Paalam ditches relative obscurity by eliminating reigning Olympic gold winner
TOKYO–Olympic champion. World champion. The guy he used to watch on YouTube. Didn’t matter. Carlo Paalam took him out anyway.
Paalam dominated Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan on Tuesday, running away on practically all the scorecards before the fight was stopped as the Filipino reached the semifinals of the men’s flyweight division to become the latest toast of Philippine boxing in the Tokyo Olympics at Kokugikan Arena here.
That gave the PH boxing team another sure bronze and the entire delegation its fourth Olympic medal in these Games.
“They said the fight was going to be 50-50, but I just had enough faith in myself and I listened to the coaches,” said Paalam, a 23-year-old whose very poor childhood drove him to take up boxing for his family’s way to a better life.
Paalam schooled Zoirov in the opening round, delivering crisp blows to his favored opponent, backing off to avoid a counter and then stepping back in to pounce on every missed hit by the Uzbek.
“He tried to get the first round, but coach Ronald [Chavez] told me to take the round so he will be the one to feel the pressure,” Paalam said. “So in the second round, he was really pressuring me and my coaches told me to bring out my game.”
Paalam had enough hand speed to keep Zoirov at bay, though. He will face Japan’s Ryomei Tanaka in the semifinals, and the PH coaching staff assures everyone that the cut in the Filipino’s forehead would not pose a problem in that fight.
“We move the same way so I really used my speed,” he said, adding that he had a deep respect for his foe, having watched Zoirov a lot on YouTube.
“That’s why I’m proud of this win,” Paalam said. “I was fighting the guy I used to just watch on YouTube.”
Shut out in the first round, the defending champion was not going to go down easy.
“He’s great at getting shots from a distance,” Paalam said. “In the second round, he hit me in the abdomen and really took the wind out of me.”
That punch folded Paalam and the Cagayan de Oro-born fighter said that as he bent forward, his head clashed with the head of a rushing Zoirov.
“I did not mind the [clash of heads],” Paalam said. “I really just wanted to win.”
The clash opened cuts on both fighters and at the 1:44 mark of the second, Ukrainian referee Pablo Vasylynchuk halted the fight to have the two fighters checked by the ring physician.
The physician deemed both fighters unfit to continue, and the bout was decided by the judges’ scorecards.
The result may go into the Olympics logbook as a split decision, but this was one really gaping split.
Paalam won on four of five judges scorecards. The only judge that did not see the fight for Paalam called it a draw.
“We were trying to get each other to bite,” Paalam said. ‘He was reading me. When I went in, that’s when he would get momentum. When he went in, that’s when I could score a hit.”
With boxing now securing a third medal, the sport’s top official in the country expressed his elation.
“We are overjoyed with Carlo’s win over the Rio [de Janeiro Olympics] gold medalist,” said Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines president Ricky Vargas. “It was an upset that the coaching staff told me was imminent, but we were still concerned until Carlo came out smoking in the first round. He truly looked like a champion then.”