By TITO S. TALAO
TOKYO – Boxing continues to keep alive the medal hopes of Team Philippines in the XXXII Olympiad.
In two nerve-wracking bouts that could have gone either way if not for strong, aggressive finishes, feathweight Nesthy Petecio and flyweight Carlo Paalam impressed the judges just enough in carving up hard-earned split decisions Monday and moving up closer to the medal rounds at the Kokugikan Arena.
The No. 2 ranked Petecio, barely breaking 5-foot-4, erupted in jubilation at the announcement of her 3-2 triumph over Chinese-Taipei’s Lin Yu-Ting, the top seed in the 54-57 kg division who towers over the feisty Filipina at 5-foot-8.
The win sent Petecio to the quarterfinals on Wednesday against Columbia’s Yeni Marcela Arias Castaneda, who defeated Bulgaria’s Stanimira Nikolaeva Petrova 3-2 in the succeeding bout.
Though dwarfed by her opponent, the switch-punching Petecio took the first round 4-1 on the strength of crafty left-right combinations that threw the Taiwanese world No. 1 off-balanced and tentative in her punches.
But Lin, whom Petecio had never fought before, started to throw punches in volume and succeeded in levelling the score heading to the critical third round.
“Nakaw-nakaw lang po ako ng suntok nong huli at iningatan ko na tamaan ako ng solid,” said Petecio, who gained the nod of the judges with a closing flurry of combinations before floating out of reach.
“Alam na po kasi na lamang tayo dahil di naman siya tumatama ng fatal, ng klarong-laro.”
On her switch-punching stance, Petecio bared she did it to confuse Lin.
The final scores went 28-29, 29-28, 28-28, 29-28, 29-28, a testament to the closeness of the fight.
Petecio’s rousing win came less than an hour after Paalam, sharp and relentless, rumbled through three rounds in hammering out a similar split decision victory over tall but lanky Brendan Irvine of Ireland in the 48-52 kg division.
Paalam followed teammate Irish Magno to the next round in the preliminaries, with a second win assuring them of berths in the quarterfinals with Petecio.
Magno, on Sunday, had steered clear of complications by outboxing Christine Ongare of Kenya through three rounds 5-0 in the women’s 48-51 kg Round of 32 bout.
Next up for Magno is Thailand’s Jutamas Jitpong, whom she beat in the semifinals of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games on the way to the gold medal bout where she took the silver.
The fourth Filipino boxer who earned passage to the Games, middleweight Eumir Felix Marcial, is seeded to the Round of 16 of the 75kg division against a yet to be determined opponent on Thursday.
The 4-1 split decision for Paalam came as no surprise as the Irish fighter, about four inches taller and with longer reach, went to his advantage after getting mugged in the first round, which Filipino took in the card of all five judges.
Paalam never wavered though even as two judges gave the second round to the Irishman, and two others had the Filipino trailing in the third.
The finals scores went 30-27, 29-28, 28-29, 30-27 and 29-28.