Katie Taylor’s biggest rival believes the Irish lightweight boxer gets much more help than she needs from referees, judges and even the highest levels of the amateur sport.
Sofya Ochigava of Russia will fight Taylor on Thursday for a gold medal in the debut of Olympic women’s boxing after both veteran boxers won their semifinal bouts Wednesday.
“When you go in to box against her, you begin with minus 10 points,” Ochigava said.
Taylor is the unofficial best pound-for-pound fighter of the women’s sport after winning four straight world championships with an entertaining style. Her two bouts in London have been blowout wins backed by an arena filled with thousands of raucous, flag-waving Irish fans roaring at her every move.
But Ochigava is fed up losing to Taylor in international competitions, most recently in the world championships in May. She knows the Irish crowd is a major advantage for Taylor in London, but thinks Taylor has plenty of advantages already.
“It’s difficult,” Ochigava said. “When you go boxing against Katie Taylor, you’re not boxing with her. You’re boxing with all judges around the table, and it’s difficult boxing against all the system, but I will try like all other girls.”
Taylor beat Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva 17-9 on Wednesday, and Ochigava followed her with a 17-11 victory over Adriana Araujo of Brazil. The first women’s boxing tournament has been a hit at the London Games, and Taylor has been the unquestioned star of the show with her poised performances in front of her frenzied fans.
Ochigava appeared determined to remind the referees and the judges who score the bout by pushing buttons for clean punches that they shouldn’t reward Taylor for her past achievements, including the world titles and five straight European titles.
“AIBA, they want to make her (a) superstar, but when a boxer goes in the ring, it’s not important if she is world champ or not world champ,” Ochigava said. “Everyone here is a world champ. There are 11 people here. They’re all world champs. It’s not important. If you have a face, they must push the button.”
AIBA has worked strenuously and publicly in recent years to improve its worldwide standard of judging and refereeing. After years of decline and accusations of wholesale corruption, the sport has bounced back to respectability in the International Olympic Committee’s eyes during the six-year tenure of President Wu Ching-Kuo, who was recently elected to the IOC’s executive board.
“AIBA and its referees and judges have no preference for any boxer and have signed a very strict code of conduct to ensure absolute fairness in the Olympic boxing competition,” AIBA spokesman Sebastien Gillot said.
Criticism is common at nearly all amateur boxing competitions, with elite fighters of both genders in every weight class routinely claiming they’ve been cheated after losing short, evenly matched bouts. At least six bouts have been protested to AIBA at the London Olympics, but only two results were overturned, both on mistakes by referees.
But Ochigava’s worries about crowd influence on the judges have been echoed by several fighters who lost to the powerful British team, which already has clinched five medals heading into Wednesday’s evening session. The Irish fighters in London have received nearly an identical boost from the crowd — and nobody in either tournament has received more fan love than Taylor.
Amateur boxing is scored by a computerized system in which five judges attempt to give credit for cleanly landed punches. The computerized system has been widely criticized, but the professional system of 10-point judging leads to just as much debate and disagreement in a necessarily subjective sport.
That doesn’t stop fighters from trying for an edge, whether in the judges’ minds or in their own heads.