Cuban boxers went three-for-three against the United States Monday night, and took a long lead for the team medal race in the Pan American Games boxing tournament.
Only U.S. world champion welterweight Ken Gould could salvage a victory on what turned out to be the worst night (1-3) for U.S. amateur boxing since a Cuban team in 1983 trounced a U.S. team, 12-0, in Havana.
How bad was it? One of the defeated U.S. boxers was world champion middleweight Darin Allen, who was knocked unconscious in the first round by a thumping right hand by Cuban Angel Espinosa.
The Cubans are 13-1 in the tournament, the United States is 9-3. When the long session was over Monday night, U.S. coaches and team officials agreed--it wasn't a pretty sight.
In the space of three hours, U.S. medal hopes against the Cubans here went from bright to doubtful. And looking beyond Indianapolis, to Seoul, you couldn't find a U.S. optimist anywhere in the crowd of 3,500 at the Indiana Convention Center.
"It wasn't a good day, that's for sure," said Col. Don Hull, president of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation.
The lone U.S. winner Monday was world champion welterweight Ken Gould, who in the third U.S. bout, easily decisioned Panama's Osvaldo Checa to move into the semifinals Wednesday against Puerto Rico's Rey Rivera. Gould will be a heavy favorite to reach the finals, as is hard-hitting Cuban Juan Lemus.
Now for the carnage:
--Cuban flyweight Adalberto Regalado scored a 3-2 decision over Arthur Johnson to reach the semifinals. It was close, and U.S. Coach Roosevelt Sanders beefed a little, as did Hull. But many other Americans felt the slightly quicker, slightly stronger Cuban was busier in the deciding third round.
--Next, U.S. lightweight Patrick Byrd showed up to box Cuba's Julio Gonzales and proved only that U.S. talent in the 132s is non-existent. Hopelessly outclassed, Byrd took a pounding that was so bad one judge, a Puerto Rican, scored it 60-52 for Gonzales. In amateur boxing, 60-52 is roughly the equivalent of 50-0 in football.
--The last U.S. defeat was shocking in its suddenness. Allen, who 15 months ago won a world championship in Reno, got caught by a tremendous right hand by Cuba's Angel Espinosa, and finished the bout flat on his back. Allen was down longer than he was up. The end came with 1:25 left in the first round and Allen was down for nearly two minutes. Five minutes later, he had difficulty crawling through the ring ropes.
Cuba is assured of at least six medals with six of its boxers already in the semifinals, where both losers are awarded bronze medals. Five U.S. boxers have reached the finals.
Today, U.S. bantamweight Michael Collins, light-welterweight Todd Foster and middleweight Frank Liles are in quarterfinals bouts against non-Cubans. The only Cuban boxing today is light-middleweight Orestes Solano, who meets Dominican Merquis Manon.
Johnson's close loss to Regalado on the evening's second bout established a pattern. The two exchanged some flurries in the first, some of the best action of the tournament, Johnson doing most of the chasing. But in the second, Regalado started backing up Johnson.
Cuban coach Alcides Sagarra gave Regalado a chewing out between rounds and sent his boxer off to the final round with just what he needed--a whack to the side of the head. It worked.
The two boxers punched furiously throughout the final round, with Regalado a touch stronger down the stretch. With a minute left, he hit Johnson, a University of Minnesota broadcasting student, about a dozen times, and had him on the ropes, covering up.
"I did the best I could, I thought I won, but I take nothing away from the guy, he was tough" Johnson said. "Maybe the Lord wants me to do something else . . . maybe I'll go into broadcasting."
Byrd, in his first international bout, took a fearsome beating. If 1988 U.S. Olympic boxing prospects can be called doubtful right now, the talent at lightweight, the division that produced Pernell Whitaker in 1984, seems the most shallow of all. Gonzales was quicker, in better condition and hit much harder.
In the interview room, Gonzales, 21, charitably tried to soften his punches.
"The American boxer (Byrd) was very strong, he has a good future and has good qualities," he said, through an interpreter.
Gould wasn't impressive in the United States' only victory. He lunged awkwardly against his Panamanian opponent and won by at least a three-point margin on every card. In the interview room, Gould and his father/coach, Nate Gould, wouldn't discuss prospects for meeting Lemus in the finals, since "we have to worry about the semifinals first."
Allen's knockout loss was a shocker. Ninety seconds into the bout, just as Allen dipped his knees to deliver a right hand, Espinosa caught him with a brutal right hand to the jaw. Allen dropped on his back and didn't move, and Costa Rican referee Raphael Vega waved Espinosa off, signaling the end of the bout, without a count.
Hull could only shake his head.
"Darin Allen's a smart young guy, and he just married a wonderful young lady," he said. "He hasn't looked sharp lately. I'm going to talk to him, and suggest he hang 'em up, and do something else."