ELITE international boxers, on an Olympic pathway, have been allowed to return to action, even as the rest of the amateur sport in Britain remains on stand by. As overseas tournaments begin to return during the pandemic, Wales were the first home nations team to enter an international competition and young welterweight Ioan Croft took the opportunity to shine.
Wales secured three medals at the BoxAm tournament in Spain last month, with 18-year-old Croft winning gold in his first senior competition. He defeated three quality opponents along the way too.
“It’s been a year and a half without really boxing, I think it’s been a year and four months. My last fight was as a Youth so obviously it was a bit of a step up. It was good to get a tournament in during this latest situation, get three good fights under my belt and get introduced to the senior ranks. It was good to get out there,” Croft told Boxing News. “We did think we’d be lucky if we boxed this side of the new year. We did sort of think that. Things started to open up a bit. We got the BoxAm in which was good. I didn’t want to wait that much longer to have my first senior bout, now I’ve got three under my belt it’s all good.”
It did take place under unusual restrictions. “It was a good 10 week training programme we had up to this tournament. But the first few weeks was very limited in what we could do. It was just bagwork and then we started doing some pads. Two weeks in we started doing some sparring, we were back into it then,” Croft explained. Luckily Ioan has a twin brother, Garan, to spar with as well as team mates on the Welsh set up. “The tournament was different with the restrictions, you couldn’t go and watch your team mates, the only people allowed in the venue were the ones boxing on that day,” he continued. “Everybody’s come back with negative results so we’ve gone there, come back without the virus. It can be done, as long as you’re sensible out there. It can be done, you’ve got to be sensible with what you do while you’re out there.”
That is an encouraging sign for everyone in amateur boxing.
In Croft’s first bout in Spain, the welterweight’s first senior bout, he beat Italy’s Gianluigi Malanga, beating him on the cards after the Italian was stopped on a cut in the second round. Then he defeated a host nation boxer, Narciso Carmon Cabello in the semi-final. “That was a good fight, it was competitive. That was a unanimous decision,” Croft said.
But his most impressive victory was outscoring Hugo Micallef in the final. Monaco’s Olympic hopeful Micallef had taken a great win over American welter Delante Johnson in the other semi-final. “I think Delante’s ranked 10 in the world at the moment so he did good beating him to get to the finals. He’s a good technical boxer but I got the better of him. It was a 4-1 split, I was quite comfortable during the fight. I don’t really think I was expected to win it, to be honest,” Ioan said. “It does give me more confidence now, going into other tournaments thinking you are up there with some of the best teams around. We’ve just got to take them as they come haven’t we? There’s a long way to go definitely but it’s a good start. There’s a lot of seniors out there that are a lot more mature but it’s a good start definitely.”
The welterweight division, even in the UK let alone internationally, is ferociously competitive. “Looking at some of the boys in my weight, it’s a hell of a step just from Youth boxing to be fighting these people. I’ll just take it as it comes,” he says, adding, “We’ve got other good coaches up here [in Wales] as well. It’s good having some of the best coaches around working with you. It gives you that confidence going into these tournaments knowing you’ve got a good team with you.”