Shakur Stevenson’s dreams of winning an Olympic gold medal and ending the United States’ historic drought in men’s boxing ended in tears after he settled for silver with a split-decision loss to Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez in the bantamweight final at Riocentro.
The highly entertaining clash of southpaws could have gone either way: official judges Trong Nghia Vuong of Vietnam and Fathi Madfoua of France scored it 29-28 for Ramirez, while Greece’s Evangelos Bougioukas had it 29-28 for the teenager from Newark, New Jersey.
The result gave Ramirez a second gold after winning the flyweight division four years ago in London, making him only the sixth man to win Olympic titles in two different divisions after Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine, Russia’s Aleksei Tishchenko, Cuba’s Ángel Herrera Vera, Hungary’s László Papp and Oliver Kirk of the United States.
For Stevenson, who is named for the rapper who died nine months before he was born, it marked his first ever loss in international competition. Afterward, he was beside himself in grief.
“I’m hurt,” he said through tears. “I felt liked the Cuban won. Much respect to him. I just didn’t want to lose, so I’m hurt.”
All three judges scored the first round for the 22-year-old Cuban, who was faster to the punch and caught the teenager with a series of straight punches to the body. He showed no signs of fatigue despite fighting four times to reach the final compared to only two for Stevenson, who had a first-round bye and a walkover in the semi-final when Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin couldn’t pass his medical check.
But Stevenson opened the second round with a devastating combination downstairs and abandoned his typical in-and-out movement in a more concerted effort to close the distance. Even though he continued to have trouble finding his range against his more experienced opponent, the 19-year-old did enough infighting to win the round on all three cards and level the score entering the decisive third.
That’s where the work rate and polish of Ramirez narrowly won out. The judges were divided in the decider but a majority favored the busier Cuban, who connected on 18 of 63 punches compared to 17 of 45 for Stevenson.
“I am really happy to win this gold medal,” Ramirez said. “A lot of people didn’t expect me to win, but I did. I want to thank my family, my girlfriend and my grandfather, who is sick and we thought he was not going to see me fight. But he was watching.”
Stevenson, the oldest of nine siblings, was inconsolable by the many friends and family who made the trip from Newark.
“I didn’t hear anything they said,” he said. “I didn’t hear nothing anybody said. I was in my own world, I was cussing.
“I could have thrown more punches and try and box him. I was hurt. I hate losing more than anything. I’m disappointed in myself.”
The Americans have now won 110 medals in men’s boxing – a whole 42 more than the next closest country (Cuba) – but it is a program in steady decline since the fall of the Iron Curtain and hit rock bottom in London four years ago, when Team USA went home without a medal for the first time since 1904.
Stevenson was the first American to even fight for a gold medal since Andre Ward in 2004. He has reportedly signed a contract with the promotional company owned by Floyd Mayweather, who could be seen at the arena throughout the week shouting instructions from the stands.
His silver medal is one better than the bronze Mayweather won controversially at the Atlanta Games in 1996 – but that will be little consolation for the teenager.
This article was written by Bryan Armen Graham at Riocentro, for theguardian.com on Saturday 20th August 2016 20.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010