ATHENS, Aug. 18 -- It's been difficult to get excited about the U.S. Olympic boxing prospects in the heavyweight and super heavyweight divisions, given that no American has won either division since 1988. But Toledo's Devin Vargas and Jason Estrada of Providence, R.I., raised some hope for U.S. boxing with lopsided victories Wednesday in their debut bouts.
Estrada, the first U.S. super heavyweight to win the Pan American Games, outscored Ma'afu Hawke of Tonga, 30-11, in the final bout of the night. U.S. Coach Basheer Abdullah promised before the games that while Estrada might be less imposing than the other top super heavies his hands are fast enough to enable him to contend. And Estrada completely smothered the Tongan with punches, swinging like a light heavyweight instead of a man who appears to weigh in excess of 250 pounds.
American Rau'Shee Warren battles with China's Zou Shiming during the light flyweight preliminaries. Warren's loss made him the first U.S. boxer eliminated from the Games.
(Rick Bowmer - AP)
Earlier Wednesday, Vargas ran up a 27-7 score against Moroccan Rachid Haddak, which automatically stopped the heavyweight fight and gave the victory to the American.
The U.S. team has won six of seven bouts, with only Rau'Shee Warren losing Wednesday to China's Zou Shiming, the light flyweight silver medalist at the 2003 world championships and the favorite to win the 106-pound division.
Warren, a 17-year-old from Cincinnati, was in over his head against an experienced opponent, the likes of which he hadn't seen in his short career. Zou put on a boxing clinic in his 22-9 victory, darting about the ring while throwing punches, particularly counterpunches. "We knew the Chinese boxer has great legs and knows how to move," Abdullah said. "You have to get a lead on him and make him come to you. But we fell behind [on points] and couldn't do that. That style Rau'Shee saw today, you don't see in the States. The Asian boxers are awkward for us; they don't punch from the same angles we see in the States."
Warren said afterward: "It was a good experience for me to do this, be here as young as I am. I haven't seen too many fighters like that."
Vargas had no such issues against his Moroccan opponent, even though he is doing his best to concentrate on boxing and scoring here and stay away from instinctive brawling. "A couple of times in the first round he caught me with a shot and I wanted to go right in there," Vargas said. "But I could hear the coaches saying, 'Calm down.' So I just thought to myself, 'Back up and take a deep breath.' "
Once he did, Vargas said he noticed, "The way he was throwing punches, he kinda looked like a novice."
Ray Mercer, in 1988, is the last U.S. heavyweight to win gold. Cuba's Felix Savon, now coaching his countrymen, won gold in 1992, 1996 and 2000. In fact, Cubans (Savon and Teofilo Stevenson) have won the heavyweight competition six of the last seven times Cuba has competed in the Olympics. Meanwhile, the super heavyweight division has been won by Britan's Audley Harrison, the Ukraine's Wladimir Klitchko, Cuba's Roberto Balado and Canada's Lennox Lewis. The only U.S. super heavyweight gold medal was won by Tyrell Biggs in 1984, a year that Russia and Cuba did not compete.