BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (MARCH 16, 2016) – For the second straight day, the United States squad put on a knockout performance at the Americas Qualifier in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Light flyweight Nico Hernandez (Wichita, Kansas) and light heavyweight Jonathan Esquivel (Anaheim, Calif.) took the ring in the early session at the the Ferial la Rural de Palermo. Neither boxer would be denied in their bouts, but their opponents didn’t make their victories easy. Light welterweight Gary Russell (Capitol Heights, Md.) and welterweight Paul Kroll (Philadelphia, Pa.) both competed in evening action with Russell winning his tournament opener. Kroll faced a Cuban Olympic champion in his match-up but fell just short against his much more experienced opponent. Following today’s bouts, the United States team advanced nine boxer to the medal rounds.
After watching boxing action from the stands for the past four days, Hernandez finally got the chance to compete in a bout with Venezuela’s Angelino Rafael Cordova. The two light flyweights got right to it in the quarterfinal match-up with punches flying from bell-to-bell. Hernandez found a home for his left hook in the first round, landing it repeatedly throughout the contest. Both boxers enjoyed momentum spurts over the nine minutes of boxing as the action remaining fast and furious. Hernandez pushed the action in the final minutes, ensuring that he would emerge victorious and he did just that. He took a unanimous decision victory in his tournament debut to clinch his spot in the semifinals. Hernandez will compete against Argentina’s Leandro Blanc for a berth in the 2016 Olympic Games on Thursday afternoon.
“I felt a little rusty because it’s been awhile since I fought, but I’ll be back to it tomorrow. The plan was to box but he didn’t really stop. He kept coming forward so it was hard but I got the job done. Coach told me to feint my jab and he’d come in with a wild shot and I just stepped out, threw my left hook and caught him,” Hernandez said. “I hated the wait. I’ve just been watching everyone win and it makes me want to get in there even more. It finally came today and I’m happy with the decision.”
Esquivel was the first American boxer to face a host nation opponent at the Americas Qualifier and the Argentine crowd did their best to make their voices heard in his bout with Argentina’s Marcos Escudero. Esquivel started landing heavy shots early in the bout as his teammates worked to out-cheer their Argentine counterparts. Both boxers threw and landed power shots over the first two rounds so it was no surprise that they connected at the same time. Esquivel went down briefly just as he landed a clean punch from of his own in the second round but he refused to allow that to slow his efforts in the least. He came out firing with thundering punches in the final round, landing clean shot after clean shot. Esquivel enjoyed a knockdown of his own in the final round, connecting with a right hand that sent Escudero to the canvas. The Argentine boxer made it to his feet during the standing eight count but he clearly wasn’t fit to continue and the referee stopped the bout with just over a minute remaining in the match. Esquivel’s teammates and corner celebrated as his hand was raised for his TKO victory. He will be back for semifinal action on Thursday evening as he boxes against Venezuela’s Albert Ramon Ramirez Duran for a light heavyweight spot in Rio.
“I was touching him here and there, getting my shots off but Coach Billy said I have to pick up the pace because we are here in Argentina. I caught him with that right hand when I switched back to orthodox and he went down,” Esquivel said. “I just went out in that third round trying to give it as much as I can, whether it’s in Argentina or not. I gave it all I can and I came out with the win. They say don’t leave it in the judges’ hands so I didn’t.”
Russell was the final U.S. boxer to make his debut in the Americas Qualifier and he enjoyed a strong showing in his tournament opener. The younger brother of 2008 Olympian and reigning WBC Featherweight World Champion Gary Russell Jr. faced Ecuador’s Miguel Ferrin in light welterweight action. Russell showcased the hand speed and power that his fighting family is known for in the quarterfinal bout. He kept the bout quick paced, firing shots off the blocks and landing thudding punches to Ferrin’s body and head. Russell closed the bout strongly on his way to a unanimous decision win in his first match of the Americas Qualifier. He will have a quick turnaround in to his next bout after the long wait, facing Venezuela’s Luis Martin Arcon Diaz in the qualifying bout on Thursday evening. If Russell is successful on Thursday, he will qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“I felt good to break the ice. It’s going to accelerate overnight. My plan coming in was working my jab, give him some head feints. See how he’s going to react to what I do. The stick was the key the whole fight, controlling the pace, etc.,” Russell said. “Some dogs only bite in their yard, you have to get comfortable biting outside your territory.”
Kroll competed in the last American bout of Wednesday’s action against 2012 Olympic champion Roniel Iglesias of Cuba. Despite his vast experience disadvantage in the match, Kroll came out firing, showing no signs of intimidation in his quarterfinal contest. Kroll was successful in landing strong shots throughout the match and battled his heart out for all nine minutes of the bout. Despite his best efforts, Iglesias’ experience won out and he took a 3-0 decision over Kroll. The loss eliminates Kroll from the tournament but not Olympic contention. He will have two more opportunities to qualify for the Olympic Games in June.
“I feel good. I pushed myself a little at the end. I got a little tired so I saved energy for the last 30 seconds so I could try to steal the round. It was a good fight,” Kroll said. “My right hand was working and I jabbed a little bit. Usually with a southpaw, I just trade power hands. I felt like I won the first and last rounds. Next time I fight him, I’ll beat him.”
Nine American boxers will compete in Thursday’s semifinal competition with eight having the chance to qualify tomorrow. Hernandez, bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.), Russell, middleweight Charles Conwell (Cleveland Heights, Ohio), Esquivel, heavyweight Cam F. Awesome (Lenexa, Kansas), female flyweight Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas) and reigning Olympic middleweight champion Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) can all qualify on Thursday. Lightweight Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) must win her weight division to earn her spot in the 2016 Olympic Games. A full list of Thursday’s U.S. bouts can be found below.
USA Boxing Women’s National Team Head Coach Billy Walsh (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and coaches Joe Guzman (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Kay Koroma (Burke, Va.), Benny Roman (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Augie Sanchez (Las Vegas, Nev.) are leading the American team in Argentina.
Watch the entire competition live by heading over to http://tycsports.com.
For full tournament brackets, click here.
108 lbs/male: Nico Hernandez, Wichita, Kansas/USA dec. Angelino Rafael Cordova, VEN, 3-0
141 lbs/male: Gary Russell, Capitol Heights, Md./USA dec. Miguel Ferrin, ECU, 3-0
152 lbs/male: Roniel Iglesias, CUB, dec. Paul Kroll, Philadephia, Pa./USA, 3-0
178 lbs/male: Jonathan Esquivel, Anaheim, Calif./USA won on TKO over Marcos Escudero, ARG, TKO-3
Thursday’s U.S Semifinal Bouts
108 lbs/male: Nico Hernandez, Wichita, Kansas/USA vs. Leandro Blanc, ARG
112 lbs/female: Virginia Fuchs, Kemah, Texas/USA vs. Victoria Ingrit Lorena Valencia, ARG
123 lbs/male: Shakur Stevenson, Newark, N.J./USA vs. Johan Jose Gonzalez Mendez
132 lbs/female: Mikaela Mayer, Los Angeles, Calif./USA vs. Kiria Tapia, PUR
141 lbs/male: Gary Russell, Capitol Heights, Md./USA vs. Luis Martin Arcon Diaz, VEN
165 lbs/female: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich./USA vs. Yenebier Guillen Benitez, DOM
165 lbs/male: Charles Conwell, Cleveland Heights, Ohio/USA vs. Jorge Luis Vivas Palacios, COL
178 lbs/male: Jonathan Esquivel, Anaheim, Calif./USA vs. Albert Ramon Ramirez Duran, VEN
201 lbs/male: Cam F. Awesome, Lenexa, Kansas/USA vs. Yamil Alberto Peralta Jara, ARG