Galal Yafai avoided the temptation of joining his brothers in the pro ranks in order to pursue his dream of bringing home a Gold medal.
The flyweight representative for Great Britain is one fight away from competing for that prize, following a split decision win over Cuba's Yosbany Veitia in their terrific flyweight quarterfinal Tuesday at Kokugikan Arena. Yafai won on four of the five scorecards (30-27, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28) to become the sixth boxer from Great Britain to medal in the Tokyo Olympics.
Gafai—whose older brother Kal was a former WBA junior bantamweight champion—forced a hectic pace, to which Veitia was game. The battle of flyweight southpaw never slowed down, with both boxers repeatedly scoring with straight left hands.
In the end, it was Gafai who bit down and closed the show when it mattered most in the fight. He delivers the fourth medal among the Great Britain men's team, matching the haul by the 2012 squad who competed at home in London.
Yafai will next face Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov in the men's flyweight semifinal round. Bibossinov advanced following a hard-fought, if not disputed decision win over Gabriel Escobar (Spain).
Bibossinov dropped Escobar in the opening round and was given the nod on four of the five cards in the third and final round to emerge victorious by scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 in his favor. Escobar won 29-28 on two cards, though not enough to advance or keep Spain in the medal hunt.
The win by Bibossinov provides Kazakhstan with its second medal in Tokyo.
The consensus coming out of the opening bout of the men's flyweight quarterfinals is that Yuberjen Martinez is destined to go far in the pro ranks.
Unfortunately, his dream of bringing a Gold medal home from the Tokyo Olympics to Colombia fell one two fights short—even if it shouldn't have been the case.
Martinez was considered unlucky to come up short in Tuesday's quarterfinal bout versus Japan's Ryomei Tanaka. Their spirited bout—which was the first of the day—resulted in a split decision win for Tanaka, who is the first male boxer from the hosting nation and third overall member to advance to the medal round.
All five judges scored the contest 29-28, four in favor of Tanaka and one for Martinez who probably deserved much better.
The Colombian flyweight jumped out to a strong start, winning round one on four of the five scorecards. Martinez appeared to be just as dominant in round two, only for Tanaka—the older brother of former three-division champion Kosei Tanaka—to win on three of the five cards, good enough to pull even on all but one cards heading into the final round.
Tanaka surged ahead in the final three minutes to secure the victory and advance to the medal round. He will be assured of at least bronze, as will Philippines' Carlo Paalam, who prevailed by majority decision over 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Shakhobidin Zoirov (Uzbekistan) in a bout shortened due to both boxers getting cut.
Paalam stormed out to an early lead, taking the fight to Zoirov and keeping the Uzbek southpaw out of sorts. The approach was enough to sweep the opening round, and Paalam was enjoying a heck of a round two until nearly meeting with disaster.
A clash of heads left both boxers cut, Paalam high along the scalp and Zoirov over his left eye. The fight was stopped prior to the bell to end round two, with Paalam already celebrating as if he knew what he was coming.
The Filipino flyweight's instinct proved prophetic, winning on four of the five scorecards. Paalam is the second male boxer from the Philippines to advance to the medal round, joining middleweight Eumir Marcial.
Zoirov is the latest casualty on an Uzbekistan team that has far underperformed compared to its' seven-medal haul in 2016 Rio.
Both semifinal bouts take place Thursday, August 5. The winner advances to the Gold medal round on Saturday, August 7.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox