Almost anyone born in the post-Atari age knows the term well. 

Boss battle.

It’s the end of the line, either for a particular level to a game or, finally, the ultimate nemesis, the big boss, to be overcome. 

By the time most read this, the world will know whether or not US featherweight Duke Ragan was able to overcome Russia’s Albert Batyrgaziev to end a gold medal drought stretching back three Olympiad’s to 2004. For the Tokyo Games, he is Ragan’s final boss. 

It doesn’t come with the story Ragan’s other two remaining teammates will carry as they move forward. 

On Thursday, lightweight Keyshawn Davis faces Armenia’s Hovhannes Bachkov in the divisional semifinal (, 1:32 AM EST). If Davis wins, the other side of the bracket could mean a boss battle of the most fearsome kind to get to the top of the podium.

In the other lightweight semifinal, Australia’s Harry Garside will look to upset arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in Tokyo. 25-year old Cuban Andy Cruz has already won two World Amatuer championships. An Olympic gold medal is missing from his collection of honors and Cruz is favored by most to get it.

If anyone can prevent Cruz’s ascension, it might be Davis. So far, the American hasn’t figured Cruz out. Cruz and Davis squared off three times in 2019, the last time in the world final. Davis ran Cruz close all three times, losing by split and majority calls the first two times and falling just short, 2 rounds to 1, on four of five cards in the third.  

This all might feel like deja vu for Davis. As was the case two years ago in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Davis has to get by Bachkov in the semi-final before he can worry about Cruz. The gaming equivalent for what Davis would face in Cruz might be trying to navigate one of the Soulsborne series of games. 

In those notoriously difficult games, players try, try, and “You Died” again until they learn to get good and move forward. If Davis can get by Bachkov one more time, he will have one more chance to see if he has gotten good enough to get past the most enduring boss battle of his fistic experience. Already a professional, Davis will quickly return to the paid ranks and may not get a chance to see Cruz again.

It’s an extra layer of drama to an already dramatic situation.

Extra drama only adds to the fun from a viewing perspective.

If Davis can make the final, against Cruz or otherwise, he and super heavyweight teammate Richard Torrez Jr. will have the chance to close Tokyo together in style on Sunday. 

Torrez’s run at the Olympics is quietly gaining steam outside boxing circles. On Wednesday, Torrez’s picture and an accompanying headline could be found near the top of the Drudge Report, one of the world’s largest news aggregators. It was up for well over twelve hours. For those who blow off the value of the Olympics in this era of boxing, it’s worth noting it is the type of attention only the Olympics make possible.

There’s certainly appeal to Torrez’s story, recounted through each successive win: valedictorian, chess team, magician. It wouldn’t be as interesting if Torrez’s style wasn’t also television friendly. Bullying forward and throwing in volume, Torrez comes to fight and forces opponents to keep up. In his semi-final victory over Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev, Torrez was rocked in the second, came back to score a knockdown before the frame was done, and busted up the nose of his foe in the third to earn a spot in the final.

Can Torrez put aside the ghosts of the past for his boss battle? 

Torrez has faced Uzbekistan’s Bakhodir Jalolov before. It didn’t end well for the American. On his way to winning the 2019 world championship, Jalolov went through Torrez in the first round of their quarterfinal bout. It wasn’t a stunned stoppage either. Jalolov knocked Torrez out cold.

Jalolov is still 6’7, can still punch like hell, and Torrez is still going to have to go forward to win. To come back from the previous defeat to win Olympic gold would be one of the best stories in any sport for the United States in 2021.

Will the story make it to air in a significant way? Those who look forward to Olympic boxing every four years in the States might not have their hopes up. While streaming has made more boxing accessible than ever before, it still struggles for much attention in prime time. Replays on the USA network have regularly been clipped, win or lose, for the US team to single rounds of fights. 

Coverage could be better.

For Olympic boxing as a whole, the boss battle is garnering a return to prestige coverage that used to rival track and gymnastics. 

In a year when prime time ratings for the Olympics are down at NBC by reportedly around fifty percent from what they were in 2016, it might be time to rethink programming. Boxing hasn’t been a real centerpiece of coverage for NBC since the 1988 Games, scuttled in favor of things like Beach Volleyball. Olympic ratings are struggling mightily to bring in coveted 18-49 year old eyes and a recent Harris Poll suggests boxing should be given a closer look before the 2024 Games.

Harris found boxing to have the strongest results for people saying they are fans than any sport besides the three biggest team sports in the United States. There was growth in younger demographics indicating a new generation of fans is finding the sweet science. The ability of individual boxers to build their names through social media and direct fan interaction doesn’t hurt. Could the Olympics find some of that new audience? 

Boxing has been sidelined so long it would almost be a novelty sport again if they tried. A gold medal or three between now and Sunday couldn’t hurt the case.               

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.