A long-held dream for Cuban boxers came true the night of Thursday, July 23 when Lenier Peró disposed of Cam Awesome of the U.S. In a Pan Am Games first, Cuba goes to the boxing finals in all weight categories.
Before Peró’s victory, Yosbany Veitía, Lázaro Álvarez, Roniel Iglesias and Julio César La Cruz won their fights as well, following in the path opened up by Joahnys Argilagos, Andy Cruz, Yasnier Toledo, Arlen López and Erislandy Savón the day before. Peró’s victory rocked the Oshawa Sports Centre and the Pan Am Games boxing tournament.
“We are just doing our duty to our aim and the interests of our country,” said head coach, Rolando Acebal with his usual humility. “But what has been accomplished deserves recognition because it is without precedent,” he added.
“I worked at my own pace and without pressure,” said the flyweight Yosbany Veitía, relegating well-known Colombia boxer Ceiber Ávila to the bronze medal in a unanimous 3-0 decision. After that, Cuban lightweight Lázaro Álvarez’s dominated Guatemalan Kevin Luna in another dust-up that resulted in a 3-0 verdict.
Welterweight Roniel Iglesias said, “Our conditioning from the World Series was very beneficial for this competition, which we always knew was the most important one this year.” Iglesias made trouble for Argentinian Alberto Palmeto, out-boxing him 3-0.
“This has been a bad year for me, but every champion has his setbacks. Besides, what matters is knowing how to come back, so you can count on me for the gold our delegation needs,” Iglesias said, going on to praise the triumphant spirit of the Cuban boxers.
“Today we set out to work a lot with straight jabs, go out, go in, and wear him down,” Iglesias said about his match with the Palmeto. The Argentinian boxer is left-handed like Iglesias but shorter, and was overcome by short-range blows.
“I like the back and forth, and don’t usually like spending round after round darting around the ring. So I decided to try that and it wasn’t difficult for me,” he told journalists while on his way to the dressing room.
Later Thursday night, heavyweight Julio César la Cruz did what he is famous for – counterattacking on the move and eluding his opponent. This put an end to the gold medal aspirations of Colombian Juan Carlos Carrillo, earning La Cruz a 3-0 decision from the judges.
“We all want to bring home the titles our delegation deserves. We prepared all season to make it happen, and give thanks above all to our trainers,” La Cruz said.
“The team is in good condition psychologically, technically and tactically. We are all very committed to our ideals, and want to continue dedicating our victories to the people, to Comandante Fidel, to Raúl and our families,” he made clear.
It was then up to super heavyweight Lenier Peró to finish the job. The young fighter responded with aplomb and superior firepower. This let him deliver the better blows in his fight with the U.S. boxer Cam Awesome, whose long limbs and fighting style are known for tying up opponents.
The 2-1 decision of the judges did not satisfy everyone present. But the arm raised by the referee was that of the Cuban, who was determined not to miss the chance of fighting for the title.
“There is a tremendous energy among the Cuban boxers, with desire to win felt from the gym to the dressing room. It was with this mindset that I followed the instructions from my corner and took on a fast-moving opponent with a lot of experience,” he explained.
But the night did not end there. Back at the athletes’ village, Antonio Becali, the president of the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER) met briefly with the boxers. Becali congratulated them all and reaffirmed his confidence in the first finalists Argilagos, Cruz, Toledo, López and Savón as well placed to wear the championship belts on Friday.