It was a triple celebration for Paris United's Abdelkader Bouhenia at the University of Guizhou Stadium tonight as he marked his birthday, his WSB debut and a world title for his team. Paris made up a 3-2 deficit from last night's first leg to finish the evening 6-4 on aggregate after a superlative performance by the team.
Ireland's John Joe Nevin returned to action for Paris in the bantamweight opener against Mirzhan Rakhimzhanov of the Astana Arlans. Nevin had missed both semi-finals after struggling to make the WSB's bantamweight 54kg limit (he competes at 56kg in AIBA boxing). Despite this, and despite being the last team member to arrive and acclimatise to the 1000 metre altitude, Nevin's performance was almost routine considering he was appearing in the finals after such a break.
Everything worked for Nevin: the footwork, the defence, the jabs and the hooks. Rakhimzhanov had little to offer by way of resistance and had to concentrate on surviving the fifteen minutes. Nevin's consummate performance brought him an impressive unanimous decision 50-45, 50-45, 50-45 and drew Paris United level at 3-3 after the opening bout.
"When I got the call to ask me to make the weight for the final I was only too willing to come," he said. "I came out a day before the weigh-in and I wasn't too sure what to expect about making the weight."
"But to box the way I did tonight I'm very happy with my performance."
The Arlans' Yerzhan Mussafirov put his team ahead against United's Abdelkader Chadi from Algeria, who was competing in only his second bout of the WSB season. But Mussafirov's victory by unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) would be the Kazakhs' only victory of the evening.
Michel Tavares opened up a devastating final onslaught for Paris United in the middleweight bout with an impressive technical display to defeat the reigning Olympic Champion Bakhyt Sarsekbayev of the Astana Arlans by unanimous decision 49-46, 48-47, 48-47. Sarsekbayev opened strong to take the first round but Tavares fought back to turn the fight.
Tavares's recipe for success was simple: "I think I boxed well and really let rip and I saw that it worked."
Birthday boy Abdelkader Bouhenia then capitalised on this turning point in the match to prove his worth to team owner Brahim Asloum on his World Series of Boxing debut, taking the third unanimous decision of the evening with an emphatic 50-45, 49-46, 50-45 victory. Bouhenia kept opponent Marat Moldgagereyev under constant pressure in the light heavyweight contest, knocking out his gumshield in the first round and landing a vicious uppercut in the closing 30 seconds of the second. The European Champion won all five rounds to take the world title contest to the wire.
"I hope my victory will be decisive for the team. It was my first bout without a headguard but I found it ok. I felt at ease in the ring and I found I could express myself even better than in amateur boxing," Bouhenia said after his contest.
Youth World Champion Filip Hrgovic from Croatia, the youngest boxer in the finals at 18 years of age, and Sardor Abdullaev from Uzbekistan, the tallest at 201cm and the heaviest at 120kg, didn't know it when they entered the ring, but the winner of their heavyweight contest would ultimately decide who would become the WSB World Champion.
Hrgovic was happy to keep his opponent at arm's length and claim points from precise jabs and combinations from the in-fight, while Abdullaev seemed to be looking for one killer punch.
Abdullaev's tactics paid off in the first round, but after that the young Croatian's discipline and movement won out as he stormed through the remaining four rounds to a 48-47, 49-46, 48-47 victory and the world title for Paris United.
"It's not the first time I've had this kind of pressure on my back," Hrgovic said. "But I thought to myself, I have to do it for the team."
Paris United pocketed a cheque for 500,000 US dollars in addition to the coveted WSB Team Championship trophy.
But it's not the end of the season yet for the World Series of Boxing, with the Team Championships scheduled in Guiyang on 26 and 27 May with the first qualifying places at the Olympic Games at stake, plus individual prizes of 20,000 US dollars. And Paris United's head coach Kevinn Rabaud will be returning with Nordine Oubaali to contest the bantamweight title. But Rabaud will be sporting a different look, since he promised to shave his head if his team won the title - a promise his boxers will be only too happy to see him keep.
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