If the first three rounds of light heavyweight competition has proven anything, it's that it would take a near-perfect performance to fend off Imam Khataev.
Benjamin Whittaker was up to the task.
Great Britain is assured of at least a Silver medal at light heavyweight following Whitaker's split decision win over ROC's Khataev in the semifinal round Sunday afternoon at Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. Khatav won 30-27 on the card of Moroccan judge Makfouni Abdellatif, overruled by scores of 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 in favor of Whittaker.
Khataev was on a path of destruction heading into Sunday's semifinal bout. The compact light heavyweight representative of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) Athletes scored two knockout wins, including a sensational third-round stoppage of Gazimagomed Jalidov (Spain) in their quarterfinal bout.
Prior to that viral moment came Khataev's upset of number-one seed Bekzad Nurdauletov (Kazakhstan) in the Round of 16 to leave the light heavyweight division wide open.
Whittaker's journey couldn't have been more a polar opposite.
The boxer and aspiring hip hop artist—who performs outside the ring under the stage name B£NZO—boxed his way to victory over a pair of two-time Olympians in Jorge Vivas (Colombia) in the Round of 32 and Abdelrahman Salah Orabi (Egypt) in the Round of 16. A win over Keno Machado (Brazil) advanced Whittaker into the semifinals, meaning back-to-back Olympic medal performances at light heavyweight for Great Britain after Joshua Buatsi won Bronze in 2016 Rio.
Khataev came in looking for his third knockout of Olympic competition, an approach for which Whittaker was well prepared. The Brit put his five inch height advantage and long reach to proper use, sticking out his jab and using lateral movement to disrupt Khataev's rhythm.
The action was hardly one way. Khataev managed to work his way inside while presenting terrific infighting and defensive skills. Still, it was Whittaker's crisp jab and stellar defense that won over the approval of the judges, as he is now one win away from delivering Great Britain—who boasts an Olympic-leading 20 wins—its first Gold medal of the Tokyo Games.
Khataev will take home Bronze, while ROC male team suffers its first defeat in Tokyo. The independently-represented team is now 14-4 overall, with the men's squad now 12-1.
Whittaker will face Cuba's Arlen Lopez, who aims to become a two-time Gold medalist in as many weight divisions.
Lopez advanced following a hard-fought win over Loren Alfonso, a Cuban defector now representing Azerbaijan. Lopez overcame an early deficit to prevail by unanimous decision, winning 29-28 on all five scorecards.
Alfonso left Cuba in 2017 out of desire to compete internationally, which wasn't going to happen as long as he was third on the nation's depth chart at his weight. The journey led him to Azerbaijan, where he becomes the nation's first ever light heavyweight to medal.
After one round, Alfonso seemed well on his way to fighting for Gold. He was unable to keep Lopez at bay, however, and it would cost him dearly.
Lopez fought primarily out of a conventional stance, only occasionally switching to southpaw. There was little time for tricks for Lopez, who enjoyed a huge momentum shift after rocking Alfonso midway through the third and final round. Alfonso received a standing eight count, which didn't impact his score so much as giving away the balance of the round and ultimately the fight.
Cuba improved to 13-0 with Lopez's win, though since suffering its first defeat with Pero falling to Richard Torrez Jr. (USA) in the super heavyweight quarterfinals.
The Gold medal pairing between Whittaker and Lopez is the second such final round matchup between Great Britain and Cuba. The rivalry is also on display at welterweight, with Pat McCormack to meet Roniel Iglesias for Gold on August 3.
Whittaker and Lopez collide one night later as the last bout of the day on August 4.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox