AFTER being ridiculed for his brief appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympics, boxer Nigel Paul said it is a “relief” and a “burden off my shoulder” after capturing TT’s first ever medal at a World Championship Boxing event.
Paul, fighting in the super heavyweight +92kg category, won his quarter-final bout against Berat Acar of Turkey at the International Boxing Association 2021 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, on Tuesday.
Paul is now guaranteed at least a bronze medal and US $25,000 after booking a place in the semifinals.
In the competition both losing semifinalists get a bronze medal because there is no third place bout.
The boxing fraternity joined the celebrations applauding Paul for his grit and determination over the last five years since Rio.
Prior to Paul’s effort the best performance by a TT boxer at the World Championships was at the inaugural event in 1974 in Cuba when Nathaniel Jones advanced to the quarterfinals.
Speaking to Newsday following the fight, Paul was asked about his journey since the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Paul was knocked out in the first round of his opening bout by Nigerian Efe Ajagba.
“It feels good, a big relief,” Paul said.
“You will have the naysayers, but there are always people in your corner believing in you knowing that you have the capability to achieve great things so being able to perform on a stage like this and reaching where I have reached this far in the competition it is a big relief, a burden off my shoulder so to speak.”
Paul, who is bigger and a few inches taller than Acar, was the more aggressive fighter in the early stages of the opening round trying to utilise his jab with his longer reach.
However, Acar had the stronger opening round getting close to the TT boxer before punching.
It was an even contest in round two with Paul and Acar throwing an equal number of punches.
After the second round one judge had Acar in front, while the other four judges felt the contest was all square.
In round three Acar was no match for Paul.
Paul showed his intent from the start of the round with a barrage of punches dominating the first minute.
Acar started to look weary and held Paul as the TT boxer tried to accumulate points.
The effort by Paul also took a toll on him, but he proved he was the fitter boxer and won the third and final round comfortably.
Four of the five judges gave Paul the victory 29-28 and the fifth judge had a similar scoreline, but in Acar’s favour.
Following the announcement of the result, one of the Paul’s coaches Rolston Dopwell was seen jumping for joy.
Reynold Cox is also serving as one of Paul’s coaches.
Cox said, “This is the first medal we ever got at a world championship. (In terms of) the team performance at a world championships this is the very best we’ve had in our history. It is really good to be a part of this.”
TT had four other boxers at the competition, but all lost their opening bout including 2020 Olympian Aaron Prince.
Cox said it was about “finishing strong in the third (round).”
“We have been training really hard for this event. I think Paul is well conditioned and you are seeing that.”
Cox also reflected on Paul’s journey since the Rio Olympics. “Everybody remembers Paul from Rio…to come back now in 2021 and reach the semifinals of a world championships it shows that this is what sports is about, this is what determination is about…and it shows the kind of mettle he is made up of.”
President of the TT Amateur Boxing Association Cecil Forde was proud of Paul’s accomplishment.
“It is a lot of hard work. You don’t reach there just like that.”
Forde said Paul demonstrated mental fortitude to overcome the criticism he faced after the 2016 Olympics.
“Trinidadians had a lot to say (after that loss)…he was able to overcome all that negativity and today (Tuesday) he came back which is four, five years after and now he is ranked number four in the world. That is a great achievement.”
Forde said it is a team achievement thanking everybody involved including the coaches, staff at the boxing association, the Ministry of Sport and Community Development, the Sport Company of TT and the TT Olympic Committee for the support over the years.
“It is not a one-man show,” Forde said.
Forde challenged Paul not to settle for a bronze. “He has to stay focused and I want gold. I don’t want nothing less than that.”
Paul will enter the ring again in the semifinals against Mark Petrovskii of the Russian Boxing Federation, on Thursday.
Cox said he has studied tapes of Petrovskii and Paul has the ability to win.