When Gary Antuanne Russell lost his light middleweight quarter-final to Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in a split-decision on Tuesday afternoon boos poured down from the US contingent.
“He got robbed, this is fucked up,” shouted his father Gary Russell Sr.
“Gary Russell was robbed – clearly, clearly,” Floyd Mayweather Jr later told reporters at the Olympic boxing venue where he had come to watch the afternoon fights.
On a day when the US should be celebrating another boxing medal with Shakur Stevenson winning at least a bantamweight bronze, the conversation was about a loss that puzzled most who watched it. Russell appeared to knock Gaibnazarov across the ring, especially in the last two rounds and yet the judges awarded the first two rounds, and the fight, to the Uzbek. This immediately set off outrage among an American contingent that had just finished questioning Russian Vladimir Nikitin’s victory over Ireland’s Michael Conlan less than an hour before Russell’s loss. Conlan later said “amateur boxing stinks from the core right to the top.”
US coach Billy Walsh also lashed out. “Uzbekistan they are going to be the best team here they are winning everything even when you beat them you can’t beat them,” he said.
Many affiliated with the American team said they suspected Russell was the victim of a rigged bout.
“He kept the pressure on he landed more solid punches,” Gary Russell Sr told the Guardian. “He kept the pressure on ... but you know if he’s favored to win that’s how it’s going to be. The only way you can take that out of the judges hands is to knock him out. Just knock him out. Thats the ultimate in prize fighting.”
Kay Koroma, an assistant coach with the US team, referenced a Guardian story from two weeks ago that outlined corruption in AIBA, the body that oversees Olympic boxing, and shook his head as he talked about the decision in Russell’s fight.
“I mean for someone to write something like that and for this to be going on?” Koroma said. “You got to wonder is this what’s really happening. Have they already made who is going to be an Olympic medalist?”
“I’m starting to believe [AIBA] are doing something,” he later said. “It’s disgusting.”
In the midst of the US outrage, Antuanne Russell walked in to talk to journalists with his shoulders slumped and eyes downcast.
“I’m hurt, I’m hurt, I’m hurt,” he said. “I’m really hurt. First round he fought competitive which it should have been but even that round I thought I won. The second two rounds I thought I had pulled away from him even if it was a little sloppy. I believe I did more than enough to outscore [him] and be aggressive and more.”
He knew during the fight that he was trailing. A friend following on television had run up to his parents as they stood in the stands and said he had lost the first round. Immediately, Gary Sr shouted out to his son in the ring: “You got to go get them, they got your ass down!”
Antuanne became even more aggressive, connecting several times on hooks that slowed Gaibnazarov. When the report came back between the second and third rounds that Russell had lost that round too, Gary Sr and his wife Lawan leaned on the railing and began screaming louder. “You can’t wait, you got to let it go!”
But as the fight concluded with Russell again landing several shots, even knocking Gaibnazarov to his knees at the final bell, the Russells knew their son would not get his decision. Gary Sr hoisted himself up on the railing and shouted to Antuanne, who seemed to understand the finality of his defeat even before it was announced.
“Hey Antuanne! I love you baby!” Gary Sr screamed.
Antuanne nodded. Later in the interview area, Antuanne sighed. As the last of a line of six brothers named Gary Russell – four of whom are boxers – he was the family’s final hope for an Olympic medal. He had vowed to bring one home. Instead, he was done, the loser of a fight that many believed he had won. He was asked if the inconsistent judging made him wary going into his fight.
“Yeah, that puts a lot of frustration on people,” he said.
Then he was gone. Out of an Olympics without a medal he was certain he had won.
This article was written by Les Carpenter in Rio de Janeiro, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 16th August 2016 22.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010