By Cliff Rold
Everyone can’t be Oscar De La Hoya.
As U.S. fans have watched five boxers in a row exit the games, two in the round of 32 and now three in the round of 16, they can easily recall the Gold Medalists of years past. We have had only three since 1992.
Yes, it’s been 20 years since Oscar De La Hoya won Gold in Barcelona and became a star. David Reid would join the fraternity in 1996 and Andre Ward would follow suit in 2004. Pickings have otherwise been slim, a smattering of podium appearances.
After a 4-0 start through the first two days of the London Games, the U.S. suffered defeat at Light Heavyweight (Marcus Browne) and Light Welterweight (Jamel Herring) on days three and four. Wednesday, the U.S. team went from seven medal hopefuls to four, the round of 16 still underway.
Wednesday started with 19-year old Bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr. of El Monte, California, falling to Cuba’s 21-year old Lavaro Alvarez in a fight that should have been closer than it was going into the third and final round. Diaz ultimately fell by the score of 21-15, but one can wonder how the action might have unfolded differently had Diaz been credited for what appeared to be more than four scoring blows.
Diaz started off pressing while Alvarez, relaxed, moved about the ring, stopping to plant for flurries. To his credit, Diaz kept his guard tight and blocked well, Diaz in position to hook the body. The battle of southpaws favored Diaz just inside the halfway mark, a combination rocking Alvarez back on his heels. Alvarez found his balance and landed a nice right and then a left just inside a minute to go. Alvarez closed with a landing right to the head, Diaz answering with a hook downstairs. Alvarez led by one, 7-6, after the first.
Diaz landed a big left in the first thirty seconds, Alvarez playing at steadily moving hands. Alvarez clinched, Diaz digging to the ribs, and then Diaz landed a nice counter hook. Alvarez landed a nice right to the body and then left over the top, Diaz coming back with a shot upstairs. Alvarez landed two lefts while Diaz pursued him to the ropes and Diaz answered with a short shot to the head. Alvarez received three cautions in the round for holding but was given no official warning. The round appeared closer than the score of 7-4 in favor of Alvarez, but did nothing to aid Diaz who was down four points.
With a lead to play with, Alvarez had no reason not to keep tying up and wisely used movement to hold serve. Diaz landed two lead rights and then a stiff jab, Alvarez catching him shortly after with a lead right as Diaz pursued. Diaz landed a hammering left as Alvarez went to the corner. Alvarez, out of a clinch, nailed Diaz with a lead right. Diaz landed another nice left at about the thirty-second mark and applied what is best described as a headlock late to freeze Diaz. It was a competitive affair, but it did not appear Diaz had done enough to erase the lead. The final score proved that true at a mark of 21-15.
Diaz, to no surprise, was all class in assessing his performance. “Yeah, I thought the fight was closer. Don’t get me wrong. Alvarez is a hell of a fighter…It wasn’t God’s plan for me to get a Gold Medal. God has other plans for me.” Diaz indicated he’ll likely be heading to the pro ranks and will be a marketable presence in the paid ranks.
Diaz would be joined in defeat by 24-year old Heavyweight Michael Hunter of Las Vegas, Nevada. Hunter took a lead into the third round but 27-year old Russian Artur Beterbiev tied the score at 10-10 and emerged victorious on a countback tiebreaker.
Hunter blocked a right to start and went to work with the jab after a quick scuffle. Beterbiev landed a nice right and Hunter replied with one moments later. Beterbiev blocked a right but took one before the round was half done. The fight got awkward, both men sort of falling over each other, Beterbiev landing a right in close. Beterbiev landed the last scoring blow, a right slightly blocked by the shoulder. Hunter led 4-3.
Hunter opened the second with a glancing left and then another quick lead left as he circled away. With Hunter on the ropes, Beterbiev pressed and landed a left uppercut. Hunter would land two rights at center ring, and a sliding left just past the halfway mark. They traded shots between clinches in the final minute and it ended even at 4-4. Beterbiev was unlucky to have not been further rewarded and appeared to do the better work in the second.
Hunter’s one point lead wasn’t much of a cushion and would not last. In a round marked by far too much clinching, much of it initiated by a fatiguing Hunter who suffered a bloody nose in close, the Russian was managing to sneak in some stiff jabs and short shots. Neither man landed anything of note in the final thirty seconds of an ugly fight. Beterbiev took the round at 3-2 and forced the tiebreaker.
By all appearances, the Russian had done enough to win anyways and Hunter, who played the game and clinch and pray, had no one to blame but himself. He’d fought hard early but ultimately outsmarted himself in trying to protect, rather than expand, his lead. Hunter took credit for the loss. “I feel like my legs was a little tired early. No excuses. I just didn’t follow the game plan.” Hunter said he’d had “fun while it lasted,” even if he wished it had gone longer. He spoke to his father being proud looking down on him and surely any father would be proud that their son was an Olympian. Hunter is the son of late former Heavyweight contender Mike “The Bounty” Hunter.
The third defeat of the day was no surprise. 26-year old Super Heavyweight Dominic Breazeale Of Alhambra, California, entered the Games a work in progress, spending most of his athletic life playing football. 22-year old Magomed Omarov rocked Breazeale and outclassed him, sending him back to continue his learning somewhere other than the Olympics by a score of 19-8.
Breazeale gave his best from the start, coming out with a hard left and trying a big right. Omarov began to time rights inside as Breazeale swung wide and Breazeale was given a standing eight. Breazeale was fine to go on but struggled to land. Omarov landed a nice southpaw lead right hook and, in the final minute, forced Breazeale to the ropes and landed a right over the top. The round ended with the Russian up 5-0.
Omarov got a caution early in the second for rabbit punching and Breazeale tried to find his jab, landing a right but then getting walloped and having to hold. Another right landed for the American and a nice left to the body. Omarov stayed close, landing a right lead out of the clinch. Breazeale kept plugging away, with some success downstairs, but Omarov landed another wicked straight left late and built his lead. Omarov won the second 8-4.
Omarov opened the third with a landing hook. Breazeale landed a thudding right but the Russian ducked away and covered before anything could follow up. Breazeale continued to plug forward, looking for a prayerful right and never quit but it was Omarov landing enough to expand his lead and secure victory. To Breazeale’s credit, he got better as the fight went on, losing the third 6-4 for his best round of the fight.
Breazeale stated fairly after the fight, “I gotta’ get more experience.” There was much to recommend Breazeale for the future even in defeat. He’ll need sure fine-tuning, but a careful build in the professional ranks could give him that. He showed heart and enough athleticism to make him worthy of continued effort in developing him as a fighter.
Now, hope for Gold turns to Rau’shee Warren (Flyweight), Jose Ramirez (Lightweight), Errol Spence (Welterweight), and Terrell Gausha (Middleweight). The talent remains to top the anemic medal count of 2008, a Bronze for Heavyweight Deontay Wilder being the lone moment of U.S. glory. Spence appears to have the toughest draw prior to the quarterfinals, but Gausha is matched tough as well.
None of it means the end for the members of the U.S. squad. Twenty years is a long time, but it doesn’t feel long and we turn again to the De La Hoya year. While he was the only Gold Medalist, the team picked up medals at Flyweight (Bronze, Tim Austin) and Middleweight (Silver, Chris Byrd). Both fighters would go on to notable careers and titles at Bantamweight and Heavyweight respectively.
Three fighters who did not reach the medal rounds found professional gold as well. The late Vernon Forrest (Light Welterweight) was the consensus 2002 Fighter of the Year when he bested Shane Mosley for the lineal Welterweight king. Raul Marquez (Light Middleweight) won a belt at 154 lbs. Memorably, Montell Griffin (Light Heavyweight) picked up the first win over Roy Jones Jr. on a 1997 disqualification, winning the WBC 175 lb. title, and was a steady contender for years.
History says the Olympics need only be a beginning. What Wednesday’s defeated men do from here will determine whether London was a brief highlight in their fistic lives or a launching pad to something greater.
We root for the men who remain to win Gold. We root for them all in whatever they do once the London flame is extinguished.
Win or lose, they’re our guys.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
The Ghost Haunts Welter: https://www.boxingscene.com/-ghost-crashes-welterweight-mix-with-big-win--55485
Team USA Coverage
Cliff’s Notes… Good for AIBA in deciding to overturn the horrendous outcome in the Shimizu fight. The Japanese battler scored what should have been a stoppage and was robbed in the scoring. One of these days, someone in the pros is going to have the balls to do the same thing for an egregious outcome. It hasn’t happened yet, and the Vegas books would melt down, but it would send a powerful message. Boxing needs an enema.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]