by Cliff Rold
They only won a single medal, Bronze, at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As 2014 reaches the halfway mark, the alumni of that US team may finally be getting to the Gold.
This Saturday night, the first major titlist from the 2008 US Olympic team will attempt his first defense. On the undercard of the WBO Jr. Welterweight title fight between Ruslan Provodnikov-Chris Algieri, Demetrius Andrade (20-0, 13) faces largely unheralded Brian Rose (25-1, 7 KO). Win, as he is expected to, and the 26-year old takes another step towards the big stages possible in one of boxing’s best divisions.
Andrade was always expected to be here based on talent. Deemed by many America’s best medal hope in those games, Andrade entered Beijing as the reigning Amateur World Champion. He fell in the quarterfinals on a debatable decision to South Korea’s Kim Jung-Joo, two points from a medal at 11-9.
Last November, Andrade came off the floor in the first round to earn a split decision for the vacant WBO 154 lb. title against 2004 US Olympian Vanes Martirosyan. It was an important step for an Andrade who stuttered through some of his early development. Lackluster matchmaking, and some lackluster performances, left question marks.
A dominant win over veteran Grady Brewer in 2011 saw Andrade begin to turn the corner. He’s shown increasing maturity and dominance, his 6’1 frame, southpaw skill set, and world-class speed beginning to define a hopeful future.
One week after Andrade-Rose, another member of Team 2008 will have his chance at a major belt. While more impressive to watch through much of his development, Gary Russell Jr. (24-0, 14 KO) has yet to face talent commensurate with his physical gifts. That will change on June 21.
Russell will face Vasyl Lomachenko (1-1, 1 KO) for the vacant WBO belt at Featherweight. Russell missed his chance at Bantamweight Gold at those Games when he failed to make the 119-lb. limit. Lomachenko won Gold at those Games at the Amateur Featherweight limit, and added Gold in 2012 at Lightweight. While not a seasoned professional yet, Lomachenko’s narrow loss to veteran Orlando Salido in March arguably gives him a bit of an edge in competition.
It’s a fascinating fight, difficult to pick and easy to look forward to. Since the marvelously talented 1996 US Team that included Floyd Mayweather, Antonio Tarver, and Fernando Vargas produced six professional champions, all subsequent US Teams have produced five. Three of those champions came from the 2000 team.
A Russell win next Saturday would leave the 2008 team one title shy of matching them.
That third title may come at Heavyweight. It may be the steepest mountain to climb.
The lone medalist for the 2008 US Team, Deontay Wilder, left with a Bronze medal after a semi-final loss to Italy’s Clemente Russo. 31 wins, all of them by knockout, have positioned Wilder as the leading contender for the WBC belt. There is plenty of competition outside the ring for a crack at that belt. Recognized lineal champion Wladimir Klitschko, who holds the WBA, WBO, and IBF titles, has made clear his desire for a unification clash with current WBC champion Bermane Stiverne.
Wilder would like a crack at Stiverne first. Whether his road runs through the hard-hitting Stiverne, or Wladimir Klitschko, Wilder’s opportunity should arrive no later than 2015. The big punching Wilder still carries questions about his chin, stamina, and level of competition. There will be answers sooner than later.
Whether Russell and Wilder join Andrade as professional beltholders or not, six years after their shared Olympic experience they are arriving together at the next level. Once the title shots start coming, there’s no going back.
The remainder of the 2008 squad continues along with varied progress.
• Luis Yanez (7-0-1, 0 KO): The team’s 106 lb. entrant exited in the second round of the Games on an 8-7 decision to Mongolia’s Purevdorjiin Serdamba. He’s reportedly struggled with management issues as a professional Jr. Bantamweight but at age 25 still has time to make a run.
• Rau’Shee Warren (11-0, 3 KO): Competing at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Games, the 27-year old Warren failed to medal but has shown promise as a professional Bantamweight.
• Raynell Williams (4-0, 3 KO): Competing at Featherweight, Williams lost in the second round of the 2008 Games to France’s Khedafi Djelkhir by a slim 9-7. He failed to make the 2012 team and the 25-year old turned professional in July 2013.
• Sadam Ali (19-0, 12 KO): Competing at Lightweight, Ali lost his opener against Romania’s Georgian Popescu. The 25-year old is beginning to make noise as a professional Welterweight, currently rated #10 by the WBC.
• Javier Molina (14-1, 6 KO): Molina lost his Jr. Welterweight opener to Bulgaria’s Boris Georgiev. Competing professionally at Welterweight, Molina has won five in a row since an early eight-round loss to Artemio Reyes.
• Shawn Estrada (15-0, 13 KO): Estrada lost in the second round to eventual Gold Medalist James DeGale. Estrada hasn’t fought since 2012 and has struggled mightily with conditioning issues.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]