Galal Yafai is adjusting to being an Olympic gold medallist. He speaks exclusively to John Dennen
WHAT would go through your mind if, in the biggest contest of your life, with the eyes of the world watching, you dropped your opponent in the first round? That was the situation Galal Yafai found himself in against Carlo Paalam in the Olympic flyweight final last weekend.
“In the first round I put him down and I was thinking, ‘What is going on here? I’m in the Olympic final and I just put this guy down. This is crazy.’ And I thought you know what I’m going to try and stop him. I’m going to try and stop him, stop him in the Olympic final. It’ll look great on telly, everyone’s going to think I’m brilliant. But [by the second round] I thought he’s come back into it now, I better slow down, don’t tire myself out. I’ve got to stick to the gameplan so I made sure I won the second round and I did. So I kind of cruised in the last round and knew I’d won at the final bell,” Yafai tells Boxing News. “The Filipino who beat the champion [Shakhobidin Zoirov], he deserved his place in the Olympic final. How I handled him, it just showed on my day I can beat the best and I’m glad to have proven that in the last fight of my amateur career.
“I like having the underdog tag and I’m glad that I’ve showed everyone that I can beat the best in the world when my time is right.”
In the space of the tournament, Yafai boxed five of the world’s best in rapid succession. The only one of them he didn’t give a count to or stop was Cuba’s Yosbany Veitia. “It’s humbling, it’s great to hear that. The thing about me is I’m a really aggressive fighter. I want to go forward and I want to try and hurt them as well as win. So it’s good to give them a few counts and make sure they feel my power,” he said. “I’m pretty calm in every one of my fights. Obviously I get nervous like we all do. It means so much to me. But it was quite surreal. I got myself to the medal stages, beating the Cuban. I was like brilliant, I’ve got a medal. I’ve just got to push on now, the Kazakh World bronze medallist, [Saken] Bibossinov and then I beat him and I thought my gosh I’m in the Olympic final. It was like have a day off and then I go again.
“I hadn’t really had the chance to let it settle and enjoy the fact that I’m fighting an Olympic final, I was straight in there… I was excited, I was really nervous… I had a lot of pressure, I knew a lot of people were watching. It’s the pinnacle so I know everyone’s going to watch. I knew I just had to go out there and perform. So I think I did. It worked out well for me.”
His gold medal triumph is slowly sinking in. “It’s been great. Obviously being Olympic champion is something that’s the pinnacle of amateur boxing. It’s something every amateur boxer wants to become and I got to become that [on Saturday]. It’s been good. The feedback’s been great back home. My phone just blew up, constantly getting messages and it’s been great,” Yafai said. “They’re over the moon, my friends and my family. The nice thing to hear is that people around the circuit too that are really happy for me. The kind words I’ve had from people to say about me is overwhelming and it’s humbling. I’d just like to thank everyone that’s said nice things about me too.”
He is a member of a tremendously successful squad and wasn’t the most highly touted member of this British team going into the Games. “I’m not Pat McCormack, who’s number one seed, I’m not Lauren Price who’s number one seed and they’re expected to win the Olympic Games or at least get to the final. I wasn’t in that bracket. But one thing I did tell you is that I know I can beat anybody on my day and I wasn’t being deluded with that,” Galal reflected. “I know what comes with an Olympic gold medal. You’re going to have people obviously that want to sign, not just me, but everyone else on GB. We’ve got a great team. You’ve got Pat McCormack, even the lads that didn’t medal, you’ve got Peter McGrail, Cheavon Clarke who are unbelievable fighters. Peter McGrail’s a tremendous fighter. They’ll be after them two. I’m so glad. We’ve finished our amateur careers, we can all do so well as pros and get our just desserts.”
Yafai is now a member of a very select club. Even the gold medallists to come out of the Tokyo Olympics are a superlative group. “I’m surrounded by brilliant fighters, you’ve got Andy Cruz, you’ve got Arlen Lopez and [Julio] La Cruz, top fighters. [Bakhodir] Jalolov the super-heavyweight. It’s full of top fighters. So I’m accompanied by brilliant fighters,” he said. “You go through all the weights. At 57kgs there’s the Russian who’s a top fighter, I’m a big fan of [Albert Batyrgaziev]. You’ve got Roniel Iglesias. At 75kgs you’ve got the Brazilian who knocked out Khyzhniak, [Hebert Sousa]. Then you’ve got little old me at 52 kilos. So it’s not a bad bunch to be around.”
“I’m just happy to be Olympic champion,” he continued. “Olympic champion is just another level… I look at the greats like Muhammad Ali, Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, these type of fighters and yeah, I’m not as good as them and they’re just legends in the game but we all share one thing in common and it’s an Olympic gold medal. I’m just happy to say I’m in their company.
“It’s proper humbling. You look at [British Olympic gold medallists like] Anthony Joshua, Luke Campbell, Dick McTaggart, Terry Spinks, Nicola Adams, they’re all like one in a million fighters, top of the tree. So I’m just glad to be amongst them too.”
There will be plenty of interest from professional promoters. His future is exciting. But first comes a rest. “I’ll have a bit of time off relax, just spend time with my family and friends,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about these Olympics for months now. Training so hard. I was in the best shape I had ever been in. I just want to relax. Just enjoy the fact that I’m Olympic champion… I’m going to live off that for a little bit!”