U.S. Olympic Boxing Notebook – In 2012, the U.S. Olympic men’s boxing team left the London games without a single medal. Only one of the nine competitors, welterweight Errol Spence Jr, advanced as far as the quarterfinals. This year’s squad is assured of at least one medal after light flyweight Nico Hernandez punched his way into the semifinals with wins over opponents from Italy, Russia, and Ecuador. Victories over Russia’s Vasilii Egorov, the #2 seed, and Ecuador’s Carlos Quipo, a two-time Olympian, were upsets. With two more victories, the 20-year-old novice from Wichita, Kansas, can claim America’s first gold medal since Andre Ward won the gold in 2008.
Lightweight Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, CA) can reach Hernandez’s level when he enters the squared circle on Friday. Balderas (pictured below) outpointed Berik Abdrakhmanov from the formidable Kazakhstan team in his opening match and then turned away Japan’s Daisuke Narimatsu. Balderas has a daunting assignment. His third round opponent is Cuba’s top-seed Lazaro Alvarez.
The only other U.S. boxer to compete heading into the evening session on Wednesday was 18-year-old Charles Conwell who was saddled with a tough draw. The youngest member of the U.S. team, Conwell (Cleveland Heights, OH) was outpointed by India’s Krishan Vikas. The name may ring a bell. Vikas defeated Errol Spence in the 2012 Olympics but his victory was overturned on appeal.
Shakur Stevenson, the most highly touted member of the U.S. team, makes his Olympic debut on Sunday.
U.S. Olympic Boxing Notebook – ODDS AND ENDS
The three professional boxers in the tournament were sent packing early. Cameroon’s Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, competing as a light heavyweight, and Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng, a flyweight, lost their opening round matches. Italy’s Carmine Tommasone, a lightweight, cleared his first hurdle, outpointing Mexico’s Lindolfo Delgado, but was then eliminated by the aforementioned Alvarez.
N’Dam N’Jikam is 34-2 as a pro with both losses coming in world title fights. In a bout that could have gone either way, he was outpointed by Brazil’s Michel Borges. This was the second Olympic appearance for N’Dam N’Jikam who failed to medal in the 2004 games at Athens.
Thailand’s Ruenroeng also had prior Olympic experience, having competed in the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing. As a pro he was 17-1 with the lone defeat coming in his most recent bout where he lost his IBF World flyweight title in his sixth title defense. It wasn’t a big surprise that he lost to Sofiane Oumiha, a 21-year-old Frenchmen, but the manner in which he lost was shocking. Oumiha dominated the match, scoring three standing counts, the last of which, in the final round, led the referee to stop the fight.
One of the bigger upsets on the opening day of competition occurred when Samuel Carmona, an unheralded 20-year-old Spaniard, turned away Ireland’s Paddy Barnes. Ireland’s Olympic flag bearer in Rio, Barnes was appearing in his third Olympiad and was one of the favorites in the light flyweight class after winning bronze in 2008 and 2012. The Irish team suffered another blow when middleweight Michael O’Reilly was sent home after testing positive for a banned substance.
In addition to the aforementioned Oumiha, Cameroonian middleweight Dieudonne Seyi Ntsengue and Cuba’s Johanys Argilagos also turned heads with scintillating showings. The 18-year-old Ntsengue did a nifty backflip in the ring after turning away Columbia’s Jorge Luis Vivas. The 19-year-old Argilagos, who had a bye in the first preliminary round, turned away England’s stubborn Galal Yafai in what was a portent of better things to come.
On Wednesday, Argilagos became the first boxer to secure a berth in the semi-finals, assuring himself of at least a bronze medal. Jeff Powell, the ringside reporter for the London Daily Mail, likens Argilagos to a miniature Muhammad Ali and hails him as a future star.
U.S. Oympic Boxing Notebook