(2nd UPDATE) Carlo Paalam is now assured of a bronze medal in men's flyweight after a stunning upset over Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan, the reigning Olympic champion, in their quarterfinal bout on Tuesday at the Kokugikan Arena.
Paalam was a huge underdog against Zoirov, the gold medalist in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2019 world champion.
But the 23-year-old Paalam, the youngest member of the Philippine boxing team in Tokyo, showed no fear of the champion and showed great aggression to take the opening round. He kept pouring it on in round two, where the bout was stopped with 1:16 to go after both fighters sustained cuts.
Both Paalam and Zoirov were checked by the ringside doctor, and the referee opted to put a stop to the contest. Paalam was ahead in the judges' scorecards at the time of the contest, with four judges scoring it 20-18 in the Filipino's favor and another judge having it tied, 19-all.
An emotional Paalam fell to his knees when the fight was stopped, while his foe left the ring as soon as the decision was announced.
"Magaling talaga eh, magaling, mabilis din. At saka, nautakan ko rin lang talaga siya. Ayun talaga, talino at tiwala sa sarili at sa Panginoon talaga po. Siya po ang nagbigay ng panalong ito po," Paalam told Paolo del Rosario of Cignal TV, after ousting one of the favorites in the competition.
Paalam told reporters that he was aware of the gap in experience between him and Zoirov, but never lost faith in himself and in his coaches
"He's the best opponent," Paalam said. "I'm so happy I'm a bronze medalist."
Asked about his hopes for a gold medal, the boxer said: "I'll do my best."
Paalam's bronze medal assures the Philippines of its largest medal haul in a single Olympic Games.
Hidilyn Diaz won the country's breakthrough gold in weightlifting last week, while Nesthy Petecio fights for a gold in women's featherweight boxing later Tuesday. Middleweight Eumir Marcial is also assured of a bronze after a couple of abbreviated victories in his division.
Paalam now moves on to the semifinals of the flyweight tournament, where he faces hometown bet Tanaka Ryomei, who won his quarterfinal via split decision against Colombia's Yuberjen Martinez Rivas, also on Tuesday morning.
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