IBA Boxing in 2023 Part 3 – a retrospective of action in the ring by Ronald McIntosh

January 25th, 2024 / IBA

Meet Ronald McIntosh, a leading IBA commentator and your voice behind the boxing action of the highest level. Ronald is an award-winning sports broadcaster with vast experience in live network television and radio.

Ronald has provided ringside reportage from boxing’s most hallowed venues for a host of memorable moments in the sweet science, within IBA and professional boxing. He has commentated at five Olympic Games, multiple IBA World Championships, IBA Champions’ Nights and several other major sports events. In 2023, Ronald was shortlisted in the “Sports Commentator” category of 2023 Broadcast Sport awards in the UK.

Although Lazaro Alvarez fell short of the medal rostrum in Tashkent, he demonstrated that any murmurs suggesting a decline in his astonishing skillset were premature, by featuring prominently in IBA Champions’ Night contests.

In the event in Serpukhov in August, Alvarez faced Russian sharpshooter Vsevolod Shumkov, who claimed lightweight bronze at the 2023 World Championships in Tashkent.

The bout pitted boxers from vastly different points of their respective careers together in the ring. At the conclusion of five incredibly skilful rounds between blazing speedsters, it was experience that prevailed over youth, as Alvarez outpointed Shumkov unanimously.

Alvarez featured in yet another Cuba vs Russia matchup in IBA boxing, as he faced his familiar rival, Albert Batyrgaziev. The two men had met several times before, including on the global stage at the 2019 IBA World Championships quarterfinals and the Tokyo Olympic semi-finals, where Batyrgaziev won en-route to Olympic gold at 57kg.

In Dubai, their bout was contested at 60kg and over 10 three-minute rounds for the inaugural IBA Professional title! Once again, their encounter did not disappoint. Both men are southpaws and occupy the same weight class, but that is where the similarities end!

Batyrgaziev’s bustling, front-foot style is in marked contrast to the back-foot boxing and crisp counterpunching of Alvarez, and the two styles meshed perfectly to produce an enthralling, all-action encounter that ebbed and flowed for the entirety of the contest. At the end of 10 pulsating rounds, it was Batyrgaziev who was declared as the victor; the Russian dynamo thereby crowned as IBA’s first-ever Professional World Champion.

In Phuket, Thailand, another rematch from the 2023 edition of IBA World Championships would be settled over the longer format of IBA Champions’ Night action, as Elif Guneri of Turkey met Valentina Khalzova of Kazakhstan over five two-minute rounds.

The two boxers fought in the quarterfinals of the World Championships in New Dehli, with Khalzova prevailing on the way to her second consecutive bronze medal.  However, what was instructive is that Khalzova’s 2016 World Championship gold in Astana in her homeland came at 69KG welterweight, while Guneri’s silver medal came at 81kg light-heavyweight at the 2019 World Championships.

As such, their meeting in this middleweight encounter saw them approaching the 75kg weight class from opposite directions, which often presents an interesting dynamic. Which qualities would win out; the greater size and, presumably, strength of the naturally bigger boxer, or the superior speed and skills of the smaller operator?

In this instance, it was Khalzova who used crisp footwork and higher punch output to secure a repeat victory over Guneri, in what was one of the first IBA event featuring women’s boxing contested over the longer format.

The return of the Junior World Championships after an absence of eight years was a welcome addition to the IBA competition calendar.  Although it’s a reanimation rather than a new creation, combining the men’s and women’s events was an innovation that gave the tournament a fresh feel.

What I find so exciting about this particular IBA Junior World Championships is that it can provide an early glimpse of global boxing superstars of the future.

Of course, age-group success in any sport does not predetermine pre-eminence at a later date. That said, of the 357 talented teenaged boxers born in 2007 & 2008 who were eligible for this tournament, there’s a fair chance that some of them will punch their way to prominence on the IBA elite stage in years to come, particularly when one considers some of the champions who preceded this year’s competitors in previous editions of the Junior World Championships.

The junior successes of Nikhat Zareen have already been highlighted. Italy’s Irma Testa and Busenaz Surmeneli of Turkey are among other boxing stars of the three-round format who previously claimed gold at bygone editions of IBA Junior World Championships.

Similarly, the men’s list of luminaries who first made a global impact at the Junior event is equally impressive. Russia’s Dimitry Bivol, Shakur Stevenson of the USA, Cuba’s Arlen Lopez, Eumir Marcial of the Philippines, Mexico’s Abner Mares and Jai Opetaia of Australia are just some of the exceptional boxers who won IBA World Junior gold.

Russia, India, and Kazakhstan fielded full-sized squads of 13 men & 13 women, and each of these traditionally-strong teams featured prominently in the medal standings.  Russia topped the table with seven golds, Kazakhstan claimed four and India three.

A team that embodied the enthusiasm and abundance of teenaged boxing talent that exists around the world was Ireland. Given the multitude of iconic, inspirational fight figures that have emerged from the Emerald Isle, this is perhaps unsurprising.

But from Ireland’s relatively small squad of 11 entrants – six women and five men – in Yerevan, two of them would stand atop the gold medal rostrum as World Champions.

Siofra Lawless was sensational in her gold medal bout against India’s talented Sathe Suruthi Sachin Sathe. The Irish boxer was the taller of the two 63kg light-welterweight finalists and employed her greater range and reach beautifully, showcasing variety in her shot selection and a level of ringcraft that belied her 16 years.

Lawless hails from the same county – Wicklow – as Katie Taylor. In Lawless, the area on Ireland’s eastern coast could well be boasting another boxing superstar in years to come.

The day before Lawless’ triumph, it was John Maher who bagged the first of Ireland’s brace of Junior World Championship golds. The 15-year-old from Mulingar was excellent during the course of the championships, and capped his run of five wins out of five with a fine display in the final to edge out his opponent from Uzbekistan, Khikmatillo Ulmasov, on a 4-1 split decision.

Like Lawless, Maher also demonstrated marvellous movement. His fast feet allowed him to dance and dart around the boxing ring, while his seemingly unlimited energy stores saw him maintain perpetual motion as he flashed out rapid-fire punches.

All in all, 2023 was a bountiful year for IBA boxing and it was fantastic to commentate on hundreds of bouts, all featuring boxers focused on being the best possible version of themselves. The talent on display from boxers all around the world is endlessly encouraging and deeply inspiring. I very much look forward to the tournaments and events that lie ahead and seeing more outstanding boxers demonstrating their skills in competitive contests.