At one point, late in the fight, the referee had waved her hand in front of Pero’s face. At the end, he didn’t look like he had won. But the Cuban plan of landing loads of light punches has impressed judges in the past, and earning decisions in fights such as these isn’t something the Americans have done well in recent Olympics.
When the announcer finally called Torrez’s name, assuring him a medal, he exhaled. On the floor, just outside the ring, U.S. Coach Billy Walsh threw his hands in the air.
“It was a great relief,” Torrez later said.
After nearly two decades of decay, U.S. Olympic boxing is starting to come back. It may never be the power it was in years past, with Cuba winning medals with the same fighters every four years, professional Olympians in a way. But Torrez’s victory was the second medal clinched by the United States on Sunday, with featherweight Duke Ragan winning his quarterfinal match 3-2 over Ireland’s Kurt Walker.
So far the American team has won three medals in Tokyo, matching its total from the 2016 Olympics, with female welterweight Oshea Jones assured of the other medal. But lightweight Keyshawn Davis also can clinch a medal in his quarterfinal fight Tuesday, which would give Team USA its most Olympic boxing medals since 2000.
Because Olympic boxing does not hold bronze medal matches, each semifinal loser gets a bronze.
As the American medalists have walked through the hallway that runs under the stands between the ring and the locker rooms, they have shown little satisfaction with the possibility of a consolation prize.
“I came here for gold, and I won’t be satisfied until I get that,” Ragan said after his fight.
“I didn’t come here to be a medalist,” Torrez said later in the evening. “I came here to be a gold medalist, and that’s my ambition.”
Some of that is just fighter talk, the kind of bold declaration boxers make because boxers must carry a perpetual bravado. But there is also a confidence about this American team. Torrez has slowly climbed through the national program, getting better and better until he came into these Olympics as the third-seeded super heavyweight. Ragan and Davis are professional fighters who were added back to a team when the coronavirus pandemic canceled this spring’s Pan American qualifier, leaving their replacements unable to build enough points for the Olympics.
It’s a more mature group than some recent American teams, more focused, more ready for the burning light of the Olympics.
Torrez wore down Pero, a fighter who had beaten him two years ago, the only time they had fought. He pushed Pero against the ropes, landing heavy blows before zipping away. Even though four of the five judges gave Pero the first round, three judges favored Torrez in the second, and all awarded him the third.
Pero looked tired, never the same after Torrez hit him with a shot midway through the second round. It seemed exactly what Torrez had intended to do.
“I firmly believe that I am the best conditioned super heavyweight that there is,” Torrez said. “I’m not one to toot my own horn much. I’m not one to say that I’m the best ever, but I can tell you that I’m the best conditioned. …
“I will not say I ever left anything in the ring, and you can count on that.”
His jersey was soaked with sweat. A cut that opened early in the fight had been melded together enough to get him through the bout, but his skin was marked above his eye. He talked about calling his father, who back in 1984 had come within three fights of making the U.S. Olympic team, only to be knocked out by a right hand he didn’t see coming.
Torrez has said he wants to complete his father’s dream by going to the Olympics and winning a gold medal. But at the very least he has won a medal here, and that’s something an American super heavyweight hasn’t done since Riddick Bowe took silver 23 years ago.
A call back to his father in Tulare, Calif., awaited. The two were going to plan strategy, along with Walsh, for Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev, whom he will face in Wednesday afternoon’s semifinal.
“I get to relish in this relief a little bit longer,” Torrez said.
He laughed. And then he was gone. Happy the announcer had called his name in the moment he thought he had won a medal but wasn’t sure until he heard it over the arena’s speakers.