Cuba and Uzbekistan have probably had the two best boxing teams we’ve seen at the 2016 Olympics, and the two countries collided today in the men’s middleweight (75kg) final, with Arlen López of Cuba taking home the gold, capping off a sensational showing in Rio.
López, 23, adds Olympic gold to his collection, which also includes gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, and the 2015 World Amateur Championships in Doha. Throughout the tournament in Brazil, he was simply a step or two ahead of his opponents.
The top seed coming in, López starched Zoltán Harcsa of Hungary in the round of 16, knocking him out with a clean left hand. In the quarterfinal, he faced a game Christian Mbilli of France, who did all he could to force the Cuban into a brawl. But López was both slick enough to not get caught clean too much, and also simply up to the task, giving more than as good as he got.
In the semifinal, he outclassed Kazakhstan’s Kamran Shakhsuvarly, and did much the same to Bektemir Melikuziev of Uzbekistan in the final. There is no question that López was the best fighter in this division.
Melikuziev, 20, had been dominant himself. He defeated Australia’s Daniel Lewis in the round of 16, then Krishan Vikas of India in the quarterfinal. His semifinal matchup was against Misael Rodríguez of México, and once again he advanced with little difficulty.
But López was just another level, one a bit too far. Melikuziev was, indeed, the clear second-best fighter in this tournament. But he had to face the best in the end.
Bronze medals go to Rodríguez and Shakhsuvarly, and it’s worth noting that this is the first medal for a Mexican fighter in the division since Agustín Zaragoza won bronze in 1968 in México City, and just the second middleweight medal for the country, period.