The drought is officially over for the U.S. Men’s Boxing Team. Light flyweight Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas) clinched a bronze medal with his third unanimous decision victory of the 2016 Olympic Games on Wednesday night at Riocentro Pavilion 6. Hernandez’s win advances him on to a semifinal match-up and secures his berth on the podium. Light welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell (Capitol Heights, Md.) made it an undefeated night for the American squad with a unanimous decision victory in his Olympic debut.
In a change from past Olympic Games, the light flyweight bracket will be completed in the first eight days of the Olympic Games and Hernandez has taken gotten on quite a roll while boxing every other day. He stepped in to the ring for the third time of the Olympic Games for his quarterfinal contest with Ecuador’s Carlos Eduardo Quipo Palaxti on Wednesday. Hernandez enjoyed the chance to clinch at least a bronze medal and he didn’t let the opportunity slip by. As has been common at the Olympic Games, the first half of the opening round went by without a ton of action from either boxer. The pace quickened over the final 90 seconds of the round as both boxers landed hooks on their opponent and Palaxti pulled out the round on two judges’ scorecards. Hernandez turned up the heat in the second round, landing shots early in the round to take control of the match. He connected with several clean shots in the round and took the second stanza on all three judges’ scorecards to tie the bout up with one round remaining. Competing chants of Ecuador and U-S-A filled Riocentro Pavilion 6 as the bout moved in to the final and defining round. Hernandez set the tone in the final three minutes, landing strong punches while blocking Palaxti effectively and staking his claim an on Olympic medal. All three judges’ rewarded Hernandez efforts in the third round, giving him the bout by unanimous decision to advance the 20-year-old boxer to the semifinal round and ensure he will leave Rio with at least a bronze medal.
He will compete in his semifinal bout with Uzebkistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov at 12:15 p.m. Brazil time (11:15 a.m. ET) on Friday for a spot in the finals.
“It was a little difficult but I know as I go along the fights are just gonna get harder. As long as I listen to my coaches and do what they say, I know they won’t lead me on the wrong path. They told me it was close, that the first round was close,” Hernandez said. “I hit him with a couple body shots and I feel like that slowed him down. I knew he was going to be coming forward. He’s a real strong fighter so I had to wear him down to the body and slow him down.”
Hernandez and his corner made key adjustments in the bout that helped him get the victory. “I knew I took the second round. They told me that I needed that third round to win so I went out there and executed the plan. They told me to not rush in, use feints, let him come in, pick my uppercuts, stay on the outside because he’s the shorter fighter. That’s what I did and it worked,” Hernandez said. “He’s a shorter fighter and I was getting too close to fighting his fight instead of staying on the outside and picking my shots so once I started picking my shots I started landing more clean shots and it worked for me.”
While Hernandez is by no means done at the Olympic Games, he understands the importance of breaking the eight-year medal drought the U.S. Men’s Boxing Team has had. “It feels good (to win a medal) knowing that we didn’t medal the last Olympics. It gives me and my team a lot of motivation. We’ve all been together since we were younger on the youth team and the junior team so at practice we will push each other and we’re real competitive at practice too. They definitely help me out a lot and that means a lot to me knowing that we are coming in here and getting the job done,” he said. “I know it’s really important for my coaches, USA Boxing, me and my family back at home so I’m just real glad because I worked a long time for this. We finally got to the big stage and now we are coming here to change USA Boxing and hopefully bring home more medals.”
Hernandez is pleased with what he’s accomplished in Rio de Janeiro but has his eye on a medal of a different color. “I’m definitely excited about getting to this level and where I’m at but I’m not satisfied with a bronze medal. I came here to get a gold so that’s what I’m going to continue to work towards. I think I definitely set a good example (for his teammates), making them want to push and also medal. They also support me and are inspiration for me also.”
The 20-year-old light flyweight knows that he didn’t enter the Olympic Games as a favorite to win a medal but he didn’t feed in to his opponent’s resumes or tournament seeds. “I think the top guys are meant to be beaten. That’s what I’m here for to get my spot up there and beat them and come out with a victory,” Hernandez said. “So I thank God that I’m here and thank God for my victories. I’m not going to focus on the bronze medal right now. My focus was to come and get the gold medal so I won’t be satisfied until I get the gold medal.”
Russell entered the ring approximately 90 minutes after his teammates’ big win and he kept the U.S. team rolling in a bout with a familiar opponent in their light welterweight preliminary contest. He faced fellow Olympic Trials participant Richardson Hitchins, a Brooklyn native who is representing Haiti in the 2016 Olympics. Russell eliminated him at the Olympic Trials and he walked in to the Riocentro Pavilion 6 expecting to the do the same.
For the Russell family, Gary Antuanne’s first bout was a culmination of years of work for their pugilistic family. His older brother Gary Jr., was a 2008 Olympian but fell ill the night before the weigh-ins and was unable to compete. Little brother made sure to learn from his big brother’s experience.
With his father/trainer Gary Sr., and mom Lawan looking on proudly, Russell built an early lead in the bout. He took the first round on all three judges’ scorecards and continued his success in the second. Russell stalked Hitchins in the match and looked to land strong body shots. He took a two round lead in to the final round and he became more aggressive over the final three minutes on his way to a unanimous decision win. After his hand was raised, Russell ran over to toward his parents and jumped over a partition to embrace and acknowledge them and celebrate his first win of the Olympic Games.
Russell will compete in his second match on Sunday against Thailand’s Wuttichai Masuk.
“I’m a very confident in what I do. They way my performance showed I was expecting to be a lot better. Made it an ugly fight but a great fighter said it’s not how you win as long as you win,” Russell said. “I believe that he was training for me. He even went to camp for people to try to imitate my fighting style but the way I’ve been taught is that no matter what the other person brings to the plate, it’s my job to capitalize. It wasn’t too tough, no matter what he brought to the table, I knew that I had the answer for it.”
Russell and his three boxing brothers are all trained by their father and they have a special ability to pick his voice of out of the crowd and Wednesday was no exception. “I don’t know what it is. I believe it’s tunnel vision. I can zone everyone out and hear my father. He said I had to let my hands go more, shoe shine, flurry off, work behind your jab, start touching the body, come back upstairs,” he said.
He couldn’t help but run over and see them following the bout. “I hadn’t seen them in a long time. They’re my biggest supporters. I’ve been on the road. Home for two days, gone for two weeks, four weeks so they’ve been behind me since day one,” Russell said of his parents.
Boxing is the family business in the Russell household and the youngest boxer in the family has had the added benefit of watching the trials and tribulations his family has previously endured. “It means a lot because through my family history, all of my brothers we’ve been mirroring each other. We all won the Golden Glove Nationals. My brother Gary Jr., he went to the 2008 Olympics and couldn’t compete and know here I am mirroring him in 2016 going to the Olympics but I believe I took it a notch ahead. Instead of us mirroring each other at the same level, I made the change in the whole aspect of development so I’m happy with that,” Russell added.
The U.S. Boxing Team is now off to a 6-1 start and will enjoy an off day on Thursday before Hernandez and lightweights Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, Calif.) all compete on Friday. Balderas will take the ring immediately following Hernandez’s bout at 12:30 in a quarterfinal match-up with Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez. Should Balderas emerge victorious, he will join his roommate in clinching an Olympic medal.Mayer will box in the evening session at 5:30 p.m. in her tournament opener against the Federated States of Micronesia’s Jennifer Chieng.
For full tournament brackets and schedule information, click here.
108 lbs/49 kg: Nico Hernandez, Wichita, Kansas/USA dec. Carlos Eduardo Quipo Palaxti, ECU,3-0
141 lbs/54 kg: Gary Antuanne Russell, Capitol Heights, Md./USA dec. Richardson Hitchins, HAI, 3-0
Men’s Light Flyweights the first to reach Rio 2016 Semi-Finals on Day Five, moving just one bout away from the gold-medal match
Wednesday’s two sessions at the Rio 2016 Boxing Tournament saw thirteen bouts across five weight categories, featuring a total of 35 different nations in action. The day concluded with all four Semi-Finalists confirmed in the Men’s Light Flyweight (49kg) and Heavyweight (91kg) competitions, while the preliminaries continued with the Bantamweight (56kg), Light Welterweight (64kg) and Light Heavyweights (81kg).
Cuban prodigy Johanys Argilagos cemented his reputation as both a consummate showman and potential Olympic Light Flyweight Champion with a dazzling display against Kenyan Peter Warui. It was a lesson in the art of boxing from the 19 year-old that left Warui chasing shadows and made Argilagos’ the first name into the last four, guaranteeing bronze but looking firmly on course for Sunday’s final.
Colombia’s Yurberjen Martinez then booked his place in the Semi-Finals in an evenly balanced bout against Spain’s Samuel Heredia. Having earier put Irish fourth-seed Patrick Barnes out of the competition, Heredia again looked positive, but Martinez was in uncompromising mood, establishing an unassailable lead after two rounds and cruising to the last four.
The Bantamweights got their first taste of Rio 2016 action, with Armenia’s Aram Avagyan edging a split decision against before Thailand’s Chatchai Butdee powered into the second round with an impressive attacking display against Britain’s Qais Ashfaq. One of only four Rio 2016 athletes to hail from the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, Boe Warawara, managed to cause Vladimir Nikitin a few problems with his rights, but could not halt the Russian’s march into the second round.
At Light Welterweight, Mongolian Chinzorig Baatarsukh overcame Qatar’s Thulasi Tharumalingam, then Armenia’s Hovhannes Bachkov recovered from a first-round knock-down to record a memorable win over Venezuelan Luis Arcon and China’s Qianxun Hu progressed by Walkover against Mexican Raul Curiel.
The Light Heavyweight second round saw Julio Cesar La Cruz’s first Rio 2016 appearance as he booked his place in the last eight with a typically assured display of boxing against Turkey’s Mehmet Unal. La Cruz will meet Brazilian Michel Borges, who was visibly lifted by thousands of cheering fans as he entered the ring and worked hard to keep Croatia’s Sep Hrvoje at bay. Both boxers absorbed some fierce punches, but it was Borges who impressed the judges to earn a unanimous decision and send the crowd wild.
The Heavyweights rounded off the morning session, with top-seed Evgeny Tishchenko towering 15cm over his Italian opponent Clemente Russo, who looked to come in close and neutralise the Russian’s longer reach. It was a tactic that paid off for long periods, but Tishchenko’s quick-fire jabs proved too powerful and earned a Semi-Final spot against Rustam Tulaganov. The Uzbek came back brilliantly having been knocked down by Azeri Abdulkadir Abdullayev at the end of the first round, guaranteeing himself at least a bronze medal and a shot at the Olympic Final.
Day Five’s evening session got off to a flying start as Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov booked a place in the last four of the Light Flyweight (49kg) competition with a comprehensive display against Kazakhstan’s three-time Olympic quarter-finalist Birzhan Zhakypov.
Nico Hernandez then followed up Monday’s brilliant victory over Russian second-seed Vasilli Egorov with three brave rounds against Ecuador’s Carlos Quipo Pilataxi. With an Olympic medal at stake, the pair boxed with raw determination and skill, but the American’s stronger final round proved decisive as he joined Dusmatov in the semis.
The lively Belarusian Dzmitry Asanau faced Dominican Republic’s Hector Luis Garcia in the first Bantamweight (56kg) match of the afternoon, and a balanced contest tipped in Asanau’s favour thanks to a frenetic final round in which he narrowly outscored Garcia across the three minutes.
The Mongolian team continued their successful run in the lower weight categories as Tsendbaatar Erdenebat went on the offensive against Kenyan Benson Njangiru early on, dropping him to the canvas midway through the second round and putting the match beyond his opponent’s reach.
With the crowd thoroughly warmed up, the Riocentro venue burst into life for the arrival of Brazilian Robenilson de Jesus, who edged the first round against Algeria’s Fahem Hammachi with some intuitive counter-attacks. De Jesus stuck with his tactics in the second and third to win by split decision, the announcement raising the roof in Pavilion 6.
London 2012 Quarter-Finalist Fazliddin Gaibnazarov took no chances against Congo’s Dival Malonga Dzalam in a cagey opening round of the session’s first Light Welterweight (64kg) bout, but the Uzbek landed enough big punches as the match wore on to secure a TKO win and set up a tie against India’s impressive-looking Manoj Kumar on Sunday.
Haiti’s sole boxer at Rio 2016, 18 year-old Richardson Hitchins, ensured he will be a name to watch for the future after a stirring Olympic debut in which he came up against the equally determined Gary Russell, and it was Russell’s big lefts that finally proved too hot for Hitchins to handle, setting the American on his way to the last 16.
The Light Heavyweight (81kg) preliminaries continued with APB champion Mathieu Bauderlique sending out a clear message to the rest of the field thanks to a decisive win over Colombia’s Juan Carlos Carrillo, before Ecuador’s Carlos Mina continued to enjoy his Rio 2016 campaign with a breathless win over a Ireland’s Joe Ward.
Two Heavyweight (91kg) Quarter-Finals rounded off the day’s action, with Vassiliy Levit in uncompromising mood against Kennedy St Pierre of Mauritius. The big Kazakh looked dangerous from the outset as he controlled the bout to set up a mouthwatering Semi-Final encounter with Erislandy Savon. The Cuban number two seed saw off the challenge of Argentina’s Yamil Peralta to guarantee himself at least an Olympic bronze.