Tokyo 2020: Here we go for Harrington – nine minutes that could define her life

‘Now two world champions meet each other. It’s fantastic. They will have a plan.'

Ireland’s Kellie Harrington before her semi-final fight with Sudaporn Seesondee of Thailand. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Zaur Antia, Ireland's Georgian-born coach, doesn't mince his words. Nor does he give much away as Kellie Harrington faces the fight of her life. Bigger than her world silver medal bout in Minsk in 2016 or her world championship gold medal fight in New Delhi in 2018, as much as she insists that winning and losing does not define her, this is the bout that will do exactly that.

Who remembers Harrington claiming the world title in India? Who remembers Katie Taylor winning her fifth world title in Jeju, South Korea, or who remembers Taylor winning the Olympic gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012?

"Yeah, we know this boxer," says Zaur about Harrington's opponent on Sunday, Beatriz Fereirra. "At the last world championships she was the world champion. Now two world champions meet each other. It's fantastic. They will have a plan. We will have a plan. We'll see."

Fereirra became the world champion in 2019, the year after Harrington. While Harrington came into the Tokyo lightweight tournament as the top seed, there are plenty in the boxing arena at Kokugikan who see the Brazilian as the more powerful of the two.


But as Harrington and Zaur have pointed out on many occasions over the years, she will go in with a plan and she will fight to the instructions they set out and when her opponent works that out, they will change again. Harrington will not take on Fereirra in a punching match because that she would lose.

Zaur's efforts will be to maximise Harrington's strengths and try to get her to fight a fight that her opponent does not like, as she did with a high degree of patience against Thailand's Sudaporn Seesondee in the semi final.

Body language

“It’s about body language, coaches reading body language,” says Zaur. “The boxer reads the body language of the opponent and then if you call at the right time then the boxer will implement this. If the boxer implements it late, it will not work.

“That’s from many years together, what we have learned from each other. When we call something and it’s implemented at the same time that’s when good things happen.

“If the plan works very well, it will work for a while. That’s what happens because then they see. You have to have three plans and change them all the time, not to let them settle and find out.”

Fereirra is an "army athlete" who has had three fights and won all of them by unanimous decision. If she wants to be she can be a kind of Mike Tyson bulldozer boxer and although not seeded higher than Harrington the 28-year-old is ranked number one in the lightweight division.

Against Mira Potkonen, the fighter from Finland who knocked Katie Taylor out of the Rio Olympics, Fereirra adopted a different style as Potkonen started toe to toe, deciding she had the stamina and power to last nine minutes.


"If you'd watched the fight with Potkonen, she wasn't aggressive actually," said the Irish boxing team's high performance director Bernard Dunne. "She was very passive in what she did, and actually countered with the right quite a lot."

Fereirra gives off a confident, indestructible vibe to Harrington’s reflective pose of not allowing the external noise in. Fereirra does the opposite and performs a dance after each of her bouts; two different characters trying to fight two different fights with the same common goal.

“We already have three medals guaranteed,” said the Brazilian this week. “But we are training for the gold. We want the highest place on the podium.”

Now, just nine minutes to decide that.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times