Cuba’s boxing juggernaut tough to beat

Ed C. Tolentino

Ed C. Tolentino

Changes have been introduced in the boxing competition for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the most notable being the participation of women boxers for only the second time in the history of the Games and the inclusion of professional male boxers in the mix.

The male boxers will be slugging it out in 10 weight categories, with each bout consisting of three, three-minute rounds. The competition will follow a straight knockout format, with three judges at ringside deciding the winner of each contest. Headgears will no longer be worn by men and, for the first time in the tournament’s history, the ‘10-point must’ scoring system used in professional boxing will be adopted. This means that the boxer who wins the round must be given 10 points while the losing boxer may be given anywhere between 6 to 9 points depending on how close the round was.

Two Filipino boxers, lightweight Charly Suarez and light flyweight Rogen Ladon, punched their way to the Rio Games by advancing in Olympic qualifying tournaments. As they plunge into action in the Olympics proper, Suarez and Ladon will be looking to end the country’s gold medal drought in the Olympics. The last Olympic medal the country won came in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when Mansueto Velasco captured a silver medal in the light flyweight class.

Ladon, 22, is competing in the light flyweight (49 kg.) division where Velasco medaled. Ladon started boxing in 2007 and finally emerged as a force last year after riding on the coattails of Mark Anthony Barriga. Ladon soared to as high as No.3 in the light flyweight amateur rankings and is bent on bringing home the gold.

Suarez, 27, is looking to make good on what could very well be his swan song as an amateur boxer. Suarez was a medalist in the Southeast Asian and Asian Games and earned an Olympic ticket by stopping Chinese Shan Jun at the 2016 Asia and Oceania Boxing Olympic qualifying tournament. Suarez is ranked No. 14 in the lightweight (60 kg) class.

But as the usual case in Olympic boxing, the Cuban boxing juggernaut stands in the way of our Filipino ring campaigners. In the lightweight class, Suarez may end up rubbing mitts with Cuban Lazaro Alvarez, the smart money bet to win the gold. Alvarez is a slick southpaw who won a bronze medal while competing as a bantamweight in the 2012 Games. Alvarez has since moved up to lightweight and is currently ranked No. 1 in the weight class. He is coming in with a lot of confidence, having won gold medals in the 2013 and 2015 World Amateur Boxing Championships.

The gold medal favorite in the light flyweight class is another Cuban, Joahnys Argilagos Perez. Perez is ranked No.1 in the light flyweight class and is the youngest member of Cuba’s Olympic boxing team. Barely 15 years old, he topped the AIBA Junior World Amateur Championships in 2013. He won a gold medal at the AMBC American Confederation Boxing Championships last year, beating in the semifinals the hard-hitting Nico Hernandez of the United States. Hernandez, the kid who owns a devastating left hook, is also competing as a light flyweight in Rio. “My goal is to be in the final and make the top of the podium,” said Perez.

The road to the gold medal promises to be anything but smooth for Suarez and Ladon. Then again, the two duly qualified for the Games and the prevailing presumption is that they have the skill to compete against the world’s best in their respective weight class.

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