Admitting to being gassed, Eumir drops a split decision to a relentless enemy
TOKYO—By the final round, Eumir Marcial looked gassed. His topnotch boxing instincts knew he needed his punching power badly. Facing a relentless machine—and somehow still holding a slim edge—Marcial planned to hang around for a minute or so and collect his breath before letting loose in the late stretches so his power punching could mop up the bout.
But his body, his lungs, his conditioning—everything—betrayed him.
“Hindi ko in-expect na mauubusan ako (I didn’t expect to run out of gas),” Marcial admitted.
And that proved telling in his defeat to Oleksandr Khyzhniak of Ukraine on Thursday in the semifinals of the middleweight division in men’s boxing in the Tokyo Olympics here.
It was crucial because Khyzhniak, undefeated since 2016 and never in trouble in that five-year stretch until the first two rounds against Marcial, brought an enviable work rate to the bout, stepping into the pocket with little regard for Marcial’s powerful fists—and his own safety—and simply throwing punch after punch after punch.
His volume never diminished. The top seed uncorked as many combinations during the closing seconds as he did at the start of the fight.
“I ran out of breath; I fell short physically,” Marcial said in Filipino after the bout, which left the highly-rated bet settling for the bronze medal. “Maybe it’s a bronze, [but] for me, my family, my fiancé, it’s a gold. This is our dream. We’ve been dreaming about this since I was young and now I am here. I am representing the Philippines here in the Olympics and I won the bronze medal so I’m so proud of myself.”
But he was oh so close to jumping into the final and ending the Ukrainian’s 61-bout winning streak.
After two rounds, Marcial was ahead, 2-1, on three judges scorecards. In the other two scorecards, it was a draw.
That meant that if he kept his pace, particularly the one he set in the first when he landed huge punches that jarred his foe, he could have advanced to the final.
“The plan in the third round was to stay away from his punches early,” Marcial said. During the break between the last two rounds, coach Ronald Chavez tried to help Marcial “recover his legs,” according to coach Don Abnett.
Khyzhniak’s style allowed him to stick close to Marcial on the scorecards, his volume punching finding its mark every now and then. And while Marcial faded, the Ukrainian continued pushing forward, throwing combinations against his gasping foe.
Khyzhniak swept the judges’ scorecards in the third, a result that surprised Abnett.
“I think the first minute of the last round, that sort of struck something with the judges because he took it easy and his opponent hit him a couple of times,” the Australian mentor said. “And then he got into it. The rest of the round, I thought, was Eumir’s, but I don’t know.”
Marcial, however, said the result was expected.
“The decision was fair,” the 25-year-old fighter from Zamboanga said. “All I can say is that my opponent was really strong and he deserved to win.”
Still a windfall
His bronze medal would still be worth millions, and his burgeoning pro career could allow him to rake in fortunes, but Marcial hasn’t totally discounted the possibility of suiting up for the Olympics in Paris three years from now.
“If they give me the chance again and the opportunity to compete, in another Olympics, I’ll just grab the opportunity and I will work hard again to win the gold medal,” he vowed.
How he will balance a pro career with preparing for a major amateur tournament will be the puzzle that needs unlocking.
From the second half of the second round to the third round, Marcial looked already winded and he resorted to looking for the big punches. He managed to connect on a few in the second but the hits became sparse in the third—just when he needed him the most. His opponent, on the other hand, did land a couple of huge rockers, but most of the time resorted to those quick scoring punches that judges in the amateur ranks count.
But that problem will be something that will be tackled in the future.
“After this, I’ll just rest for a couple of months and go back to training and look for another pro fight,” Marcial said. “I’ll spend time with my family and maybe plan a wedding with my fiancé.”
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