Men’s Olympic boxing is nearing the halfway mark in most divisions. Standouts from Cuba, Kazakhstan and a shocking loss by a favorite are leading the way. Team U.S.A. is experiencing an early resurgence which, if maintained, will aid in erasing a disastrous showing in London four years ago.
After missing the medal stand for eight years, USA men’s boxing’s eight-year medal drought is finally over. Nico Hernandez will bring at least a bronze home to his native Wichita, Kansas. Hernandez decisioned Ecuador’s Carlos Quipo in the light flyweight quarter-finals to guarantee himself no worse than a bronze medal. The United States will have their first light-flyweight medalist since 1988. The 5’5”, 20-year-old advances to Friday’s semis having been the underdog in each of his fights thus far. He’ll need to be much more accurate against Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov. Dusmatov is the reigning Asian champion and entered the contest ranked third in this Olympics light flyweight division. Dusmatov, 23, was three inches shorter and nine years younger than his opponent, Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypo. The 23-year-old dominated inside to secure what looks to be an entertaining match-up with Hernandez.
There are two bronze medals awarded in Olympic boxing. Both Hernandez and Dusmatov are guaranteed hardware.
Joahnys Argilagos, a legit gold medal contender from Cuba, came out with some of the best footwork we’ve seen against a fighter twice his senior. Argilagos made a track meet out of his unanimous win against Kenya’s Peter Warui. At one point he ducked a serious haymaker with such momentum he tumbled into the ropes. Argilagos will be favored against former training partner, Columbian Yurberjen Martinez.
Light Welterweight (64kg)
Former Commonwealth Games gold-medalist Manoj Kumar, India, stunned London bronze medalist Evaldas Petrauskas of Lithuania by a split decision in the (64kg) division. Manoj was more effective, striking more from a distance than the aggressive, forward charging Petrauskas. Manoj dominated all three rounds in the 29-28, 29-28, 28-29 win to advance against Fazluddin Gaiznazarov of Uzbekistan on August 14. Gaiznazarov dominated Malonga Dzalamou of Congo to win by TKO.
In the day’s other bought, 20-year-old Gary Russell, USA, defeated Haitian Richardson Hitchens on a unanimous decision. Russell carries a family legacy into Rio. He’s one of four brothers all named Gary, (After their dad…Gary) who have won a Golden Gloves title. He’s also brother to WBC featherweight champ Gary Russell Jr. Hitchens, who hails from Brooklyn, NY, had previously lost to Russell in the U.S. Olympic Trials. His parents are both Haitian citizens. Like his mentor, Andre Berto, Hitchens has dual citizenship providing a path to being the lone fighter representing the country.
The most shocking upset of the quarters was handed to Irish medal hopeful Joseph Ward. Ward was deducted points in the second and third rounds. The penalties cost the 22-year-old southpaw heavily in the 2-1 split decision defeat to Ecuador’s Carlos Mina. Mina will again be the underdog in his match-up with Frenchman Mathieu Bauderlique for a medal.
Ward was ranked fourth in the division and one of Ireland’s strongest contenders for a medal coming into the Olympics. After five days of competition, Ireland had lost three of their primary medal contenders, Ward, Paddy Barnes and Michael O’Reilly – who was sent home after a failed test for banned substances. Ward won the first round 10-9 on two of the judges’ scorecards, with the Ecuadorian awarded the round 10-9 on the final card. His closing round flurry just wasn’t enough to compensate for the loss of points. Ward’s exit adds fuel to an already heated debate over the absence of Billy Walsh in the corner for Ireland. Walsh stepped down from his role as head coach of the Irish High Performance Unit and senior team last October after a contract dispute with the IABA. Walsh, 53, is now at the helm of a surging U.S. contingent.
The other side of the bracket saw Julio Cesar La Cruz, a clear stand-out for an already impressive Cuban team. La Cruz out punched and outclassed Mehment Unal of Turkey. La Cruz’s win sets up a tangle with Brazil’s Michel Borges who narrowly escaped Croatia’s Hrvoke Sep.
Erislandy Savon, nephew of Cuban all-time great Felix Savon, picked apart British fighter Lawrence Okolie in the first. Savon had previously scored another first round knockout off Okolie in under 90 seconds. The cagey, 6’4”, 26-year-old secured a Cuban hat-trick and another guaranteed Olympic bronze. Savon will face Vassily Levit of Kazakhstan on Saturday, August 13. Levit controlled his bought with Kennedy St. Pierre of Mauritius from the opening round. Savon versus Levit will be one of the hardest hitting fights of the Rio contests.