Korobov opens Olympic boxing with easy win

Aug. 09, 2008, 12:18 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Matvey Korobov might be the most talented boxer at the Olympics. The dynamic Russian middleweight capitalized on an early chance to prove it.

Korobov began work on his first Olympic medal Saturday, easily outpointing Naim Terbunja of Sweden 18-6 in the tournament's opening bout.

Emilio Correa, the Cuban likely to be Korobov's final hurdle for the title, opened the evening session with a 17-4 victory over Australia's Jarrod Fletcher.

Dzhakhon Kurbanov of Tajikistan scored the opening day's biggest upset by outpointing world champion light heavyweight Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan 11-3. American middleweight Shawn Estrada also beat Ezequiel Maderna of Argentina 10-2 to set up a second-round meeting with James Degale of Britain, who easily handled Mohamed Hikal of Egypt.

The Chinese crowd at Workers' Gymnasium was mostly interested in its two native fighters, but still seemed duly impressed by Korobov, a two-time world champion who waited several years for the chance to show that skill for the powerful, deep Russian team.

Korobov has dominated the middleweight class since shortly after fellow Russian Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov won a gold medal in Athens. Korobov won the world amateur title in 2005 and again in Chicago last fall, rolling through almost every match with a blend of impressive athleticism and reflexes.

Korobov, whose parents and older brother live in Florida, reportedly plans to turn pro after the Olympics, and his skills seem suited to prizefighting. He kept Terbunja on his heels and moving backward for most of the match, landing big punches in every round.

"(Korobov) is a really complete boxer," Swedish coach Majid Jelili said. "He has no big weaknesses. I think he will win. Anyone can be beaten, but I think he is the best boxer in this category."

Correa is the son of 1972 Olympic champion Emilio Correa Sr., but the 22-year-old fights with a heedless exuberance that doesn't always fit the Cuban technical tradition. He was never in danger against Fletcher, who beat him earlier this year, but acknowledged nerves from being the young Cuban team's first fighter of the games.

"Emilio is one of the best on the team," Cuban coach Pedro Roque said. "He wants to win just like everybody else on the team, but he also has an emotional reason, which is being an Olympic champion just like his father."

Correa and Korobov can't meet until the middleweight final in two weeks, but both fighters already anticipate a rematch of their 2005 bout at the world championships, won by Korobov.

The crowd came alive late in the afternoon for light heavyweight Zhang Xiaoping, the first Chinese competitor of these games in a sport once banned by Mao.

Zhang labored to a 3-1 victory over Tunisia's Mourad Sahraoui, scoring two points in the final round of a sloppy bout that was more hugfest than slugfest, but his performance still inspired more cheers than every other bout combined. Free-swinging middleweight Wang Jianzheng wasn't as fortunate, losing 15-6 to Sergiy Derevyanchenko of Ukraine.

Kurbanov, the 2006 Asian Games champion, easily handled Atoev, who won a surprise title in Chicago last year. Artur Beterbiev of Russia, who also won his opening match, is still the medal favorite in a division dominated by former republics of the Soviet Union.

A few moments before Kurbanov's win, Samoa's Farani Tavui was taken to a hospital on a stretcher after getting knocked out by a Croatian fighter. Tavui staggered and stumbled around the ring, twice falling hard to the canvas, but the ringside doctor believes he'll fully recover.

Although the U.S. team still is reeling from bantamweight Gary Russell Jr.'s failure to make weight, Estrada got the Americans off to a fine start with a victory over an opponent he knows well.

Estrada actually received cheers when he entered the arena - a rarity for U.S. fighters in international competition, where they're usually booed relentlessly. He had little trouble with Maderna, who also lost to Estrada in the final of an Olympic qualifying tournament in Guatemala last spring.

"I already knew what he was going to bring, but I kept my composure," said Estrada, who had nine family members in attendance in Beijing.