The round of 32 has come and gone in London, and Olympic boxing has already had a better overall showing than it did in Beijing four years ago. The quality of the fights is higher, the drama is better, and with subtle changes, it's still far from perfect, but we can say that so far, definite improvements have been seen.
Team USA has started out 4-2, losing their last two fights after a great 4-0 start, while the home team Great Britain is off to a 3-0 jump, same as the always-dangerous Cuban team.
The heavyweights and super heavyweights haven't fought yet (that's coming today, along with round two of the bantamweights), and neither have the women, who are in the Olympics as boxers for the very first time.
There's a long way to go, but let's look back on an entertaining, satisfying first four days of action.
USA! USA! USA!
The disaster that was Beijing 2008 for the American boxing team seems to be behind us. A 4-2 start in the round of 32 for the Americans isn't amazing or anything, but there is without question a different vibe to the fighters in London. Though boxing is an individual sport, this team seems to have gelled and unified the way the '08 team never did. There were reports of squabbling on that team, and even now, fighters who were part of both will admit that this team hasn't broken down into the cliques of the '08 squad.
In Beijing, Team USA managed only one medal, a bronze from heavyweight Deontay Wilder, who then turned professional. The truth is, Team USA very well might not win any medals this time. But the entire competition seems better this time. Things aren't fixed for USA Boxing, but they appear to be improving.
As a fan of Team USA, I want to say a couple of things. First off, it can't just be that I'm American, can it? All of our six fighters thus far have brought their best effort, win or lose. And I also want to say that both of our eliminated fighters, light welterweight Jamel Herring and light heavyweight Marcus Browne, were class acts in defeat. No complaining, no whining, and both gave all they had.
Home Sweet Home
Great Britain has home court in London, and their fighters have gone 3-0 in the first round. It hasn't always been easy.
Most notable is a questionable decision for lightweight Josh Taylor, who defeated Robson Conceicao of Brazil, 13-9. Conceicao felt he was robbed, and made no bones about it after the fight, citing his belief that judges were influenced by the crowd, which is a common complaint at all levels of boxing when someone has home field advantage. But Taylor over Conceicao was far from the most questionable decision of the round of 32, and personally I didn't have any huge problem with it.
Middleweight Anthony Ogogo beat Junior Castillo of the Dominican Republic, 13-6, and welterweight Freddie Evans eliminated Algeria's Ilyas Abbadi, 18-10. Of the three, I felt Evans was by far the most impressive. Ogogo looked solid but not special in his win, and Taylor was pretty good, but is walking into a second round match with highly-regarded Italian Domenico Valentino, too.
There were only two stoppage wins in the entire round of 32. American middleweight Terrell Gausha (pictured) roared back to take out Andranik Hakobyan of Armenia in the afternoon session on day one, and on day four, light flyweight Devendro Singh Laishram of India stopped Bayron Molina of Honduras in the first round, in what was a frankly sad mismatch. Young Molina just wasn't ready for the level.
Here were the top five point totals for the round of 32:
1. Yosbany Veitia (Cuba), light flyweight - 26
2. Chatchai Bundee (Thailand), flyweight - 24
3 (tie). Aleksandr Aleksandrov (Bulgaria), light flyweight - 22
3 (tie). Nordine Oubaali (France), flyweight - 22
5 (tie). John Joe Nevin (Ireland), bantamweight - 21
5 (tie). Jose Ramirez (United States), lightweight - 21
5 (tie). Vasilii Belous (Moldova), welterweight - 21
In hockey, each game has Three Stars awarded. Why? I don't know, or even care, really. But I thought it would be fun to do this for each division after each round. This one will look far different than the rest, since the rest of the rounds have the top-seeded fighters joining the fray, after getting first round byes.
Men's Light Flyweight
1. Yosbany Veitia (Cuba) - A dominant performance over Billy Ward of Australia netted the high score of round one (26), as well as the greatest margin of victory (22)
2. Mark Barriga (Philippines) - Barriga is the only Filipino fighter in the games -- like Mexico, their aspiring fighters tend to turn pro early, for various reasons. But he's a damn good one, and a lot of fun to watch.
3. Kaeo Pongprayoon (Thailand) - One thing we learned about the London crowd was that they love really short guys. Both Barriga and Pongprayoon (pictured) received big support. Pongprayoon also had to get around Mohamed Flissi of Algeria. It was "easy" in one way, because Pongprayoon was just better than Flissi, and hard in another, because Flissi was probably the dirtiest fighter of the round.
1. Robeisy Ramirez (Cuba) - There were three Cubans in action in the first four days, and all of them were very impressive. Ramirez's 19-7 win over Katsuaki Susa of Japan was perhaps even more impressive than Veitia's win in the light fly division, because Susa was a better opponent.
2. Chatchai Bundee (Thailand) - A dominant offensive performance saw him score 24 on Selcuk Eker of Turkey. He faces Ramirez in the second round, which could be dynamite.
3. Nordine Oubaali (France) - Oubaali topped Afghanistan's Ajmal Faisal, 22-9, and looked very good in doing so. He faces Team USA's Rau'Shee Warren in the round of 16, and though Warren is a three-time Olympian, a good fighter, and the only American to be seeded, Oubaali looked to have the ability to pull the upset.
1. Joseph Diaz Jr (United States) - Look, let me be clear. I care about all the fighters. I admire all the good fighters from around the world. And while some were trying desperately to complain that the scoring of Jamel Herring's loss on Tuesday was poor, I was honest: It was totally legit, and Herring was outclassed. But, also, as far as I'm concerned, UUUUUUSAAAAAAAA! USA! USA! USA! USA! So Diaz's 19-point performance, a double-digit win over Ukraine's Pavlo Ishchenko in the first fight of the entire Olympics, gets the No. 1 spot for me. Maybe we saw better fighters. Maybe we saw better performances. But I can't help it.
2. John Joe Nevin (Ireland) - Nevin faced Denmark's Dennis Ceylan, who was grossly overmatched, but a lot of that was Nevin's doing. The talented Irishman was fun to watch.
3. Oscar Valdez (Mexico) - Speaking of fun to watch, just about nobody across the entire round of 32 was any more fun to watch than Valdez (pictured), who fights exactly like the stereotype (in a good way) of Mexican fighters, despite being amateur, and despite this being the Olympics. Valdez was a whirlwind of action in a 14-9 win over India's Shiva Thapa.
1. Felix Verdejo (Puerto Rico) - Verdejo's final score (11-5 over Juan Huertas of Panama) wasn't eye-catching, but his performance was stylish and classy. The Puerto Ricans had some good looking young fighters overall, and Verdejo was the best.
2. Jose Ramirez (United States) - Part of the credit here goes to Ramirez's opponent, Rachid Azzedine of France, for warring with the American and putting on the best and highest-scoring fight of the round of 32. Ramirez won 21-20 in an exciting fight that had a nail-biting score announcement.
3. Evaldas Petrauskas (Lithuania) - Petrauskas was an offensive machine, throwing punches from start to finish in a 20-12 win over Hungary's Miklos Varga. Honorable mentions in this division go to Jai Bhagwan (India) and Qiang Liu (China), who were both impressive.
Men's Light Welterweight
1. Munkh-Erdine Uranchimeg (Mongolia) - Uranchimeg, ranked No. 2 in the world by AIBA, was the standout of the afternoon session, winning 20-12 against Zdenek Chiladek of the Czech Republic. He outclassed Chiladek, who did his best to stay in the fight by making it a bit rough, but Uranchimeg was another level.
2. Daniyra Yeleussinov (Kazakhstan) - Speaking of another level, Yeleussinov sorely outclassed Team USA's Jamel Herring, who started fast and then was fairly well taken apart by the Kazakh over the final two rounds. By the third, Yeleussinov was on cruise control. He could be one to watch for in this class.
3. Roniel Iglesias (Cuba) - Iglesias was Not Your Normal Cuban: Amateur Edition. Unlike pro Yordenis Ugas, this resulted in a good performance that was worth watching in his 20-9 win over Cesar Villarraga of Colombia.
1. Errol Spence (United States) - This isn't quite like the Diaz thing before. Spence beat Brazil's Myke Carvalho 16-10 with a very fine effort, but really you could order these top three however you want. There wasn't much to choose from between them, and the welterweights featured a lot of fights that saw one man simply much better than his opponent.
2. Freddie Evans (Great Britain) - 18-10 winner over Ilyas Abbadi of Algeria, and of course, the home fighter had the crowd rocking. It was a good fight, and Evans was sharp. Both he and Spence move on to face seeded fighters.
3. Alexis Vastine (France) - Vastine won the most competitive fight of the round at welterweight, beating Germany's Patrick Wojcicki, 16-12. My alternate choice here was the man he'll face in the second round, Tuvshinbat Byamba of Mongolia.
1. Stefan Hartel (Germany) - Very nice, controlled performance, beating Enrique Collazo of Puerto Rico, 18-10. Hartel seemed to have an answer for anything Collazo tried, and had a class showing.
2. Terrell Gausha (United States) - Gausha scored the tournament's first stoppage, flooring Andranik Hakobyan of Armenia twice in the third round. It was a breakthrough effort.
3. Vijender Singh (India) - Good style and composure, which pretty much all of the Indian fighters had in the round of 32. I'm told there's a lot of money being put behind the program in India following Singh's bronze medal in 2008. It looks like it's paying off. They've got some well-schooled fighters. Honorable mentions to Adem Kilicci (Turkey) and Zoltan Harcsa (Hungary).
Men's Light Heavyweight
1. Fanlong Meng (China) - Big performance from Meng, who topped Ahmed Barki of Morocco, 17-8. He was in control throughout the fight.
2. Damien Hooper (Australia) - Hooper (pictured) handed Team USA their first loss, and did so in exciting fashion. Facing Marcus Browne, Hooper trailed going into the final round, and then cranked it up, outfighting Browne down the stretch. Hooper is a legit medal hope and is ranked No. 2 in the world by AIBA, so this says something for Browne, too, I believe.
3. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (Ukraine) - Gvozdyk beat Mikhail Dauhaliavets of Belarus, 18-10. Honestly, I thought this was probably the weakest division we saw in the round of 32. Honorable mention to India's Sumit Sangwan, who I thought got the shaft against Brazil's Yamaguchi Falcao. Sangwan filed a protest, which was immediately rejected.
TV Battle: BBC Embarrasses NBC in Quality, Respect For Audience
During the first two days of the tournament, I gladly watched CNBC, with live coverage of all 48 fights from London, called by Bob Papa, who does fights for HBO, and Teddy Atlas, normally the color man for ESPN Friday Night Fights. Papa and Atlas have plenty of experience working together, and they have good chemistry.
Normally, I like Bob Papa calling fights for HBO Boxing After Dark, and in fact, I like Bob Papa in general as a sportscaster. He's smart, and most important to me, he doesn't have a "gimmick." Personally, I detest gimmick broadcasters. Papa is a guy calling a game -- he's able to have fun when the time is right and able to just call the action.
With Atlas, I'm kind of 50-50. Sometimes it's worth applauding him for taking soapbox stands against the ills of the sport, and quite often, Teddy Atlas is 100% on the money about some of the garbage we have to put up with in professional boxing.
Atlas is knowledgeable, breaks a fight down better than anyone in the American TV game, and above all else, he is deeply passionate about the sport of boxing. He really does care. (Of course, when Atlas gets the chance, he's more than willing to cash checks by helping Alexander Povetkin put a paper title around his waist -- something which burns Teddy's hide in any other instance. But that's another story for another day.)
For two days, I listened to Papa and Atlas. I listened mostly to them not call the action, not give any information about any of the fighters. I listened to Atlas mangle names beyond belief -- Tunisian lightweight Ahmed Mejri became "Magee" for an entire fight. We heard way too much of "the blue guy" or "the red guy."
A lot of this is a reflection of American TV culture, where the audience is assumed to be incredibly stupid, so it's OK to treat them like they're incredibly stupid. NBC has been guilty of this throughout their entire lackluster coverage of the 2012 games.
After those first two days, NBC has chosen to run their "live" coverage online, which is always a good bit behind the actual live broadcast, and air tape delayed coverage in the afternoon. I suppose this is fine for a lot of people. But what about the rest of us?
In 1980, the "Miracle On Ice" game ran on tape delay, and it was fine because it was 1980 and not everyone had access to (or interest in) constant score updates. In 2012 we have the access and the demand, and NBC is just... pretending we don't? For instance, when Michael Phelps was racing Ryan Lochte on Saturday afternoon in London, TV audiences were watching Ryan Seacrest interview the women's gymnastics team, because the network wanted to save the race as an exclusive in prime time. I think the guiding broadcast philosophy here boils down to "Just Pretend The Internet Doesn't Exist".
... It's 2012, the Olympics are supposedly this symbolic, unifying cultural event, and instead of trying to find a successful compromise between old realities of the broadcast business and new audience demands, America's broadcast leader is telling its viewers to live like it's 1980 again. From business perspective, maybe that makes sense. From a PR perspective, it's basically just NBC pissing on a bunch of smartphones and telling everyone who uses them for instant news to go back to the time of bunny ears antennas.
Over the latter two days, I have watched BBC coverage. A lot of people, apparently, are watching BBC coverage because they can't take any more of NBC's fumbling, dumbed-down approach to the Olympics. The quality of broadcast in the UK is so vastly superior to the US coverage that it's not even remotely comparable, other than they're covering the same sport. I can only speak for boxing here, but BBC's commentary, especially that by analyst Richie Woodhall, has been superb. It's kind of like comparing "The Sopranos" to "Dora the Explorer."
On one broadcast, it's assumed we care enough to know a little, and what perhaps isn't known, those gaps are filled by the commentators. On the other broadcast, it's assumed we're all idiots who don't know anything, don't really care, and would prefer lengthy fishing analogies to actual commentary on what's happening in front of us.
US boxing broadcasters constantly fall into the narrative trap, telling a story they pray will be reflected in the ring, and if it's not, then screw it, they're going with it anyway. It seems like there's no room for on-the-fly adjustments or quick-thinking analysis. Everything turns into some kind of cliche, some allegedly deep thought or analogy, or just a load of absolute nothing spread out over word after word. Sadly, the Olympics haven't been a lot different. And that's a disappointment.
Since they don't seem to know the fighters very well at all, Atlas and to a lesser degree Papa have used a different narrative: AIBA is bad, amateur boxing is a mess, scoring is bad, officiating is bad, everything is bad. Look, no one on earth likes the way Olympic boxing is scored. That's a fact. And we all know it. So how about instead of going on and on about it when nothing shady is happening at the moment, you talk about something else? Well, I think I know the answer, unfortunately. They don't have anything else to talk about.
While Richie Woodhall and Co. tell their audience about past tournament performances from the fighters, American viewers are treated to second grade trivia about foreign countries. It's embarrassing to think this is the level of respect the audience is given, but that's how it is.
* * * * *
Full Results - Round of 32
Men's Light Flyweight
Yosbany Veitia (Cuba) def. Billy Ward (Australia), 26-4
Mark Barriga (Philippines) def. Manuel Cappai (Italy), 17-7
Birzhan Zhakypov (Kazakhstan) def. Jeremy Beccu (France), 18-17
Thomas Essomba (Cameroon) def. Abdelali Daraa (Morocco), 13-10
Devendro Singh Laisham (India) def. Bayron Molina (Honduras), stoppage-1
Jantony Ortiz (Puerto Rico) def. Tetteh Sulemanu (Ghana), 20-6
Ferhat Pehlivan (Turkey) def. Carlos Suarez (Trinidad and Tobago), 16-6
Carlos Quipo (Ecuador) def. Jose Linares (Spain), 14-11
Kaeo Pongprayoon (Thailand) def. Mohamed Flissi (Algeria), 19-11
Aleksandr Aleksandrov (Bulgaria) def. Juliano Maquina (Mozambique), 22-7
Samir Brahimi (Algeria) def. Jackson Woods (Australia), 14-12
Juliao Henriques (Brazil) def. Jong Chol Pak (North Korea), 12-8
Jeyvier Cintron (Puerto Rico) def. Oteng Oteng (Botswana), 14-12
Hesham Abdelaal (Egypt) def. Benson Njangiru (Kenya), 19-16
Tugtsogt Nyambayar (Mongolia) def. Elvin Mamishzada (Azerbaijan), 18-11
Nordine Oubaali (France) def. Ajmal Faisal (Afghanistan), 22-9
Duke Micah (Ghana) def. Jason Lavigilante (Mauritius), 18-14
Chatchai Bundee (Thailand) def. Selcuk Eker (Turkey), 24-10
Robeisy Ramirez (Cuba) def. Katsuaki Susa (Japan), 19-7
Ilyas Suleimenov (Kazakhstan) def. Salomo Ntuve (Sweden), 13-8
Joseph Diaz Jr (United States) def. Pavlo Ishchenko (Ukraine), 19-9
Sergey Vodopiyanov (Russia) def. Alberto Melian (Argentina), 12-5
Robenilson Vieira (Brazil) def. Orzubek Shayimov (Uzbekistan), 13-7
John Joe Nevin (Ireland) def. Dennis Ceylan (Denmark), 21-6
Kanat Abdutalipov (Kazakhstan) def. Wessam Slamana (Syria), 15-7
Oscar Valdez (Mexico) def. Shiva Thapa (India), 14-9
Jahyn Vittorio Parrinello (Italy) def. Jonas Matheus (Namibia), 18-7
Ibrahim Balla (Australia) def. Aboubakr Seddik Lbida (Morroco), 16-16 (countback)
Detelin Dalakliev (Bulgaria) def. Ayabonga Sonjica (South Africa), 15-6
Mohamed Amine Ouadahi (Algeria) def. Murab Turkadze (Georgia), forfeit
William Encarnacion (Dominican Republic) def. Braexir Lemboumba (Gabon), 15-6
Satoshi Shimizu (Japan) def. Isaac Dogboe (Ghana), 10-9
Wellington Arias (Dominican Republic) def. Eduar Marriaga (Colombia), 17-8
Ahmed Mejri (Tunisia) def. Shafiq Chitou (Benin), 16-9
Felix Verdejo (Puerto Rico) def. Juan Huertas (Panama), 11-5
Gani Zhailauov (Kazakhstan) def. Saylom Ardee (Thailand), 12-12 (countback)
Jai Bhagwan (India) def. Andrique Allisop (Seychelles), 18-8
Qiang Liu (China) def. Luke Jackson (Australia), 20-7
Josh Taylor (Great Britain) def. Robson Conceicao (Brazil), 13-9
Evaldas Petrauskas (Lithuania) def. Miklos Varga (Hungary), 20-12
Fatih Keles (Turkey) def. Abdelkader Chadi (Algeria), 15-8
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (Uzbekistan) def. Yhyachinte Mewoli Abdon (Cameroon), 11-6
Jose Ramirez (United States) def. Rachid Azzeldine (France), 21-20
Soonchul Han (South Korea) def. Mohamed Eliwa (Egypt), 11-6
Men's Light Welterweight
Roniel Iglesias (Cuba) def. Cesar Villarraga (Colombia), 20-9
Uktamjon Rahmonov (Uzbekistan) def. Anderson Rojas (Ecuador), 16-10
Yakup Sener (Turkey) def. Serge Ambomo (Cameroon), 19-10
Daniyra Yeleussinov (Kazakhstan) def. Jamel Herring (United States), 19-9
Mehdi Toloutibandpi (Iran) def. Jonathan Alonso (Spain), 16-12
Gyula Kate (Hungary) def. Eslam Mohamed (Egypt), 16-10
Manoj Kumar (India) def. Serdar Hudayberdiyev (Turkmenistan), 13-7
Richarno Colin (Mauritius) def. Abdelhak Aatakni (Morocco), 16-10
Munkh-Erdine Uranchimeg (Mongolia) def. Zdenek Chiladek (Czech Republic), 20-12
Jeff Horn (Australia) def. Gilbert Choombe (Zambia), 19-5
Abderrazak Ouya (Tunisia) def. Gaybatulla Gadzhialiyev (Azerbaijan), 19-16
Anthony Yigit (Sweden) def. Francisco Vargas (Puerto Rico), 13-9
Vasilii Belous (Moldova) def. Selemani Kidunda (Tanzania), 21-7
Tuvshinbat Byamba (Mongolia) def. Yannick Mitoumba Mbemy (Gabon), 17-4
Alexis Vastine (France) def. Patrick Wojcicki (Germany), 16-12
Custio Clayton (Canada) def. Oscar Molina (Mexico), 12-8
Cameron Hammond (Australia) def. Moustapha Abdoulaye Hima (Niger), 13-6
Freddie Evans (Great Britain) def. Ilyas Abbadi (Algeria), 18-10
Errol Spence (United States) def. Myke Carvalho (Brazil), 16-10
Adam Nolan (Ireland) def. Carlos Sanchez (Ecuador), 14-8
Andrey Zamkovoy (Russia) def. Qiong Mai Maitituersun (China), 16-11
Siphiwe Lusizi (South Africa) def. Ahmed Abdulkareem Ahmed (Iraq), 17-13
Gabriel Maestre (Venezuela) def. Amin Ghasemi (Iran), 13-8
Yasuhiro Suzuki (Japan) def. Mehdi Khalsi (Morocco), 14-13
Anthony Ogogo (Great Britain) def. Junior Castillo (Dominican Republic), 13-6
Darren O'Neill (Ireland) def. Muideen Akanji (Nigeria), 15-6
Stefan Hartel (Germany) def. Enrique Collazo (Puerto Rico), 18-10
Mujandjae Kasuto (Namibia) def. Sobirdzhon Nazarov (Tajikistan), 11-8
Zoltan Harcsa (Hungary) def. Jose Espinoza (Venezuela), 16-13
Soltan Miginitov (Azerbaijan) def. Mohamed Hikal (Egypt), 20-12
Abbos Atoev (Uzbekistan) def. Badr-Eddouine Haddioui (Morocco), 11-9
Terrell Gausha (United States) def. Andranik Hakobyan (Armenia), stoppage-3
Vijender Singh (India) def. Danabek Suzhanov (Kazakhstan), 14-10
Adem Kilicci (Turkey) def. Nursahat Pazziyev (Turkmenistan), 14-7
Aleksandr Drenovak (Serbia) def. Marlo Delgado (Ecuador), 13-12
Abdelmalek Rahou (Algeria) def. Jesse Ross (Australia), 13-11
Men's Light Heavyweight
Ihab Almatbouli (Jordan) def. Lukmon Lawal (Nigeria), 19-7
Yamaguchi Falcao (Brazil) def. Sumit Sangwan (India), 15-14
Fanlong Meng (China) def. Ahmed Barki (Morocco), 17-8
Yahia El Mekachari (Tunisia) def. Jakhon Qurbonov (Tajikistan), 16-8
Damien Hooper (Australia) def. Marcus Browne (United States), 13-11
Carlos Gongora (Ecuador) def. Vatan Huseynli (Azerbaijan), 9-8
Ehsan Rouzbahani (Iran) def. Jeysson Monroy (Colombia), 12-10
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (Ukraine) def. Mikhail Dauhaliavets (Belarus), 18-10
Osmar Bravo (Nicaragua) def. Bosko Draskovich (Montenegro), 16-11
Enrico Kolling (Germany) def. Christian Donfack (Cameroon), 15-6