Paalam slays Uzbek star, advances to medal round

Carlo Paalam of the Philippines unleashes a left straight against Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov during their men’s flyweight 52-kg quarterfinal boxing match at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Tuesday at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Japan.

TOKYO—Carlo Paalam slayed a giant of the boxing world’s flyweight division, winning on points by split decision over Olympic and world Shakhobidin Zoirov for a guaranteed bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Paalam’s victory came swift—one minute and 16 seconds into the second round—after Ukranian referee Pavlo Vasylynchuk stopped the fight after both boxers sustained forehead injuries following an accidental headbutt.

“He’s [Zoirov] tough, quick and he moved around a lot in the first round, we used the same strategy—we both measured each other,” Paalam, 23, said. “ But I was instructed by my coaches to pressure him and bring my game out.”

Disappointed with the decision, the Uzbek immediately left the Kokugikan Arena ring without the customary handshake with his opponent.

The referee decided both fighters were unfit to continue because of slight gash in their heads. Paalam was ahead on points at the time of stoppage, 20-19, on four judges and a tied 19-19 score in the fifth for a 4-0 win.

Zoirov appeared to be dictating the bout’s tempo in the first round but with Paalam connecting with his jabs and crosses, the Uzbek dropped his rhythm and occasionally missed his footing.

Paalam won the first round in all of the five judges’ scorecards, setting him up for a dominant second round.

“It was a wait-and-attack tactic,” coach Ronald Chavez said. “We told Carlo to wait for the right time, while defending occasionally attacking.”

Don Abnett, the boxing team’s Australian consultant, said Paalam was tasked to win the first round and take it from there.

“We went for the Uzbek’s chest and not much on the head,” Abnett said. “If he got hurt, that’s the time to follow through on the head.”

Paalam knew he was up against a boxer with packed credentials—gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics, 2018 world championships in Russia and 2021 Asian championships in Dubai.

“I used to watch him [Zoirov] on YouTube when I was younger,” Paalam said. “Now, I just fought and beat him.”

The fighter from Cagayan de Oro City, owner of a gold from the Philippines 2019 Southeast Asian Games and bronze from the Jakarta 2018 Asian Games,  was also aware that he’s the underdog in the fight.

“I knew—and many told me—that my chances against Zoirov was 50-50,” he said. “But I was inspired to fight, thanks to the Lord and the support that I have been receiving here.”

Paalam advancing to the semifinals equates to at least P6 million in total incentives—P2 million under the Athletes and Coaches Incentives Act through the Philippine Sports Commission chaired by William Ramirez and another P2 million each from San Miguel Corp. (Ramon S. Ang) and Smart/PLDT (Manuel V. Pangilinan).

Next for Paalam is Japanese Ryomei Tanaka, who advanced to the semifinals at the expense of Colombia’s Rivas Martinez, 4-1. The Japanese, however, was so drained from the fight that he left the arena in a wheelchair.

The Paalam-Tanaka match is set at 3:30 p.m. (Manila time) on Thursday.


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