The numbers were clear. The only way for Cuba to beat its boxing performance at the last Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, 2011 was by winning the last five fights on Saturday, July 25.
Friday night’s three golds and two silvers increased the pressure on the Cuban team, who now had to win their remaining fights on Saturday to surpass what was achieved four years ago. This would have given the team eight gold and two silvers instead of the 8-1 result of the previous competition four years ago. All these calculations were announced by head trainer Rolando Acebal prior to the competition: “We will fight for seven or eight wins,” he said.
Arthur Biyarslanov (64kg) was the only Canadian fighter in the finals, boosted by the supportive and emotional crowd. He was able to capture a gold by taking advantage of Yasnier Toledo’s lack of aggressiveness and tactical errors.
Another interesting detail is that the only U.S. fighter to advance to the final was Antonio Vargas (52 kg), leaving Venezuela to take a forward position with three finalists. Mexico and Colombia had two each and the Dominican Republic was represented by Héctor García (56 kg) who Cuban Andy Cruz defeated. Those were the Cubans’ ten opponents. Brazil put in an unimpressive boxing performance, without any fighters in the final.
Even if Saturday’s boxing finalists won all five gold medals, the Cuban delegation would have ended up fourth in the overall medal count. At the time of going to press, the U.S. had (99-77-80), Canada (76-67-67), Brazil (40-37-60) and Cuba (35-26-34). Brazil still has the opportunity to take first place in several more events.
BELLS RING OUT
For the second Pan Am Games in a row, Yosbany Veitía (52 kg) is going home with a silver medal. In Guadalajara, 2011 he lost to the Mexican Joselito Velázquez and this Saturday to Antonio Vargas of the U.S.
“I lost the initiative. The guy was world junior champion and is really well trained. I had never seen him before and even though I gave my best, things did not work out as expected,” said the Cuban.
The first gold of the evening was won by the two-time world champion Lázaro Álvarez. He boxed deftly and defeated Mexican Lindolfo Delgado by unanimous decision of the judges, retaining his title from Guadalajara.
“I went out to fight clean and take the reins rather than leave it up to the judges to decide the results for me. This win is a preview of what I will be looking to do in the Rio 2016 Olympics. Winning there would be the high point of my career,” he emphasized. Álvarez also has a bronze medal from London 2012.
The 2-1 decision for Venezuelan Gabriel Maestre over Cuban Roniel Iglesias (69 kg) drew diverse reactions. Iglesias stated that he blocked the majority of his opponent’s blows. “Maybe he won one round, but the other two were mine. It is not fair that the judges made the decision by themselves. I had defeated him in Havana during the World Series and it was much the same here. I kept going in and out to deliver blows but his attacks lost intensity starting in the second round,” said the Olympic and world champion Iglesias.
Maestre told Granma that he was expecting a tough fight. “I know and respect Roniel and was prepared for a tie decision,” he said. “In any event, he threw more punches, although many of them were not effective. I think that’s why I won,” explained the Kazakhstan 2013 World Championships bronze medal winner.
Julio Cesar la Cruz (81 kg) repeated his win of four years ago with Saturday’s indisputable victory over Albert Ramirez, another Venezuelan. La Cruz said that at no time was his opponent able to throw him off the tactical plan devised by his trainers. “Today I am a more mature boxer than at the last Pan Ams; I have improved my concentration and discipline and that has made me ready for new challenges,” he affirmed.
Lenier Peró’s closing fight against the third Venezuelan opponent, Edgar Muñoz turned into a battle royale going 2-1 for Peró. Neither pulled any punches until Peró’s opponent started looking tired in the third round. Then, in the final minute, Muñoz took a powerful right blow that forced him to retreat.
That is how Cuba won the XVII Pan American Games boxing competition with six golds and four silvers, a result that fell short of the seven first place finishes predicted.