seriously confident flyweight.
Palaam has also stormed his way through the draw, offering the prospect of an explosive final. Great Britain are certain to win five medals at these Games, although none yet have been a gold.
In the women’s draw Kellie Harrington of Ireland also reached the final of the Lightweight competition with a split win against over Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand.