There were controversial, bloody, but ultimately glorious scenes for British boxing at the Kokugikan Arena as Frazer Clarke secured a spot in the Olympic super-heavyweight semi-final by way of a disqualification, after being cut on both eyes during his bout with Mourad Aliev of France.
As the fight was stopped at the end of the second round, Aliev shoved a cameraman’s lens, stomped around the ring and then, in an extraordinary turn, ended up sitting against the ropes for more than an hour in protest at his disqualification.
Afterwards Aliev spoke of his fury at the “disgraceful” decision, which he described as a betrayal of the Olympics. He also claimed to have received no warning from the referee. Aliev’s spokesperson, a member of the French coaching team, even alleged some kind of corrupt influence and threatened to quit the sport as a result, saying: “I don’t think they wanted France to win a medal.”
None of the cuts to Clarke’s face were caused by an outright butt, but resulted from contact as the two men rubbed heads, instigated in the referee’s view by Aliev. Standing in the mixed zone with blood still dripping from both eyes Clarke noted that “the modelling career is still on”, before stating that he had now fought Aliev five times and been cut in four of those fights the same way.
Moments before that sensational final bout Britain’s Ben Whittaker had out-boxed Imam Khataev to secure a gold medal shot, a fine and skilful performance from the 24-year-old Wolverhampton light-heavyweight. With Clarke now certain of at least bronze, Britain’s boxers are guaranteed at least five Olympic medals.
But it was the super-heavyweight clash that provided the drama in Tokyo, and a sense of rancour that was far from over at the end as the French camp raged at length to the assembled global media.
Not that Clarke will be too concerned. The 29-year-old from Burton-on-Trent is a huge, likable man, and a kind of father figure in this British team, who were present in numbers to cheer on their fighters.
“I felt there was a couple of heads going in, to be honest. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know. An orthodox boxing a southpaw – it often happens,” he said. Clarke was also magnanimous on the subject of Aliev’s reaction.
“I told him to calm down. I’ve been in those situations myself. Often you’re not thinking with your head, you’re thinking with your heart and your emotions are all over the place, I’m not sure what he wants to do in the future but I didn’t want him to damage his reputation or to be rude to the judges and officials.”
Clarke will now fight Bakhodir Jalolov of Uzbekistan for a shot at the gold. This quarter-final was always a messy, awkward encounter. It looked as though it might be heading Aliev’s way after the first round as the Frenchman used his southpaw reach to land some scoring shots. Clarke was cut for the first time in that round as Aliev applied his brow to the area above his eye. He was patched up and went to work in the second, landing some decent shots from close range.
Then came the disqualification as Clarke dripped blood again at the end of the second. That was followed by the furious aftermath with Aliev storming around the ring, shouting up into the roof of this grand old Sumo arena, and then returning to sit in protest by the ropes surrounded, at a distance, by baffled looking security people.
Whittaker’s progress had been more straightforward. He is a rangy, classy fighter, who also makes music in his spare time under the name B£NZO. He fought Imam Khataev of the Russian Olympic Committee here, a short, stocky man with a head that looks as though it has been carved out of Grozny granite. Whittaker revealed afterwards that he has already beaten Khataev’s brother, and sparred with his opponent when he was younger (“that boy can bang, he almost punched me out of the ring”).
But Whittaker was too good here, moving nicely and upping his work rate as the fight wore on to take it by split decision. Later he said, with a smile, that he been been inspired in part by Instagram posts saying he was going to get knocked out, and paid tribute to the stern words of his father urging him not to settle for bronze.
There was time for Pat McCormack’s bye against Ireland’s injured Aidan Walsh to be waved through, guaranteeing the Sunderland man a fight for the gold medal. And earlier in the day the Kokugikan Arena witnessed Ghana secure a first Olympic medal since 1992 as the flamboyant Samuel Takyi beat David Avila Segura of Colombia to make it to the featherweight semi-finals.
At the final bell Takyi leapt up on to the ring posts then dropped and did press-ups in his corner. At which point it was probably a good thing for him that he edged the split decision, to huge cheers from a small Ghanaian delegation.
The British men’s success, along with that of Lauren Price and Karriss Artingstall, means Great Britain have guaranteed five medals at these Olympics, matching the totals from the 1956 and 2012 Games, with two more opportunities to increase that number still to come.