Every time Bakhodir Jalolov steps inside the ring, he carries something that keeps him motivated. The memory of his late father, Isomiddin Jalolov is with him every step of the way. “One day my son will be a champion, I will prepare him for competitions,” Bakhodir’s father used to say, and the reigning Olympic and world champion proved him right.
This week, the super-heavyweight contender will continue to honour that dream with a shot at gold in the +92kg division at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, as he prepares for his Olympic title defence in Paris next year. But it nearly turned out very differently.
Bakhodir Jalolov’s switch from becoming a football player
Like many Uzbek boys at his age, Bakhodir loved football. He dreamt of becoming a great football player, like those whose images he would stick on the cover of his school drawing book. Isomiddin was a great Uzbek wrestler, whose greatest wish was to have his son follow his combat path.
But he respected his son’s aspirations, enrolled him in a football academy, and even sought to have him admitted to one of the Olympic reserve colleges in Chirchik to pursue football. A failed admission pushed him to the boxing precinct as a reserve. “My father was a free-style fighter. And I played football when I was younger,” he told Stadion.uz in an interview.
“By the time I was 11, my father told me he was going to take me to a sports school. So, I stayed at this school. My father told me to give boxing a try at this school and then go back to football school later… I later realized he wanted me to be a boxer and didn’t like football very much.”
That introduction was enough to stir Bakhodir’s interest in the ring. The road wasn’t easy, but he always found motivation in seeking to “make his father’s dreams come true,” and become champion. “In order to conquer these high passes, I faced a lot of hardships in my life, I faced injustices, I experienced what it means to be poor. There were days when I walked from Chirchik to Tashkent, all alone, I was not even 14 years old…”
“That’s why, when I remember my years in boxing college, sometimes I get depressed, I felt the difficulty of life and unfairness at a young age.” From 2010, he began boxing competively, topping several competitions. And by the time he was 20, he was unbeaten nationally in the 92kg class.
From Asian gold to Olympic glory
Bakhodir’s first big career milestone was a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships in Doha, a moment that was dampened by his father’s brain tumour diagnosis. “I will go to the Lord with a happy face, because my labours and dreams have not gone to waste. My son became a champion,” Isomiddin said of his son’s bronze, as he reminisced of their early days training together in their backyard and swimming in the local river.”
His father never lived to see Jalolov box at the Olympics, where he reached the quarter-finals at Rio 2016, losing to the eventual silver medallist Joe Joyce. That loss stung Bakhodir, but he trained harder and pushed himself further to achieve his father’s dream. The 29-year-old returned to the Olympic ring as a world gold medallist from the 2019 Championships.
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021, the towering leftie clinched the men’s super-heavyweight gold, beating American Richard Torrez Jnr with an unanimous points decision in the final, a victory that further elevated his status in boxing-mad Uzbekistan.
The recipient of the state award ‘Brave Boy’ and the honorary title of the ‘Pride of Uzbekistan’ decreed to him by the head of state, continues to create a legacy in the amateur and pro ranks. Last August, he knocked out Onoriode Ehwarieme, a former heavyweight pro champ, in a stunning first-round knockout, extending his unbeaten record as a professional to 13-0.
And now, the Uzbekistaki, who has tried to emulate the style of his idol Wladimir Klitschko, is the favourite for the gold in Hangzhou. It would be a fourth continental title for the boxer who carried Uzbekistan’s flag at the last two Olympics.
Every fight, he says, reminds him of his tough journey to the top and his overriding ambition to achieve the dream his father had for him. After the Asian Games, which is a continental qualifier for Paris 2024, he’s aiming to become the first repeat super-heavyweight Olympic gold medallist, to continue his reign as champion
He’s also hinted that he may then switch to the full-time professional ranks. “I want to go to the United States and focus on being a full-time professional boxer, he told InsideTheGames. “I have won most of it in amateur boxing and want a different challenge.” Another chance to become a champion, and again prove his father was right.