By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A better ending couldn’t have been scripted for the end of the Pan American games in Oshawa.
Wrapping up on July 25 with the men’s and women’s final boxing bouts, three Canadians were in action, vying for the title of Pan American champion and the chance to be adorned with a gold medal.
All three would make that happen.
Arthur Biyarslanov would secure his gold medal the night of July 24 in the men’s light welterweight category. The Friday night victory would be followed with gold medals from Team Canada’s Mandy Bujold in the women’s flyweight and Caroline Veyre in the women’s lightweight.
Fear The Wolf
When Biyarslanov, 20, stepped into the ring, he was all smiles as the Canadian cheers echoed through the General Motors Centre.
However, when the bell rang, it was easy to see how the young fighter earned his nickname, “The Chechen Wolf.”
Born in Russia, Biyarslanov left war-torn Chechnya 12 years ago with his mother and three siblings.
He started boxing in his teens and quickly picked up an aggressive, in-your-face style of fighting, and he needed to tap into all he had to fend off the heavily favoured Cuban, Yasniel Toledo.
Following his split-decision victory, which won Canada its first gold medal in men’s boxing since 1975, Biyarslanov admits while controlling the first round, he faltered in the second, forcing him to change tactics going into the final minutes.
“My coach told me to pressure him, to fight dirty, and he looked tired too so I kept pushing myself and fighting on the inside more than the outside, cause he kept catching me with jabs from the outside so I moved in and fought close,” he said.
Cubans were a dominant force in the Pan Am boxing competition, placing a fighter in every men’s final in these games. Cuba has also claimed 19 of the last 30 Pan Am boxing gold medals.
This didn’t seem to phase Biyarslanov.
“Cuban or no Cuban, they’re all the same human beings…I came in here with no respect for who I fought in the ring and I showed that in the ring,” he says. “I fought dirty and I fought hard and I fought all the way and I came out victorious.”
Making history once again
July 25 became a special night for Bujold for several reasons.
Not only did she secure her second Pan Am gold medal in women’s boxing, the first women to accomplish the feat (Bujold also became the first women to win Pan Am boxing gold when the sport was introduced in 2011), she also did it against a world-ranked fighter in American Marlen Esparza, and it just happened to be her 28th birthday.
The bout had the crowd in a frenzy, the tense silence between rounds of cheering punctuated by the slapping of leather on leather.
The fight could easily be labeled one of the more exciting four rounds the boxing competition saw throughout the Pan Ams.
When the final bell rang, it was Bujold’s arm lifted after a split decision, and her screams of triumph could be hear over the explosive roar of the crowd.
Bujold, a Kitchener native, says the crowd was both a hindrance and an advantage when she stepped into the ring.
“Honestly, just coming in here I knew a lot of people, a lot of my friends and family were going to be out so it was absolutely incredible. I knew I had to stay focused and not really think about them being in the crowd,” she says. “But at the same time, when I needed that extra bit of motivation to really push myself, I think I heard them yelling, ‘go Canada, go Canada,’ and it really just motivated me to keep going and to do this not only for me, but for everybody.”
Leaving the ring after her loss, Esparza was not shy about sharing her bitterness about the judge’s decision, calling it “bullshit.”
Bujold wasn’t surprised with the reaction.
“Some people are bad losers,” she said. “But it’s part of the game.”
Bujold referred to a previous fight between the pair in Esparza’s hometown, a fight that also came down to a split decision that went in the American’s favour.
Bujold says the win will serve as a large confidence booster as she heads into qualifers for the Rio Olympics.
However, she says she knows she could have fought better.
“I think I’m a perfectionist and I’m never going to be 100 per cent happy with my performance, but it was good and I did what I needed to do to win.”
Along with the gold medals obtained in Oshawa, Team Canada broke a Canadian record with 217 medals total: 78 gold, 69 silver and 70 bronze.