by Cliff Rold
When the final bell rang, when Welterweight Errol Spence saw his second chance end the same as his first, the U.S. Men’s Olympic boxing team had nothing left but the stamps in their passports.
Sure, there were those who could feel the scoring hadn’t gone their way. Bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr. can wonder what happened to all the punches he landed in the second round of his fight against the Cuban. Middleweight Terrell Gausha can still scratch his head at what the judges were watching in the second and third rounds of his elimination against India’s Vijender Singh. And Teddy Atlas opined on the air he felt Spence had landed the most shots in all three of his rounds against Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy.
The result is still the same.
For the first time as a boxing participant, the U.S. leaves the Olympics without a single medal. There are many nations who saw fighters go down to dubious scoring. None have the history of U.S. boxing. The most decorated program of all-time on the biggest amateur stage has hit their bottom. The drop-off began after a stellar 1988 team, with only three Gold medalists since.
Fernando Vargas, Eric Morel, Brian Viloria, Montell Griffin, Jeff Lacy, and the late Vernon Forrest are all examples to be looked to for the 2008 team of fighters who made the most of their time in the ring after failing to medal. They are among a crop of talent who turned Olympic failure into professional gold.
Conversely, there are also those fighters who failed to medal and have yet to make it to the winner’s circle of belts and bigger purses in the paid ranks. Andre Ward was the only Gold Medalist in 2004, and one of only two that year with Bronze Medalist Andre Dirrell. Ward is also the only member of that team to win a title as a professional. The 2000 team, featuring two bronze and two silver medalists, produced only one champion from the medal pool: Jermain Taylor. Viloria and Lacy succeeded from that squad where men like Clarence Vinson, Ricardo Williams, and Rocky Juarez fell short.
Since 1988, the U.S. Olympic team has produced roughly the same number of champions from both the medal and non-medal winning populations. It feeds the notion that, under the current scoring system, U.S. talents are better designed for the paid game. Time will tell if the overall lack of pro titles from the 2004 and 2008 teams makes that argument more or less valid.
Time will also tell if this new class of soon to be former Olympians can produce as professionals. Most of the U.S. team could at least hold their heads up knowing they’d lost close fights. Will close become being a closer when the headgear comes off?
Here are some early thoughts on those who appear to have the chops for future glory and those whose roads are likely to be tougher.
Marcus Browne (Light Heavyweight): Browne has good height, speed, and technique and looks like he could be a player with the right development. At only 21, he has time on his side but much could depend on where he settles. At 6’2, will he be a career Light Heavyweight or is he to grow into the Cruiserweight ranks? It matters because of the geography of the pro game. The U.S. has room for Light Heavyweights. For big money at Cruiserweight, and network interest, Europe has a pretty strong foothold. Having to travel is always a burden and Browne’s best chances could come with a consistent frame.
Terrell Gausha (Middleweight): Gausha lost a bad decision to Singh and deserved the chance to test the quarterfinals. He didn’t get it. Will it fuel his pro career? It should. Of all the U.S. Olympians, he showed the best combination of speed, fundamentals, and pop. His knockout win in the first round was one of the few stoppages of these Olympics. Gausha has an aggressive style, and that will make him T.V. friendly. If his chin is up to snuff, Gausha could end up being the big find of London and in a weight range never short on money or memorable encounters.
Errol Spence (Welterweight): Spence is right there with Gausha. He comes to fight, and moves his hands. He’s got some blessings in terms of speed, but appeared at times in London to need a little bit or work on mastering effective range. Having more than three rounds, and a career’s worth of future preparation, can fix that. The Dallas native would be wise to let himself be promoted in a home state rabid for the sweet science.
Jose Ramirez (Lightweight): Tall for a Lightweight, Ramirez may ultimately settle as a Jr. Welterweight and 140 is typically a tough class. He showed some slow starting in London but won the third round of his elimination bout. Expect to see a lot of fights from Ramirez where that is the beginning of his best work. The Central California product is heavy handed and fights back hard. He’s going to be fun to watch no matter his fate.
Joseph Diaz Jr. (Bantamweight): Diaz was right there with Cuba’s Lavaro Alvarez and can look to Mexico’s Abner Mares for inspiration. Mares also made an early exit from the Games and turned that into a powerful run at Bantamweight before entering the waters currently at 122 lbs. Diaz has a good look, personality, and a solid all-around game. His size could be a drawback at the box office but the Featherweight area has proven fertile ground for profit.
Too Soon to Tell
Michael Hunter (Heavyweight): Hunter has some pedigree, being the son of a former Heavyweight contender. He also had a long apprenticeship as an amateur and showed solid speed in his lone outing. Of concern, he seemed to gas against Artur Beterbiev. The pro game is paced differently, but being able to fight hard for twelve rounds is a must. There will be those who wonder if he’s big enough in today’s pro game but sheer size remains overrated at Heavyweight. There aren’t that many good “Super” Heavyweights. There aren’t a ton of good Heavyweights in the paid ranks period. Will Hunter be good enough? His athleticism indicates he has a chance.
Rau’shee Warren (Flyweight): Warren has the tools, but it’s fair after three Olympic failures to wonder if he’s got the chops when the going gets tough. He made a tactical error and ensured elimination in 2008. In 2012, he explained he let off his combination punching intentionally after it had given him a solid early lead. In an area of the scale dominated by talent in Asia and Latin America, he can’t outfox himself in close ones. There is also the issue of wear. Flyweights have a shorter shelf life. Warren is already 25.
Dominic Breazeale (Super Heavyweight): The positive is the learning curve. Breazeale went from college football to Olympic Boxing is less than four years. He showed in his lone Olympic showing that he’s got heart and a potentially massive right hand. Whispers about less than stellar conditioning raise concern as does being a Heavyweight in general. The division’s best reside overseas and while that doesn’t mean he can’t elevate, is the talent available stateside to learn against?
Jamel Herring (Light Welterweight): Herring, along with Breazeale, exited the games with a loss that wasn’t competitive. Unlike Breazeale, Herring didn’t leave much room to wonder if he can grow beyond his defeat. Already 26, Herring indicated he would choose between his career as a U.S. Marine and a boxing career. His measure as a man is already proven in the former. His measure in fistiana doesn’t have long to be considered.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]