Sena Irie is one win away from delivering a Gold medal to the hosting nation.
The featherweight representative for Japan gutted out a split decision win over Great Britain's Karriss 'Kaz' Artingstall in a terrific semifinal round battle Saturday evening at Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. All five judges had the bout scored 29-28, three for Irie and two for Artingstall.
Irie jumped out to a very strong start, working past Artingstall's jab to repeatedly land her right hand straight down the middle. Artingstall attempted to adjust but remained a step behind in a round which Irie swept to enjoy an early lead.
Artingstall made a fight of it in round two. The full-time gunner with the British Army—and the first female active duty soldier from Great Britain to ever compete in the Olympics—took the lead, closing the gap and landing power shots with conviction. Irie showed no fear, having an answer nearly every time but suddenly faced with adversity as Artingstall pulled even on four of the five cards.
Round three was a fitting nailbiter, with little to separate the two. Irie continued to find a home for her right hand, while Artingstall slammed home straight lefts following a purposeful jab. The aggression and clean punching exuded by the Brit was enough to win the round on three of the five judges' scorecards. Unfortunately, one card already had her to the point of no return.
Conversely, Irie won the round on two cards—judges Bachir Abbar (Morocco) and Beau Campbell (USA)—that fight that had the fight even through two. The math ultimately played in her favor, with Irie—already the first female fighter ever to medal for Japan—now one win away from the highest prize in amateur boxing.
Japan's female boxers are now a staggering 6-0 in the Olympics; Great Britain's four-woman squad is an impressive 8-2, with two medals and a chance for a third.
The win sets up a rubber match with Philippines' Nesthy Petecio, who outpointed Italy's Irma Testa earlier in the day. Irie and Petecio split their two previous meetings, with Petecio winning in 2019 and Irie defeating the Filipino southpaw in the Asia and Oceania Olympic qualifiers last March in Amman, Jordan.
The featherweight Gold medal match is set for August 3.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox