A year ago this week Katie Taylor was adjudged to have lost her Strandja Cup final bout in Bulgaria 5-1 when she met local champion Denitsa Eliseeva in the 60kg final. The judges apart no one else in the stadium in Pazardji last Spring believed that the Bulgarian had lost by anything less than 12, perhaps even 15 points. Even the ringside referee who raised Taylor’s hand in victory and the ringside M.C who had also announced a Taylor victory were shocked when the judges decreed that Eliseeva had won.
After the bout Eliseeva, the likeable Bulgarian, very embarrassed came to the dressing room to apologise to Taylor. That was then and this is now and Taylor is not returning to Bulgaria for this year’s event, taking place in Sofia. Nor have Ireland entered any boxers for the men’s event.
Another familiar face missing will be China’s Dong Cheng, no longer the champion in her home country so Team Taylor will no doubt be watching closely to see how her successor , Liu Chang (the former 64kg champion) will perform since she may well be the Chinese representative at the Worlds in May.
So who is taking part in Strandja 2012 at what will be one of the last European tournaments before May’s 2012 World Championship and only women’s Olympic Qualifier in China? And who will be the stars of the men’s events? With the eyes of the boxing world on Sofia it is unlikely that there will be any repeat of last year when local boxers swept all before them. The 60kg division looks likely to either to Turkey’s Gulsum Tatar, an old foe of Taylor’s or Britain’s Natasha Jonas whilst the other Olympic events are equally open.
The flyweight title seems to be between GB’s Nikki Adams and Ren Cancan of China whilst the middleweight division could also end with a GB v China battle involving Hartlepool’s Savannah Marshall (21) and China’s Li Jinzi.
This preview of the 2012 event courtesy of AIBA.org
“The Strandja Memorial Tournament has been held in many venues throughout Bulgaria, but this year, for its 63rd edition, the tournament will once again be held in the capital, Sofia. This should be the strongest competition to date. Fighting for the medals and prizes this year will be 42 women and 124 male international boxers.
The cream of the crop, four AIBA Women’s World Champions and five AIBA Men’s World Champion fighters, will be competing at the Strandja Memorial Tournament in Bulgaria while ten out of the thirteen titleholders of the event will also be present in Sofia in an attempt to defend their thrones in this preparation tournament.
Alongside the dominant host nation, leading boxing nations of the world will also be competing, countries such as Cuba, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, England, Brazil, Armenia, France, South Korea, Georgia, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Wales and Belarus.
In the women’s flyweight class, China’s two-time AIBA World Champion and Asian Games winner Ren Cancan will be a strong contender in Sofia coming face to face with England’s current European Champion, Nicola Adams, Ukraine’s former European Champion, Tatyana Kob and Bulgaria’s EU Champion, Stoyka Petrova in what should be a fierce contest.
Liu Chang defeated her lightweight compatriot, two-time AIBA Women’s World Championships silver medallist, Dong Cheng, at the Chinese National Championships thereby securing the opportunity to represent the Asian nation in Sofia. Her biggest rivals will be England’s Olympic Test Event winner, Natasha Jonas, titleholder Denitsa Eliseeva of Bulgaria and Turkey’s two-time AIBA World Champion, Gulsum Tatar, who moved down a weight class in preparation for the London Olympics.
Another fantastic four have got a great chance of reaching the gold medal at the women’s middleweight division in Sofia. The local fans will see China’s AIBA World Champion, Li Jinzi, Sweden’s former AIBA World Champion, veteran Anna Laurell, Kazakhstan’s Asian Champion, Marina Volnova as well as England’s AIBA World Championships silver medallist, 21-year-old Savannah Marshall.
Cuba’s current AIBA World Champion, Lazaro Alvarez, demonstrates excellent footwork, however his main opponent in the bantamweight class will be Bulgaria’s former AIBA World Champion, Detelin Dalakliev who has more than enough international experience to defeat his Caribbean rival in front of the home crowd. Both boxers have already secured a quota for the London Olympic Games, while Alvarez’s major rival last year, England’s former European Champion Luke Campbell is also on the entry list.
Cuba’s prodigy, AIBA World Champion Roniel Iglesias, will have a second chance of thrashing Brazil’s current AIBA World Champion, Everton Lopes, in Sofia. The top two light welterweight fighters met at the Pan-American Games in October and their possible re-match is one of the most anticipated clashes of the upcoming Strandja Memorial Tournament.
Cuba’s team captain, 22-year-old Julio Cesar de la Cruz was crowned champion at the last AIBA World Boxing Championships in Baku and could well be the Caribbean nation’s golden star in Sofia. His toughest rivals in the light heavyweight class will be Brazil’s WSB star, Yamaguchi Florentino Falcao, Turkey’s Youth Olympic Games silver medallist, Burak Aksin and Korea’s Asian Champion, Kim Hyeong Kyu.
Korea’s AIBA World Championship silver medallist, Shin Jong Hun, the first ever European Champion Welshmen, Andrew Selby, Bulgaria’s two-time European Championship silver medallist, Tervel Pulev are also among the many talented fighters who we will be keeping an eye on at this year’s Strandja Memorial Tournament.