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Esparza, Taylor and Shields head AIBA Rankings in Olympic weight divisions as we enter 2015.
by Michael O'Neill
December 4, 2014


(DEC 4) United States duo, Marlen Esparza and Claressa Shields together with Ireland’s Katie Taylor end the 2014 AIBA season respective no.1 boxers in the three Olympic weights. No surprises there for that was to be expected.

It has to be said though that some of the AIBA ranking decisions are very debatable and hard for mere mortals like boxers, coaches and media to understand. Some boxers in the lists have not won a qualifying event bout for a long time. Others have seen changes to the number of points they now hold, which cannot be explained even by the AIBA’s “two year rolling” system.

Even that does not guarantee that the current ‘best boxers’ will be correctly ranked. Insofar as seeds for major championships are concerned that is one of the great mysteries of

AIBA’s ‘unique’ decision making process. Thus for example Claressa Shields, correctly at no 1 now was only at no.8 in the previous edition. Now which 7 boxers were ranked above Shields and why? How odd!

Then again, at this year’s European Championships for example, there were no seeding, even though only days before they had issued a ranking list. What’s the point of publishing these lists if they themselves do not bother to even seed the top stars and this ensure that they cannot meet before the finals. The AIBA would of course would say that rankings and seeds are two different matters –as indeed they are. So why bother with issuing such 'rolling' 2 years lists at all?

The recent World championships in Jeju was again one where rankings were not used to keep top boxers apart and ensure that the public (in the arena and worldwide on TV) got value for money on finals day when on majority of occasions, unlike Jeju, entrance fees and fees charged to TV companies for live transmission are considerable higher than for early rounds? Could that latter point for example be one of the reasons that LIVE TV coverage was ‘rare’ in vast majority of countries worldwide? If indeed that was so then of course it would be yet another reason why AIBA viewing figures were reportedly so low, if one excludes Ireland.

One might argue as indeed the AIBA most probably would that the winner of the title has to defeat all-comers anyway to become champion – which is true to some extent – but if say world no 1 and no 2 were to meet (unseeded) in an early round as was perfectly possible in Jeju, then TV audiences worldwide would have been deprived of the opportunity of seeing the best on TV since vast majority of countries did not cover the event live – true some did like Ireland’s TG4, but most did not.

AIBA’s own ‘Live Streaming’ was quite ‘hit or miss’ depending on in which country one lived whilst their commentary team received much criticism even from P.R.O’s of AIBA’s own national federations (especially in countries outside of Europe) who believed that the commentator was ‘too British’ ! On days when there were two rings in action, occasionally one ring’s coverage started some time after the others; often they were ‘as one ’ – for sound and pictures - but even then the LIVE scoring was sometimes well behind showing latest score flashes from an earlier bout rather than the one in the ring at that time. Confused?

So let us look at the December world rankings just issued and see who is ‘top of the charts’ as far as the AIBA is concerned, starting with the three Olympic weights, and what – if anything – can we deduce from that insofar as Rio 2016 is concerned?

At 51kg where Nicola Adams took Gold in London 2012, the new rankings have Marlen Esparza of the United States in top spot – and rightly so. The no 2 spot now goes to Brazil’s Clelia Marques Da Costa, up from 15 whilst third (at 51kg) comes England’s Lisa Whiteside - last month when she was ranked 6th at 54kg.

Intriguing question here assuming that she fully recovers from her shoulder surgery will reigning Olympic champion Nicola Adams (now no.16) or Lisa Whiteside be the Great Britain representative in Rio? Still a long way to go though Whiteside intends to retain her place in the team even when Nicola returns. That is for sure.

Others to note at 51kg are India’s Mary Kom, now at no 4 in the rankings though she did not compete in Jeju, yet last month she was at no.5! Canada’s Mandy Bujold, who had a very good World championships, falls from 18 to 19 this month!

How about the 60 kg, Lightweight division where Ireland’s Katie Taylor has reigned for so long? The now five times World champion, thus equalling Mary Kom’s long standing record, gave the AIBA no cause change her position in the lists, despite carrying an injured wrist into the final. She remains at no.1 for a record breaking 9th consecutive year. In this year’s final she overcame the challenge of Azerbaijan’s Yana Alleksevna, the former Ukraine titleholder then known as Yana Sydor. Alleksevna is now world no. 5. Additionally, Taylor was the only reigning World champion to retain her crown in Jeju.

Again there are some unusual points to note this month, even allowing for Taylor’s long dominance among the lightweights. Romania’s Ioana Lavinia Mera – who did not compete in Jeju moves from 16th to 14th. Young Ioana used to box in her early years in Ireland where the family then lived and has since her schooldays been a great admirer of the Bray woman

The two met in the Europeans this year in Bucharest but it was – not unexpectedly – a rather one sided contest and the Romanian management did not think it sensible to enter her in Jeju preferring that she gained further experience in Europe.

Sofia Ochigava meantime, falls from no 2 to no 4 and changes places with China’s Junhua Yin whilst French titleholder Estelle Mosselly is now at 4 instead of 9th as previously. Mosselly is a much improved fighter this year yet still was no match for Taylor in either Europeans or Worlds.

Natasha Jonas did not compete in Jeju either due to her recovering from surgery but nonetheless remains in the rankings lists of AIBA. Last month she was no.1 at 64kg this month no.6. Will Jonas again be GB’s representative at 60kg in Jeju, or Chantelle Cameron or Sandy Ryan? Intriguing.

Claressa Shields, as we have said is deservedly back at no 1 in the up to 75kg class from her previous lowly 8th spot - true she did miss out one year’s worlds but that was only because the AIBA changed the age limits and even an Olympic Gold medallist was ‘downgraded’ as a result from Elite to Youth division.

One can but hope that lessons are learnt – by the AIBA- from Jeju and we hopefully will not have another mismatch to this year’s when Shields faced a very inexperienced – albeit brave – young Ugandan who lasted all of 11 seconds with the punch that did the damage taking the Flint boxer of all 3 seconds to hit the target.

Elsewhere, Qian Li (China) moves from 9 to 2 and Nouchka Fontijn from 7 to 3. Higher ranking too, also deservedly so, for Canada’s Ariane Fortin (from 11 to 4). Savannah Marshall no longer appears in the top 16. No one though would sensibly ‘write off’ the ‘Silent Assassin’ from Hartlepool who will surely be ‘there or thereabouts’ when the 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers take place, one of which will be the Worlds of that year in Almaty.

Of the ‘current’ non-Olympic weights, there is good news for Russia’s Anastasia Beliakova (whom many in Europe see as the natural successor to Ochigava at lightweight) as she is now world no 1 at 64kg, where England’s Sandy Ryan moves from nowhere to no.2. A fine showing from Ryan in Jeju is thus rewarded. Let us also honour the new no.1 Atheyna Bylon from Panama, that country’s first ever Gold medallist in the World’s. She is deservedly no.1 at 69kg. One for the future?

Taylor of course was not the only Irish woman to remain ‘undefeated’ IN the ring, in Jeju as Kilkenny’s world no.10 Clare Grace (now no.8) also achieved that status, albeit without collecting a medal for her efforts! How come? She had a fine win over Romania’s Christine Stancu in her opening bout but in the process suffered a cut eye and the Irish coaches wisely decided to withdraw her from the competition to avoid risk of further injury which could also have affected her studies at DCU University even if she had been allowed to continue boxing. Health and safety must always come first.

Grace was unlucky to have gone out in such circumstances but as she later said: “It’s very upsetting. I was delighted when I got the win and I had hopes of going through the week,” said Clare. “I knew straight away it was a deep cut. But it was so early in the tournament that it might reopen and get worse. The coaches agreed that long term it was not worth taking the risk.

It’s devastating to have won but now I can’t continue and deep down it is hard to take”. Clare Grace though is very much one for the future as indeed is Ireland’s other great medal hope Michaela Walsh so Taylor is likely to have other Irish support on the podium at future major International championships.

Walsh you will recall took silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in August.

Cavan’s Ceire Smith, another who was absent from Jeju due to injury is likely to be back in action shortly whilst there is a very talented youth and junior squad ready to follow in Taylor’s footsteps including Dealgan’s Amy Broadhurst and Youth Olympic Silver medallist from Mayo, Ciara Ginty to name but two who have prospered since Taylor arrived on the scene to inspire a new generation. Broadhurst though would probably have been a boxer anyway as Dad, Tony is a coach and former boxer whilst her two brothers have annexed many Irish titles at different grades.

In other non-Olympic weight categories the no.1 spot goes to Kazakhstan’s Nazym Kyzaybay (45-48kg), Marzia Davide of Italy (54kg), Zinaida Dobrynina (Russia) 57kg, Xiayoli Yang (China) 81kg, and Zenfira Magomedalieva of Russia (81kg). The Russians thus continue to dominate the heavier weights.

Enjoy the debates currently taking place on the correctness or otherwise of the rankings lists. Should the AIBA not issue such monthly lists based on current form rather than mixing 2014 results with some points from tournaments going back almost two years?

You can find all of the rankings here (males included : http://aiba.org/default.aspx?pId=4248#  (top three on left – complete rankings weight by weight on the right)

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