With the rain falling quietly outside the Reno Events Center, eight Olympic hopefuls stepped in to the ring for a final nine minutes of boxing for an Olympic Trials title. Two boxers fought all the way back from a loss on opening day, a tournament favorite bounced back from an early upset, and a younger brother duplicated the improbable feat of his Olympian and World Champion brother on Sunday in Reno.
After falling to Jaron Ennis (Philadelphia, Pa.) on opening day, light welterweight Gary Russell (Capitol Heights, Md.) knew he had no choice but to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and 2008 Olympian Gary Russell, Jr. (Capitol Heights, Md.) who boxed his way from a first round loss to the 2008 Olympic Games. With the assistance of his brothers and father in the corner, the younger Russell methodically worked his way back from the challengers bracket. Although it was his seventh fight in as many days, you couldn’t tell by his aggression and intensity in the ring. Russell closed his run with a unanimous decision win over Ennis to avenge his earlier tournament loss and win the light welterweight championship. “I feel like I’m following in good footsteps.My brother and I talk every night, every second of every day. That’s a unit – me, my brother, my father, etc. We put our heads together on our we’re going to achieve these events and accomplish, conquer and execute,” Russell said. “There’s only one way to do it. You have to win back-to-back all the way up to the championship night, you can’t lose anymore. I laid it all on the line.The job isn’t done here or done yet, I gotta keep pushing.”
Welterweight Paul Kroll (Philadelphia, Pa.) entered the ring for the seventh straight time on Sunday as well for a second straight bout with 2015 USA Boxing National Champion Ardreal Holmes (Flint, Mich.). Kroll seemed to steal the momentum with a win in Saturday’s action and the trend continued on Sunday afternoon. Kroll fell to two-time USA Boxing national champion on opening day but he wouldn’t be deterred. He completed his run to the welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Holmes in the final bout of the Olympic Trials. “I feel good, my dream came true. The first fight I was a little rusty but I put that first fight behind me because I was fighting the next day,” Kroll said. “This fight I just put a little more pressure on him. I was trying to knock him out, trying to finish it with a good knock out.”
After winning the 2015 Pan American Games, Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.) entered the Olympic Trials as the heavy favorite, but he realized that things wouldn’t go quite as he expected when WSB and World Team Trial champion Brent Venegas (Sacramento, Calif.) defeated him in Wednesday’s winners bracket finals and he suffered a cut due to a head butt. After one off day, Vargas returned to the ring with a second round TKO in Friday’s challengers bracket finals to set up a rematch with Venegas. He avenged his early loss with a win on Saturday to set up Sunday’s winner takes all contest for the flyweight title. Vargas closed the event with a unanimous decision win over Venegas to claim the Olympic Trials title. “God gave me strength and the will go in there. He gave me the strength to continue and persevere with God right next to me and that’s who gave me my strength to go in and be victorious,” Vargas said. “On Wednesday, I was more relaxed, showboating and over confident. This fight I was more determined, I wasn’t going to play around like I did the last couple of fights. I just went in there, kept my hands up and went in there like I was an underdog and had to work my way up again. I just want to go home to my family and rest. I can finally relax now.”
The light flyweights opened the final session of boxing at the Reno Events Center in the third of three bouts this week between two-time USA Boxing National Champion Leroy Davila (New Brunswick, N.J.) and WSB and World Team Trial champion Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas). Hernandez took the opening bout in the winners bracket final with Davila pushing the weight division to Sunday with a win in last night’s showdown. Davila couldn’t duplicate the victory in Sunday’s match-up and Hernandez won a split decision victory en route to the light flyweight championship. “I feel great, I worked really hard for this and all the work paid off. I wasn’t worried. Last night wasn’t my night, I was a little off. I went back to my room and thought about some things I should correct. I corrected them and came out with a victory today. I wasn’t putting enough pressure last night, I was moving to his pace. My dad told me about that so I put a little bit more pressure. I didn’t let him get off like he did yesterday, I set the pace first,” Hernandez said.”A lot of the people [at World Championships] I thought I could be beat but I just didn’t fight my fight. Me and my dad we’re going to go back and work hard for that too.”
The four winners from Sunday’s action join bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.), middleweight Charles Conwell (Cleveland Heights, Ohio), light heavyweight Jonathan Esquivel (Anaheim, Calif.), heavyweight Cam F. Awesome (Lenexa, Kansas), and super heavyweight Marlo Moore (Hayward, Calif.) in winning 2016 Olympic Trials for Men’s Boxing titles. The nine athletes will now began preparation for international qualifying, which will begin in March at a continental qualifying event in Buenos Aires.
Lightweight Olympian Carlos Balderas (Santa Maria, Calif.) won his Olympic berth via his finish in the World Series of Boxing season and will not have to compete in the international qualifiers.
108 lbs:Nico Hernandez, Withita, Kansas, dec. Leroy Davila, Princeton, N.J., 2-1
114 lbs: Antonio Vargas, Kissimmee, Fla., dec. Brent Venegas, Sacramento, Calif., 2-1
141 lbs: Gary Russell, Capitol Heights, Md., dec. Jaron Ennis, Philadelphia, Penn., 3-0
152 lbs: Paul Kroll, Philadelphia, Penn., dec. Ardreal Holmes, Flint, Mich., 3-0
2016 Olympic Trials Champions
108 lbs: Nico Hernandez, Wichita, Kansas
114 lbs: Antonio Vargas, Kissimmee, Fla.
123 lbs: Shakur Stevenson, Newark, N.J.
141 lbs: Gary Russell, Capitol Heights, Md.
152 lbs: Paul Kroll, Philadelphia, Pa.
165 lbs: Charles Conwell, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
178 lbs: Jonathan Esquivel, Anaheim, Calif.
201 lbs: Cam F. Awesome, Lenexa, Kansas
201+ lbs: Marlo Moore, Hayward, Calif.