Boxers hoping to continue medal pursuit with victories at Rio Olympics

Steven Donnelly faces a tough test against Mohammed Rabii on Saturday
Steven Donnelly faces a tough test against Mohammed Rabii on Saturday

Michael Conlan, Brendan Irivne and Steven Donnelly will all continue their Olympic journey in Rio this weekend.

Belfast fighter Conlan will be taking part in his opening fight of the Games on Sunday, while Irvine and Ballymena boxer Donnelly will fight in Brazil on Saturday.

Donnelly meets Morocco’s current World Elite champion Mohammed Rabii. Both men qualified for Rio through the World Series of Boxing (WSB).

However, Casablanca-native Rabii made the standard again at the World Elites in Qatar last year after winning gold, in an almost identical route to Conlan who first qualified through the WSB and then again after claiming bantamweight gold on the Arabian Peninsula.

If Donnelly – who got Ireland off to a winning start last Sunday before lifting Irish boxing off the ropes with a massive victory on Thursday – wins, he will be guaranteed at least bronze.

The Ballymena BC welter will put everything on the line against the number one seed.

“He’s a classy operator and he’s not the world champion for nothing but I believe in myself and I’m going to give it everything.

“I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m looking forward to the clash and am looking to get through to the next round of the Games.” he added.

Meanwhile, European Games silver medallist Irvine from Belfast makes his Olympic debut on Saturday versus Uzbek southpaw Shakhobidin Zoirov for a place in the last 16.

Zoirov booked a Rio ticket after claiming gold at the Asia and Oceania qualifiers in China earlier this year.

And Conlan – the current AIBA World and European Elite bantamweight champion – faces Armenia’s Aram Avagyan for a place in the last-eight. The Belfast fighter will be looking to shine and progress after watching his good friend Paddy Barnes exit the Games earlier this week.

And Conlan’s father and coach John believes his man is in a better place now, than when he won a bronze medal at London 2012.

“He’s a different Michael Conlan now. There’s a massive difference now.

“He was a boy then who didn’t really understand it, his weight wasn’t really on track the way it should have been so by the time he got to the medal bout, it took a toll on him.

“This time it’s different. His weight’s well under control, he’s a lot stronger, older, more experienced, he relishes the challenge.

“And I totally believe I’ve seen him standing on the podium with his medal with the national anthem in the background. I believe he can win gold our I would not be here,” said Conlan.