One year on from the 7th World University Boxing Championships let’s take a look back at the event and Team Ireland’s exploits.
The 7th FISU World University Boxing Championships were hosted by Chiang Mai University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in association with FISU (International University Sports Federation), the University Athletic Association of Thailand, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and the Thailand Boxing Association.
The championships attracted participants from 19 nations, exclusively from Europe (13) and Asia (6). There were 100 boxers – 80 males and 20 females. This was the largest athlete entry since the inaugural championships in 2004 hosted by Antalya, Turkey which welcomed 127 boxers from 27 nations.
The 2004 World University Championships was also the only previous occasion when Irish boxers entered. Ireland were represented by Eamon O’Kane and Cathal McMonagle. The 2016 World University Boxing Championships Irish Team was the first team selected under the aegis of the Irish Athletic Third-Level Boxing Association (IATBA), since the association was founded in 2010.
Team Selection Criteria Proposed by Irish Athletic Third-level Boxing Association Officers:
Paul Geoghegan (Team Manager)
Paddy Gallagher (Team Coach)
To be considered to compete at the World University Boxing Championships, individual students must fulfil the following criteria:
- have previously competed in the National Senior Elite Championships
- be currently ranked among the top eight boxers in Ireland in their weight class
- preferably have international experience as a Senior Elite boxer
Student Boxer Selection
The Team Manager nominated five eligible student boxers whom had achieved the selection criteria above to be considered for selection for the World University Championships by the Student Sport Ireland High Performance Committee.
The students proposed were:
Céire Smith – Cavan BC & Dublin City University (Female 51 Kg)
Gary McKenna – Old School BC, Monaghan & University of Ulster (Male 60 Kg)
Christina Desmond – Father Horgan’s BC, Cork & Limerick Institute of Technology (Female 75 Kg)
Conor Wallace – St Monica’s, Newry & University of Ulster (Male 75 Kg)
Kenneth Okungbowa – Athlone BC & Athlone Institute of Technology (Male 91 Kg)
The SSI High Performance Committee, aided by the selection criteria outlined above, and the student nomination forms submitted, reviewed each student boxer nominated and ratified all five for participation at the 7th FISU Boxing World University Championships.
Training and preparation
The boxers mainly trained with their club coaches at home in their own clubs. The boxers selected were initially informed of the possibility of Ireland entering a team for the World University Championships in March 2016. In the meantime, Céire Smith and Christina Desmond trained with the Irish High Performance Unit in preparation for the European Olympics Qualifier Tournament in Turkey in April and the AIBA Women’s World Championships in May 2016. Both women were unfortunate to miss out on Olympics qualification.
Kenneth Okungbowa was producing the best form of his career in winning gold medals in both the Haringey International Box Cup in London in June (representing IATBA) and the Celtic Box Cup in Dungarvan Co. Waterford in September. Gary McKenna also won a silver medal for the IATBA team at the Haringey Box Cup. Conor Wallace also secured a silver for IATBA at that tournament.
Conor Wallace also had the unique opportunity to be selected by Irish UFC MMA fighter Conor McGregor to be his sparring partner for his training camp in preparation for his ultimate victory over Nate Diaz. Conor trained in Las Vegas for 7 weeks before the showdown on August 20th. Conor had previously been involved in the Irish Elite teams training camp in Azerbaijan in June.
Competition Venue, Organisation and Standard
The venue was the Chiang Mai University Convention Center (CMUCC), built in 1997. The building offers seating for 3,500 persons and floor space of around 1,500 square metres for the field of play for the boxing competition. This was also the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the championships. As the CMUCC is also a theatre venue the acoustics of the building were particularly striking.
The organisation of the championships were beyond expectations. Every team’s delegation was assigned a liaison team comprising students from Chiang Mai University. The size of these teams was dependent on the size of the delegations. The Irish Team delegation comprised four students for the first two days and the two for the remainder of the event. The liaison teams were the conduit for information between the organizing committee and the delegations. Our liaison team met us at the airport, organized the transport to the hotel, gave us a tour of the facilities and venue, helped us exchange currency and informed us of all duties we had to perform each day every morning. Information was passed along to the team in a Facebook group in which the Irish Team and our liaison team were all members. Our liaison team was most helpful throughout the event and had excellent standard of English as they were studying English at CMU.
The facilities at the hotel and venue were excellent, including the layout of the medical rooms where 24-hour medical service was available from staff from the Chiang Mai University Hospital. Also, the weigh-in facility, officials’ room, technical room etc. were excellent and there were two boxing rings and five free-standing punch bags in a temporary competition training area set-up in the basement of the hotel residence. Three meals a day were offered in a large dining room at Uniserv CMU. The meal windows were large allowing the delegations ample time to eat all their meals allowing for the differing daily schedules. The food and drink were of a high standard, fresh and nutritious, and the staff were very friendly and helpful. Every effort was made to ensure that the participants were comfortable.
Review of Individual Performances
Conor Wallace (Middleweight, 75Kg)
Conor opened up the competition for Ireland in the third bout on day one against Valerii Kharlamov of Ukraine in a preliminary bout. Kharlamov had previously boxed in the AIBA World Championships and for the Ukraine Ottomans in the World Series of Boxing.
Wallace began brilliantly, flooring his opponent in the opening round with a big left (for what would be the most impressive knockdown of the whole championships) and taking the lead on the scorecards. Disaster would then strike in as Wallace suffered a nasty cut over his eye, seemingly via a clash of heads. With the scores level 19-19 Coach Paddy Gallagher brought a halt to the bout at the end of the second round to prevent any irreparable damage being inflicted, and therefore a technical knock-out win was awarded to Kharlamov.
Conor can count himself very unlucky, as had the referee and ringside doctor stopped the bout during the second round rather than the coach at the end of the round, Wallace would have been awarded the win on the scored-cards via technical decision. Nevertheless, due to the severity and placement of the gash, Conor’s participation in the quarter finals would have been impossible.
Following this TKOI win for Kharlamov, the Ukrainian stormed to gold, defeating Taiwanese fighter Chin-An Yeh (30-27 x3), Frenchman Bengoro Bamba (29-27 x 2, 28-28) before a win in the final over Russian Artem Garashchuk.
The gash on Conor’s eye required stitches which were removed after four days. The medical care was top class from the on duty medical team throughout the championships.
Gary McKenna (Lightweight, 60Kg)
Gary McKenna opened his competition in a high-tempo duel with Temirian Osmonov of Kyrgyzstan over three, three-minute rounds in the 60Kg lightweight class. The evasive Kyrgyz connected with some slick shots throughout, while Gary constantly took the fight to his opponent and detonated some big punches off both hands throughout and going down the final stretch of a see-saw encounter. The verdict was a 3-0 score line for Osmonov. The judges scored the final round to Gary 2 to 1 but had already awarded his opponent the first two rounds.
Gary, personally had thought he had done enough to win, however the result was not in question. Osmonov fought a very sharp and controlled bout and done what he needed to do to win.
Céire Smith (Flyweight, 51Kg)
Céire Smith began her World Championships against French No. 2 Wassila Lkhadiri in the flyweight 51Kg division in the quarter-finals on the third day of competition. Smith, aiming for a semi-final meeting with Japan’s Sano Kawano and a guaranteed bronze medal, lost to Lkhadiri in the flyweight category over four two-minute rounds. The multiple time Irish Elite champion held her composure in the face of Lkhadiri’s constant aggression in the first two rounds of the bout, finding the target with well-timed combinations, but eventually bowed out on a split decision 2-1.
Céire was disappointed with her performance and felt she could have done better, but despite her best effort the necessary strength and energy just wasn’t there on the day against an opponent she had bested in sparring matches in Ireland’s High Performance Boxing training camps in Dublin.
Christina Desmond (Middleweight, 75Kg)
Christina Desmond, on day 2 of the competition, made history after becoming the first ever Irish boxer to win a medal at the World University Boxing Championships. Christina won her quarter-final comprehensively 3-0 against Kazakhstan’s Zura Kussainova to guarantee at least bronze, and secured her first major senior international medal. She had previously won World silver and EU bronze at Youth level. Afterwards Christina declared that she always felt in complete control during the bout and was looking forward to the semi-final.
Christina took on Poland’s Natalia Hollinska in the semi-finals in Chiang Mai but lost out despite a huge performance. Boxing out of a southpaw stance, Desmond immediately found a home for her backhand left and looked physically much larger and stronger in the opener, winning 10-8 on one of the three cards.
Hollinska upped her work-rate in the second and began to pressure Desmond. While the Irishwoman landed some quality shots and showed some good footwork, the Pole was certainly growing into the bout and starting to land more punches.
While Desmond had scored a comprehensive win over Kazakh Zura Kussainova in the quarter finals, Hollinska received a bye straight into the semis, and it showed as Tina seemed to be tiring in the third round. Needing a big fourth and final round, Tina summoned a huge performance to score some with heavy shots, although Hollinska was still the busier boxer and was given the decision following a crucial, and one might even say undeserved, point deduction awarded against Tina for holding.
The final scorecards read 37-37, 37-38, 37-38 to give Hollinska a majority decision win.
However, Christina can be very proud of the fact that she had made history in securing Ireland’s first ever medal at this level, and she had left everything in the ring against an older and more experienced opponent.
Christina was presented with her medal on the final day of competition.
Kenneth Okungbowa (Heavyweight, 91Kg)
Just hours after Christina Desmond secured Ireland’s first ever medal at the World University Championships on day 2 of the competition, Athlone IT heavyweight Kenny Okungbowa had followed it up with another guaranteed bronze medal after a brilliant performance. The Westmeath boxer was not to be denied against the very experienced Tadas Tamasauskas (Lithuania) to book his place in semi-finals and ensure that he would fly home from Chiang Mai with a medal around his neck.
A cut, which would require frequent attention, opened up to the side of Baltic boxer’s left eye in a wild opener, where Okungbowa seemed to land heavier shots on the inside, shaking the Lithuanian once or twice. A quieter second saw Kenny the more aggressive, while Tamasauskas sought to counter punch and had a degree of success.
Both boxers were tired in the third round, but it was Okungbowa who was again the man pressing and looking to come forward, and he solidified his claim for the round in a hell-for-leather final thirty seconds. Neither boxer looked confident of victory after the final bell, but Okungbowa had his hand raised on a split decision to a chorus of cheers from his Irish team-mates in the crowd.
After the bout, Kenny needed medical treatment for two nicks on both eyelids which looked to be as a result of shoulder bumps from Tamasauskas when he was holding at close range. The cuts were described as superficial by the medics, but would require paper stitches.
In the semi-final, Kenneth was beaten by France’s Dylan Bregeon in a 91kg slug fest. Neither man had to go looking for each other, with Kenneth twice needing attention from the ringside medic in the first round for wounds to his eyelids sustained in his quarter-final win.
Bregeon’s jab proved to be his most effective weapon, while Okungbowa found the target with the majority of the power shots throughout the three rounds. The 2015 Irish Elite finalist went for broke going down the final stretch, backing his opponent up against the ropes, but Bregeon smothered the attacks and took the victory.
The 7th FISU World University Boxing Championships were a great success for the Ireland team as the team took home our first medals at this level, two bronze medals for Christina Desmond and Kenneth Okungbowa. The team can be immensely proud of their performances over the week of competition. On another day, and with other referees and judges on duty, the rewards may have been even better.
The boxers themselves spoke of their gratitude for the opportunity to represent their families, clubs, colleges and country at the highest level of university boxing. The consensus was that Thailand was a wonderful country and hopefully not a once in a lifetime trip.
All the boxers and Coach Paddy Gallagher were adamant that the organisation of the championships was excellent, and that it was the best run international boxing competition they had attended, exceeding AIBA World Championships and EUBC European Championships.
The objective of the IATBA is to build on the success of these championships and deliver even better results at the 8th FISU World University Boxing Championships in Elista, Russia in 2018.
Review by Paul Geoghegan, Team Manager Team Ireland WUC, Chiang Mai Thailand 2016
Pictures from the championships