Had the fight gone on for thirty more seconds, Lovlina Borgohain could’ve been deemed unable to continue by the referee. She had been given standing eight-counts in the first and last rounds. And each time Busenaz Surmeneli landed, she snapped the Indian’s head back.
It’d be absurd to suggest that the 5-0 decision (which included three 10-8s for the final round) didn’t accurately reflect Wednesday’s one-sided 69kg semifinal. Borgohain, India’s third Olympic bronze medallist boxer, was soundly beaten by a much better boxer. But in the battle of two 23-year-old fighters with a swagger, it was Borgohain who drew first blood.
The bout began with phone booth boxing, as the two boxers slugged it out with their heads pushed up together. Facing an imposing boxer with no reverse gear, Borgohain pushed, shoved, held and clinched. During the melee, Borgohain would land short uppercuts and hooks to the body. The dirty boxing wasn’t going to win the judges over, but it frustrated the Turkish boxer who couldn’t let her hands go. By not giving her room to fully extend the punches, Borgohain wouldn’t be at the receiving end of Surmeneli’s power.
But it’s bad optics in the short, three-round amateur bouts. Borgohain was warned by the referee for excessive holding and the two were often separated. After one such break, late in the first round, Surmeneli got the distance and stunned Borgohain. A glancing left hook, a right to the temple first began the onslaught in the last 30 seconds. Then a hook to the body and a flush left rocked the Indian.
Borgohain had a plan, until she got punched in the mouth.
Surmeneli has been unstoppable in Tokyo and only one errant judge has scored a round against the Turk in three fights. As a middleweight, she lost in the first round at the 2018 Worlds and in the second at the 2019 European Championships. Then she dropped down to welterweight and became a world champion. The stopping power in her punches, thus, is precisely a notch above Borgohain.
The blink-and-you-miss flurry in the first round was enough for the referee to issue a standing eight-count against Borgohain. In 30 seconds, what could potentially have been a banana peel round for Surmeneli, set the tone for the fight.
In the corner, high-performance director Raffaele Bergamasco reminded Borgohain of what got her to the semifinal. The 5’9 welterweight had worked behind her jabs and double jabs. In the win against Nien-chen, she had added right crosses to that mix.
There were flashes on Wednesday. Working from the outside, a quick 1-2 and disengaging. But Surmeneli was a challenge too tough. Under fire, Borgohain reverted to clinches and a point was deducted in the second round.
To her credit, Borgohain came prepared for scrap. With the final out of her reach, Borgohain swung to make a statement. For a moment, it seemed that Surmeneli too was holding back, content to cruise on through.
And then she landed again. Long, brutal combinations cornered Borgohain. Aware of the Turk’s tremendous power and obligated to keep his fighters safe, the referee issued another eight-count. By the end, Surmeneli was having fun. Bobbing and weaving with her hands firmly down, shuffling around the ring, grinning and winding up her punches. In what would be an explosive gold medal bout, Surmeneli will take on Chinese veteran Gu Hong on Saturday.
For Lovlina, this is the fifth bronze at a major event. But never before has she navigated such a minefield of world and continental champions with a composed mind and a wide smile. This is a fighter who jots down the minutest details of each day in her diary. Wednesday is only the first page in her rivalry with Surmeneli.