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Sensational Irvine seals qualification for Tokyo Olympics but Walker misses out in London

The ‘Wee Rooster’ is off to Tokyo after dominating a barnburner versus his teak-tough Hungarian opponent.

Brendan Irvine celebrates qualification for his second Olympic Games.
Brendan Irvine celebrates qualification for his second Olympic Games.

Updated Mar 16th 2020, 8:15 PM

BELFAST’S BRENDAN IRVINE has become the first Irish boxer to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after producing a sensation performance to dominate a thrilling contest with teak-tough Hungarian Istvan Szaka.

Irvine will represent Ireland at flyweight (52kg) in Tokyo after earning an expertly fought unanimous decision over the highly regarded Szaka at London’s Copper Box Arena.

The Hungarian came out of the blocks like a train but would ultimately pay the price for engaging in trench warfare with the ‘Wee Rooster’, who out-manned him and out-gunned him for all three rounds of a high-octane affair.

Irvine, who boxed for Ireland as a youngster at the Rio 2016 Olympics, put together a display consisting of cold, calculated destruction, and on occasions — particularly in the second round — must have given the referee something to think about.

the-road-to-tokyo-olympic-boxing-qualification-event-the-copperbox-stratford-london-march-16-2020 Irvine lands a left hand through Szaka's guard. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The first verse was the most competitive, Szaka landing enough jolting left hands to take it on one of the five judges’ scorecards. Irvine, though, appeared to physically grow into the contest as it progressed, at first holding off Szaka’s advances before slowing him with reefing shots to the body and, after a manic opening couple of minutes, marching his opponent backwards — which he did for the remainder.

The 23-year-old adapted to Szaka’s up-close-and-personal approach, creating space to land his right hand at will and finding a rhythm with which he pierced the Hungarian’s guard at every opportunity.

Two of the judges gave Irvine the second round on a score of 10-8, a nod towards his dominance, and there was no let-up from the Irish Elite champion in the third as he continued to pound Szaka to both body and head, beating the fight out of him down the stretch.

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It was, perhaps, Irvine’s best performance since his corresponding Rio qualification bout in Turkey four years ago, and by the time the final bell sounded, there were no doubts as to who would have their hand raised.

Irvine marches on to his second Olympics looking like a markedly improved and more mature fighter, Ireland’s first to seal the deal in the European leg which will be suspended after the end of this evening’s action.

the-road-to-tokyo-olympic-boxing-qualification-event-the-copperbox-stratford-london-march-16-2020 Walker lands a right hand. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Kurt Walker missed his opportunity to join his fellow Antrim man in Tokyo before that particular deadline, however. In an upset, the European champion and no.2 seed was beaten on a unanimous decision by Germany’s Hamsat Shadalov at 57kg.

Walker will have to wait for the currently dateless global qualification event if he is to fulfil his dream of fighting at an Olympics following a bout in which he never quite got to grips with the awkward and more elusive Shadalov.

The superb German youngster was simply too swift and too accurate for Walker who seemed somewhat out of sorts, his often visible frustration working to his detriment as he tried to force the issue and got caught with several counters.

Shadalov had a handy lead, 20-18, going into the last round and so spent much of that on the retreat as Walker did his best to produce something miraculous, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion for the Lisburn man who will be disappointed with his performance.

Ireland’s Emmet Brennan, George Bates, Kiril Afanasev, Aidan Walsh and Michael Nevin all advanced to their respective division’s last-16 stages over the last two days of the tournament in London, but due to its postponement will have to resume their qualification bids at a later date which will be determined by the IOC’s Boxing Task Force (BTF).

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