Nevin's bronze age
BOXING:JOHN JOE Nevin crossed himself and looked up into the dark roof spaces in London’s Excel Arena. For a time in the third round of his bronze medal fight with Mexico’s Oscar Valdez, Nevin had made doubters of us all.
In the final, boiling three minutes it was the bantamweight who was on his knees looking over to his corner for guidance after a cracking blow to the side from Mexico’s Oscar Valdez put him on the canvas.
It was then for what seemed an interminable amount of time that Nevin’s journey in London 2012 seemed in doubt. But those fears were misplaced. He took his count and continued as he had done throughout the fight, flicking out his jab and landing right hooks time and time again.
“I just took it. I glanced over at Billy and he went (gestures to stay down),” said Nevin. “I think there was a minute left and I thought, ‘listen, it’s going to be a long minute.’ Ah it was a brilliant shot, a class shot. I could do nothing about it, I had to go down – it was either that or get knocked out because I wasn’t feeling my best, I wasn’t able to keep my hands up.”
Each time this week Nevin has held his nerve and his ability has shone through. Last night was no different for the 23-year-old, who had travelled to the Beijng Olympics four years ago as a teenager.
Yesterday was vindication that his decision to remain an amateur was the right pick as Nevin is guaranteed a bronze medal and meets Cuban world champion Lazaro Estrada Alvarez on Friday for a place in the Olympic final. In the mood Nevin held last night that doesn’t seem too steep a mountain to climb.
“My cousin David passed away in February and he was meant to be here,” said a visibly emotional Nevin. His 25-year-old cousin died suddenly from a heart attack in February.
“I’d like to thank him. It means a lot to me and I know he should have been here now. Hopefully he is with me. I know he is there.
“It was the likes of him, and Kenneth Egan or God as I call him . . . I looked up to him since I was 19 years old. Me and John Joe Joyce got off the back of the plane , and I hung on.
“Some lads wanted me to go professional, but I hung on and I said ‘I won’t get off the back of the plane this time’. I was just talking about that to Billy yesterday. And he said ‘you won’t, John Joe’.”
Although the first round last night ended 5-5 after what seemed like a powerfully commanding three minutes from Nevin, he was not deterred. The rights were landing and his jab was working better but more importantly he remained elusive as Valdez menacingly marched forward. Nevin was 12-9 coming out of the second round and that lead made the Mexican even more desperate to score.
Occasionally running to Nevin to close the ring, the Irishman had his measure and despite the blow that had him on his knees, Nevin claimed the fight 19-13.
And Paddy Barnes is just three rounds away from becoming the first boxer to win two medals at the Olympic Games. The light-flyweight beat Thomas Essomba of the Cameroon 15-10 to set up a meeting with India’s Singh Laishram on Wednesday night, a win guaranteeing him at least a bronze medal.
“Aye, he’s very good, very useful. He’s very fast and explosive,” said Barnes of his next opponent. “But I’m going to enjoy my victory.”
Barnes and Billy Walsh know Laishram from close up as the Belfast man sparred with him when the Irish hosted India at a training camp last month.
“Yeah we were in a training camp together, we had some test matches against him,” said Walsh. “He’s very, very good. He’s very good, fast and explosive. We know a lot about him. He was in Dublin for 10 days. We helped them get ready for this. There won’t be a whole lot between them.”
Using his stout defence and sharp jabs, Barnes was never in danger. A 5-3 first round was followed by a pivotal second three minutes where Barnes lurched ahead 11-7. Essomba had to chase points but didn’t have enough against the tidy Barnes, who seemed entirely unperturbed about his next opponent Laishram, who defeated the fourth seed and Beijing silver medalist Serdamba Purevdorj. Barnes remained unfazed.
“I don’t care who won that fight,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me as long as I’m in form.”