Welcome to the Olympic Boxing Experience

By Christian Giudice on August 4, 2012
Welcome to the Olympic Boxing Experience
Errol Spence was clearly robbed of his victory over India’s Vikas Krishan earlier this week.

After Spence was robbed of his victory, he tearfully promised to use the loss as a steppingstone to continue to grow as a fighter. …

First, he banged hooks to the body, then he opened up and took his attack to the head. Lastly, he closed the bout in the third round, so there would be no controversy. Or so he thought. US welterweight gold medal hopeful Errol Spence Jr. proved to be well prepared, fought his heart out, did everything right in the ring, and then the judges took it all away from him. Welcome to the Olympic boxing experience.

After Spence was clearly robbed of his victory over India’s Vikas Krishan, he tearfully promised to use the loss as a steppingstone to continue to grow as a fighter. He didn’t sulk or show any bitterness; yet, anyone who watched the bout would not have blamed him if he decided to rant about the injustice. For Spence to show that level of class was a testament to the type of person he is. The judges, who somehow managed to give him only a two-point lead after the first round, helped to secure a place in a long line of unconscionable decisions that impeded the Olympic paths of 1996 bronze medalist Floyd Mayweather Jr., 1988 silver medalist Roy Jones Jr., and 1984 bronze medalist Evander Holyfield.

However, on Friday, the AIBA (International Amateur Boxing Association) recognized the second major blunder by a judge or referee and awarded the bout to Spence. (Note: The first was recorded when the AIBA overturned a deplorable decision to award Azerbaijan’s bantamweight Magomed Abdulhamidov a 22-17 victory over Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu, who knocked the Azeri down six times in the third round.)

Now Spence will face Russia’s Andrei Zamkovoy on Tuesday in the quarterfinal round. Despite all of the commotion surrounding a weak US team and calls and tweets for coaching changes, Spence has the tools to win the gold medal. His style is reminiscent of a southpaw version of a young Rocky Lockridge. Ironically, prior to the Olympic Games, many boxing experts expected flyweight Rau’shee Warren to correct his past Olympic mistakes, but he appeared detached and a bit overwhelmed during his loss Friday to France’s Nordine Oubaali. Spence is the final America hope. Although Zamkovoy is a strong fighter with an awkward style, Spence can move, punches well with speed to the body and the head, and lands combinations unlike any other fighter in his weight class. Look for him to be in that gold medal final.

As the US Olympic boxers’ struggles continued, Cuba solidified its place amid the best in the world. Despite the defections of Cuban fighters, they still have such a strong feeder program that it doesn’t matter who leaves, because the next great fighter is always ready to step in and fill their shoes. Cuban flyweight Robeisy Ramirez dominated in his first-round matchup with a 19-7 win over Katsuaki Susa. On Thursday, Ramirez overwhelmed Thailand’s Chatchai Butdee, 22-10, but for the first time realized he needed to adapt and intensify his attack. Despite the 12-point win, Ramirez was too frugal with his punches in the second round, and his corner implored him to pick up the pace in the third and deciding round. Then, with a combination of pinpoint jabs and straight left hands, Ramirez befuddled Butdee at every juncture. Whether Ramirez was heeding his corner’s advice or not, he put together one of the most complete three minutes I have seen in the 2012 Olympics. At 18, Ramirez has the skills to one day match the exploits of countryman Joel Casamayor if he continues to develop at this pace. Ramirez faces Great Britain’s Andrew Selby in the quarters. Selby won’t be able to compete with Ramirez if he does not establish a game plan or fights as carelessly as he did in an unimpressive 19-15 victory over Kazakhstan’s Ilyas Suleimenov.

Ramirez’s teammate, Cuban light welterweight Roniel Iglesias, a 2008 bronze medalist, proved to be the class of the division by outlasting No. 1 seeded Brazil’s Everton Lopes (18-15) in one of the most highly anticipated bouts of the Olympic Games. Strong and extremely intelligent for an Olympic boxer, Iglesias—who beat Lopes in three previous matchups—stood in front of his opponent, didn’t waste energy or punches, created space, and patiently landed his jab and straight left. Refusing to succumb to an early deficit, Lopes showed that he learned a lot from his previous bouts with Iglesias. In a close third round, Lopes crowded the Cuban, and nearly surged ahead. When analyzing skill, ring generalship, and boxing maturity, the rest of Saturday’s bouts paled in comparison with the Iglesias-Lopes matchup. Iglesias is the favorite to win gold, but, and I am in the minority, I do think Italy’s Vincenzo Mangiacapre, who skillfully switches and turns southpaw after each punch, will give Iglesias fits with his head movement and awkward punching style. In their last meeting, Mangiacapre beat Iglesias, 17-14, at the 2012 Three Nations Meeting, in Assisi, Italy.

Although the Cubans earned the reputation for tremendous boxers, Kazakhstan’s contingent has impressed considerably throughout the first couple rounds. On Saturday, light flyweight Birzhan Zhakypov decisioned the smaller Filipino Mark Anthony Barriga (17-16) in what turned into a foul-filled third round. Both fighters received warnings for clinches; commentators Bob Papa and Teddy Atlas suggested that Zhakypov was the culprit. However, Barriga clearly jumped into Zhakypov several times to avoid further punishment, and that led to several wrestling takedowns that tainted an otherwise tactical battle. Zhakypov’s teammate, welterweight Serik Sapiyev dominated Japan’s Yasuhiro Suzuki. If Sapiyev continues on this path, he will face Spence in a scintillating semifinal matchup.

Overall, I have seen three significant patterns develop at this Olympic Games: one where the fighters have proved to be too aggressive and overanxious in their pursuit of gold, which has often led to difficult matches to score and watch; another where the fighters are so experienced and skilled that the matchup has the feel of a gold medal round bout; or a third type of bout which pits an excellent fighter who outclasses a weaker opponent, but does not earn the victory. This type of injustice may just be the legacy of these Games.

Critics point to the uneven scoring system, and it clearly needs to be overhauled completely. Often, there is also confusion as to the approach taken by the referees. Instead of continuing a series on how Teddy Atlas shows Bob Papa how to box, why not bring in a current or former referee to interview and model the differences between the signals, tactics, and approach each Olympic referee takes? So many questions arise during an Olympic match that go unanswered: Is an eight-count assessed when a fighter appears hurt? Or is it assessed when he is pushed back by a punch? Besides the obvious signals to warn not to “lead with the head” or to avoid pushing off “with an elbow,” how are the fans supposed to understand the signals that each referee utilizes? Are all referees taught to allow fighters to fight their way out of a clinch? The majority of them just stand back and only intervene when it is a desperate situation and a fighter is on the brink of getting injured. Why are certain fighters like Iran’s Ali Mazaheri being disqualified? An interview with the referee would have cleared up some major questions after that bout. Lastly, why are fighters just allowed to call timeout on their own when it appears they are close to getting knocked out?

It is not easy to judge, broadcast or referee an Olympic match. As a commentator, analyzing hundreds of Olympic bouts in three-minute bursts is a daunting task. Unless Papa and Atlas are forbidden from interviewing the referees, it should be easy to inform the audience on the distinctions between the professional ranks and what it is witnessing in the Olympic Games. They have done a fine job analyzing each bout, while calling out the perpetrators of the some of the worst decisions in Olympic boxing history. Atlas carries each fight with his boxing knowledge, and breakdown of the styles, but too many times the audience is left wondering: what just happened?

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  1. the thresher 03:44am, 08/05/2012

    This is the best summary of what has gone on in London that I have read. Thanks for the great information and fine writing.

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