rom the gritty Boa Vista de São Caetano neighbourhood on the periphery of the tough north-eastern city of Salvador, to the top of the Olympic podium. From frustration at London 2012, to triumph at Rio 2016. Robson Conceição’s story is a classic of the genre, the man who became Brazil’s first Olympic boxing champion, against the odds.
In the lightweight gold medal bout on Tuesday (16 August) night, the 27-year-old was in control from start to finish, defeating Frenchman Sofiane Oumiha by a unanimous judges’ decision. It was a far cry from his first round exits at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
“É campeão!” (He’s champion!) the crowd chanted at eardrum-bursting levels in the packed Riocentro arena, saluting an emotional Conceição, for whom this was the culmination of a long and arduous journey.
It was Brazil’s third gold medal of the Games, following Monday night’s shock pole vault victory by Thiago Braz and the wildly celebrated judo title won by Rafaela Silva last week. Conceição said he had been inspired by Silva, who like him hails from humble background, in her case from the ‘City of God’ favela in Rio.
The stands inside Riocentro Pavilion 6 were filled with yellow shirts on Tuesday. Everyone knew that it could be a special night. “I think today will be a victory by knockout,” said a breathless Vinícius Alves, who donned a pair of boxing gloves, head protector and a Brazilian flag on his shoulders. “But I think it will be a tough fight,” he predicted. It was more straightforward that he expected.
The atmosphere was so overrun by Brazilian pride that in the fight before the final, between the Nigerian Efe Ajaba and Kazakh Ivan Dychko, the public went wild just to hear that one of the judges was Brazilian. Everything was a reason for celebration.
The crowd began to reach fever pitch as they anticipated Conceição’s entry into the ring, stamping their feet in the stands, something that has become a tradition thanks to the deafening noise it creates. “Ô, o campeão chegou!” (Oh the champion has arrived!) they chanted, by now everyone on their feet, as Conceição made his triumphal entry.
The first round quickly showed that it was to be an honest fight. Adeptly dodging Oumiha’s punches, Conceição quickly took the upper hand, landing powerful right hands that broke through the Frenchman’s defences, all the while the crowd singing at the top of their voices “sou brasileiro, com muito orgulho e com muito amor” (I am Brazilian, full of pride and love).
Clearly on top, Conceição sent the crowd into delirium by landing a cross that almost knocked Oumiha down. The judges ruled that the Brazilian had won the first two rounds out of three, meaning that only a knockout could keep him from the gold medal.
But Conceição maintained his calm throughout a more reserved third round as the pressure lay solely with the Frenchman. As the final bell rang out, Conceição finally allowed himself to celebrate. All that was left was for the fans to hail their new champion.