Boxer Sean O'Bradaigh’s Paris Olympic hopes are still alive despite a semi-final finish at “The Last Chance Olympic Qualifier” tournament in Pueblo, Colo., last week.
After racking up three impressive wins in four days, the reigning 2023 Ring Masters/Golden Gloves middleweight novice champion dropped a points decision to teen protégé Ethan Smith, a 10-time national champion out of Las Vegas.
The tournament’s #1 seed at 176-pounds, Smith had arrived in Colorado after winning gold representing the U.S. national youth team in a competition in Germany. A lanky 6-feet-3 18-year-old with more than 70 fights, Smith showed his athleticism, experience, and array of skills against O'Bradaigh, who’s 21 and was in his 25th bout.
“He was moving around on his toes [and] every time I would set my feet trying to hit him, he would throw a jab and move,” said O'Bradaigh. “He was very hard to catch. He [would] counter my counters -- he would throw a jab, I'd lean back. I’d throw my cross, he’d lean back and throw three punches that would hit me. He was very sharp, very experienced, so he beat me by unanimous decision.”
Victory would have qualified O'Bradaigh automatically for the final Olympic trials in Louisiana this December to select the U.S. boxing team for the Paris Games next summer. Instead, he will apply for a wild card spot at the trials.
A New York University undergraduate with Dublin roots on his father’s side, O'Bradaigh is confident of earning a wild card status based on his top four performances at the National Championships in Texas last June and now in Colorado.
“I think I should get in because I came within one win twice [of qualifying],” he noted. “I lost in the semis in Texas and I lost in the semis here [in Colorado] and I had to make the final either time to qualify for the trials.”
O'Bradaigh added that at the Nationals he’d lost to eventual winner Tyric Trapp -- who he later beat in the New York Boxing Tournament – while this time around, it had taken the #1seed [Smith] to best him. “So, I'm gonna apply for the wild card and I should get it, which will put me in the trials, which is massive. It’s a big deal; and then in the trials I'll be fighting for the number one spot for Paris next year.”
En route to the semis against Smith, O'Bradaigh was in hot form, defeating three opponents, one via knockout.
The young prospect took on Elijah Austin from upstate Niagara Falls, and despite insufficient time to warm up before the contest, won a close decision.
“I actually beat him by 3-2 split decision, but it was a it was a rusty first performance,” said O'Bradaigh.
Twenty-fours later, he came out with fists blazing to halt La Jolla, California’s Abraham Yunis in the second round.
The referee stopped it after three standing eight-counts, the first of which was the result of a wicked left hook that stunned Yunis.Said O'Bradaigh: “I spoke to him after the fight and he told me that he never recovered after the left look. He stumbled and the ref started counting to eight.
“And then the last combination -- I threw a jab, [right] cross, left hook, cross and -- the last cross shook him. The ref started counting again and then ended it because he was out of it.”
O'Bradaigh had Day Three off, but it turned out to be the most traumatic of his Pueblo stay. He was woken up by gunfire in the apartment opposite his Airbnb shortly after 6 a.m. This was followed by the angry screams of the victim – apparently shot in the foot – and the sight of blood everywhere when the police came and O'Bradaigh eventually came out of his room.
The fighter and his trainer, Angel Rivera, immediately checked out and were given a full refund.
“It was a crazy experience and I was worried that it might affect my performance,” O'Bradaigh conceded. “That's the first time that I've ever experienced something like that.”
The following night, in the quarterfinals against Texan Xavier Washington who's ranked #10 in the nation, O'Bradaigh would get off to a slow start.
“I lost the first round, so once my coach told me that I was down, I changed my whole approach. I had started trying to outbox him [so] in the second and third [rounds] I just walked him down.”
He won a unanimous points decision.
O'Bradaigh’s next fight is scheduled for Sept. 28, at the Melrose Ballroom in Long Island City Queens. He’ll meet Israel Bailey for the SBC title.
He edged Bailey on split points in the Ring Masters/Golden Gloves middleweight novice final in the spring.