LONDON (Reuters) - Ihab Almatbouli became the first fighter to represent Jordan at an Olympic Games on Monday and did so in style, dancing around the ring and delivering a flurry of stinging shots to record his country’s first boxing victory.
Almatbouli, a 26-year-old light heavyweight who lives in the Palestinian refugee camp of Baqa‘a, thumped Nigeria’s Lukmon Lawal by 19 points to 7 to the delight of some 20 team mates and officials whose cheers and chants drowned out the packed arena.
The shaven headed fighter said back in Baqa‘a, 20 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital Amman and home to some 80,000 people, those who usually crowd into cafes to watch soccer matches will have watched his fight instead and he was happy to make them proud.
“It’s a great honour to represent my country at the Olympics, an incredible feeling and god willing I‘m going to progress in the next round,” Almatbouli, who dedicated his win to the King of Jordan, told reporters.
“Hopefully with a good fight and good progress, I am going to be a role model.”
Jordan is represented at the Games by nine athletes including sprinter Rima Taha, better known in her home country for appearing in the Arab version of the popular television show ‘Gladiators’.
Almatbouli responded to his noisy support by putting on a real show, particularly in the third round where he forced the referee to call a standing eight count.
Then, in a rare moment when Lawal put him under pressure, the Jordanian simply danced out of the way of his punches with Muhammad Ali-style nonchalance.
It was a far cry from the 2007 world championships when he collapsed in his corner after a fight and was only revived one minute later. Almatbouli, whose five brothers are also boxers, said he was simply never prepared to give up.
“After the difficult life I’ve had, with all the difficulties I never stopped sport, I always continued non stop,” said Almatbouli who next faces world amateur champion and top seed Julio la Cruz Peraza of Cuba on Saturday.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Justin Palmer