The 2016 U.S. Olympic boxing team is taking shape at the qualifying tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Five U.S. boxers – including Claressa Shields from the distaff side – have clinched Olympic berths heading into the final day of activity. The baby of the U.S. early qualifiers, 18-year-old Shakur Stevenson, seems to have the best chance of shaking the Olympic gold medal drought that has afflicted America’s amateur boxing program. Named for hip hop legend Tupac Shakur – who died eight months before he was born – Stevenson is undefeated (22-0) in international competition.
The Olympic qualifying procedure is convoluted. Carlos Balderas, a lightweight from Santa Maria, California, won a berth on the U.S. team at a World Series of Boxing (WSB) tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His teammates at the forthcoming Rio games will have traveled a longer road – first the Olympic trials in Reno and then this week’s tournament in Buenos Aires.
Winning the Olympic trials did not guarantee the winners a spot on the Olympic team because no country is guaranteed a representative in every weight class. In the interest of efficiency, the Olympic organizers feel it’s necessary to cull the herd.
Shakur Stevenson hails from Newark, New Jersey. The oldest of nine children, Stevenson learned to box at a local gym where his grandfather was one of the coaches. He has sparred frequently with Rau’shee Warren, a 29-year-old pro and three-time Olympian.
Stevenson, who lists Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward as his most admired boxers, stands 5’7”, tall for a bantamweight. USA Boxing coach Edward Rivas marvels at his ability to control the pace. “He can slow it down, he can speed it up, and his hand-eye reaction is superior,” says Rivas. If recent history is any guide, however, Stevenson is no lock to walk away with a medal in Rio.
Only one U.S. boxer has won an Olympic gold medal in the bantamweight division. That was Kennedy McKinney who won the gold at the 1988 Seoul games. The most recent U.S. Olympic team was perhaps the weakest ever. Only one U.S. boxer – welterweight Errol Spence, Jr. – advanced as far as the quarterfinal round.
Of all the 2012 U.S. Olympians, Spence (19-0, 16 KOs) has made the most headway as a pro. He opposes Chris Algieri in the featured attraction of PBC tripleheader at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday, April 16.