Just four days after the U.S. boxing team began the London Olympics with a string of victories and rising medal hopes, only two male fighters are still standing.
The American skid reached seven straight bouts in the evening session Thursday night with narrow defeats for lightweight Jose Ramirez and middleweight Terrell Gausha. Only welterweight Errol Spence and flyweight Rau’shee Warren – who hasn’t fought yet – are still alive.
Both Americans came close to victory, but couldn’t solve their opponents or the computerized scoring rules that have baffled most U.S. fighters in the last two decades. Ramirez started slowly and never caught up in a 15-11 loss to Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, while Gausha evenly matched Beijing bronze medalist Vijender Singh of India before dropping a 16-15 decision.
The Americans had their worst Olympic performance ever in Beijing, winning just one bronze medal. The London team could get a boost from three promising fighters in the first women’s boxing tournament starting Sunday, but the men are headed to another sparse medal count for a nation that has won just one gold medal in the last three Olympics.
”It’s sad, because we came up short,” Ramirez said. ”It’s such a young team, such a hungry team. We really wanted to do better.”
Unbeaten runs for the British and Irish teams also ended on a day that began with the return of Vasyl Lomachenko. The Ukrainian dynamo opened his second Olympics in the same dominant style that made him the best boxer in Beijing, overwhelming Dominican lightweight Wellington Arias in a 15-3 victory.
Ramirez nearly beat Lomachenko at the world championships last year, but the Fresno State business major from Avenal, Calif., couldn’t figure out how to score points against the smaller Gaibnazarov. The Uzbek opened with a furious work rate to take an early lead before clutching and grabbing his way through the final round, protecting his advantage through inaction.
Ramirez lamented his slow start and didn’t heavily criticize the judging.
”I guess my patience wasn’t so positive this time,” Ramirez said. ”I’m just glad I had this experience. I brought a lot of hope and a lot of light back to my town.”
Gausha wasn’t intimidated by Singh, the Beijing bronze medalist who enjoys rock-star status back home in India – and at ExCel, where hundreds of Indian fans cheered every time he threw a punch. Both fighters traded shots throughout the bout, but Singh hung on to a one-point lead from the first round when the judges scored each of the final two rounds evenly.
”I gave it everything, and I thought I was doing good in the fight,” said Gausha, who is from Cleveland. ”It’s nothing to hold my head down about. I’ve still got to respect the judges’ decisions. I know it was a close fight.”
Earlier, Britain’s Anthony Ogogo pulled out an unlikely victory over world champion middleweight Ievgen Khytrov of Ukraine, the top-seeded fighter in the Olympic tournament. Ukraine filed a protest of the result after Ogogo won a close fight on the judges’ second tiebreaker, a rare occurrence in amateur boxing, but it was swiftly rejected.
Although Prince Philip, Prince Edward and wife Sophie attended the afternoon session to cheer on Ogogo, Lomachenko was the star. The 24-year-old with sublime hand speed and devastating power was the king of the Beijing ring four years ago, winning featherweight gold and collecting the Val Barker Trophy as the games’ best boxer.
Lomachenko waited roughly 50 seconds in London to throw a real punch – but when he did, it was a vicious uppercut that slipped through Arias’ raised defense and snapped his neck back before the Dominican even knew it was coming. Lomachenko warmed up after that, firing speedy strikes and fluid combinations that resulted in standing-eight counts for the overwhelmed Arias in each of the first two rounds.
”I lost against the best,” Arias said through a translator. ”He gave me good shots because I didn’t move much. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Lomachenko’s next bout is against promising Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo, who beat Tunisia’s Ahmed Mejri 16-7.
Ogogo delighted another raucous home crowd with a gutsy performance against Khytrov, the world champion middleweight who entered the ring wearing a military beret.
The final score was 18-18, sending the decision to the tiebreaker in which every punch scored by all five ringside judges is totaled – but that total finished 52-52. The second tiebreaker is a simple vote for the winner by the five judges, and Ogogo crumpled to his knees after learning he had won. AIBA released the full scoring sheets after the bout, but only said that ”a majority” of the five judges had voted for Ogogo on the second tiebreak.
Although Ukraine protested the result, Khytrov said he had no problem with the decision, praising Ogogo as a tremendous fighter.
”I am not angry,” he said. ”Anthony is good. I say good luck to him.”
The second tiebreaker improbably had to be used in the evening session as well, with South Korean lightweight Han Soon-chul edging Vazgen Safaryants of Belarus.
The hosts’ unbeaten run through the tournament finally ended in the opening bout of the evening session when Italian lightweight Domenico Valentino beat Britain’s Josh Taylor 15-10.