Lutalo Muhammad added a silver lining to Great Britain’s WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix campaign with his country’s third medal of the three-day event at Manchester’s Regional Arena.
The London 2012 bronze medallist knocked out World champion and world number one, Mahdi Khodabakhshi, in the semi-finals as well as compatriots Damon Sansum and Tom Smith.
But Tunisia’s Oussama Oueslati proved a step too far in the final and Muhammad slipped to a 16-6, -80kg defeat. China’s Jingyu Wu defeated Thailand’s Chanatip Sonkham 10-3 in the women’s -49kg final.
“I had a strategy and a tactic but he got an early lead and I was playing catch-up from the beginning,” said ‘Walthamstow Warrior’ Muhammad.
“I really wanted gold but I should be happy I was able to make this Grand Prix. And making it onto the podium in front of a home crowd is a blessing in itself.
“This is the highlight of my year. It is like an extension of the London Games, I love competing in the UK and we only do it once a year.
“So, it would have been super special to get the gold but I have got some bling around my neck, a little cheque (for $3,000) and I beat the world champion.”
For 19-year-old Oueslati, it was the latest and greatest of a succession of titles in 2015 after victories in Egypt, Luxor, Qatar and Spain. He knocked out Ivory Coast’s Moscow Grand Prix champion, Cheick Sallah Cisse in the last four. The -80kg division also provided another shock with the last 16 and first match defeat of Moldova’s former GB international, Aaron Cook, against China’s Sen Ciao
Roared on by another partisan Manchester crowd and aiming to emulate his 2013 Grand Prix triumph, Muhammad scored 63 points in his opening three bouts before taking on Khodabakhshi for a place in the final. And he boosted his tally to 66 before the Middle East favourite fought back into the contest.
It finished 4-all after the second round with Khodabakhshi receiving treatment prior to the final round. And he suffered further setbacks as the Londoner pulled out all the stops to complete a 9-5 win.
“That was one of the positives from this tournament,” said Muhammad of his prized scalp. “I want to show everyone I am the top athlete in the GB Academy.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the World Championships due to injury but I am coming back stronger from it. I just want to keep proving I am the man for the job in Rio.”
Muhammad led World Championship silver medallist, Sansum, 11-4 after the first round but that advantage had been trimmed to four points going into the final round.
Sansum closed to within three points at one stage but Muhammad held his nerve and finished with a last second head shot to complete a 20-13 victory.
“Damon is a true champion and he pushed me in that fight,” said the victor. “We know each other so well.
“Other rivalries have been mentioned in the build up to this. But there is nothing but respect between the two of us. I hope this continues.
“It is good for the sport, we have got two of the best in the world training in the same gym and it makes classic matches like that. I am just so happy we were able to make it happen.”
Disappointed Sansum said:“Lutalo scored well in the first round and racked up the points. I probably didn’t respect the distance enough.
“In the second round I pulled it back and changed the tactics and tried to counter. But he has got a long leg and was scoring as I tried to counter.
“I chased it towards the end when I have got to go for it and he got me with a head shot. It’s not good to lose at this stage but the goal is Rio and we are both in the top eight.
“I am not going to take it as a major setback but congratulations to Lutalo.”
Smith’s only appearance in front of a home crowd wasn’t as enjoyable as he had hoped. In the first all-GB Academy shown down of the day, the Poplar hopeful was stopped after two rounds of show down against Muhammad.
“It didn’t go as I planned and I just want get out there again as soon as possible and put it right,” he said.
Liverpool teenager Abigail Stones , 17, acquitted herself well on her Grand Prix debut, just a fortnight after becoming a senior group member of the GB Academy.
“It was just a privilege to go in there and try my best,” said Stones after a last 16, 2-0 defeat to Itzel Manjarrez from Mexico at -49kg. “It wasn’t the outcome I wanted but I couldn’t have done anymore.”
Tom Smith (Poplar)
Round One: lost 29-8 to Lutalo Muhammad (Great Britain)
Lutalo Muhammad (Walthamstow)
Round One: bt Tom Smith (Great Britain) 29-8
Round Two: bt Julio Ferreira (Portugal) 14-11
Quarter-final: bt Damon Sansum 20-13
Semi-final: bt Mahdi Khodabakhshi (Iran) 9-5
Final: lost 16-5 to Oussama Oueslati (Tunisia) 16-6
Damon Sansum (Elgin)
Round One: Bye
Round Two: bt Yunus Sari (Turkey) 12-9
Quarter-final: lost 20-13 to Lutalo Muhammad (Great Britain)
Abigail Stones (Liverpool)
Round One: Bye
Round Two: lost 2-0 to Itzel Manjarrez (Mexico)
Semi-final and Final results:
Jingyu Wu (China) bt Tijana Bogdanovic (Serbia) 19-7
Chanatip Sonkham (Thailand) bt Patimat Abakarova (Azerbaijan) 10-3
Wu bt Sonkham 12-0.
Lutalo Muhammad (Great Britain) bt Mahdi Khodabakhshi (Iran) 9-5
Oussama Oueslati (Tunisia) bt Cheick Sallah Cisse (Ivory Coast) 17-14
Oueslati bt Muhammad 16-5