U.S. boxers started another winning streak at the Pan American Games boxing tournament Tuesday night, but it may be too late to catch the powerful Cubans, who raised their record to 16-1 with three more wins of their own.
Light-welterweight Todd Foster and light-middleweight Frank Liles both registered easy 5-0 decision wins, and bantamweight Michael Collins stopped his opponent in the first round, putting the U.S. tournament record at 12-3 with five sessions to go.
But as in 1983 in Caracas, Venezuela, where the Cubans won eight gold medals, the 1987 Pan Am Games looks like another Cuban show. With Cuban boxers already in the semifinals in 11 of the 12 weight classes, something of a repeat performance is in the offing, it seems. So far, only U.S. featherweight Kelcie Banks looks like a lock for a gold medal, since he has already beaten his Cuban opponent, Arnaldo Mesa. All the other U.S. boxers are in tough, including superheavyweight Riddick Bowe, who debuts tonight against Cuba's defending Pan Am champion, Jorge Gonzales.
The U.S. team left the Indiana Convention Center Monday night nearly in shock, after three straight defeats at the hands of Cubans, including a stunning one-round knockout of U.S. world champion Darin Allen.
But after a Tuesday morning team meeting, everyone had their heads screwed back on, according to Frank Liles, whose 5-0 win over Brazil's Peter Silva was the United States' third of Tuesday's session.
"Going back to the village in the van last night, I spoke up and told the guys the punch (by Cuba's Angel Espinosa) that took Darin out was a lucky shot, that we couldn't come back here today thinking vendetta," he said.
"I told them we had come here with a game plan, that we had to stick to it. We had another team meeting this morning. We're ready to go again."
"We got all the guys together and just calmed them down, got everyone fired up again," said Tom Coulter, U.S. assistant coach.
There was more brave talk Tuesday night by the United States' young pugilists. Michael Collins, after he stopped outclassed Jamaican Patrick Stephenson in one round, flashed a little anger in the interview room when someone asked him about boxing Cuban Manuel Martinez for the gold medal Saturday. First, he has to beat a tough Puerto Rican, Rafael Del Valle, in Thursday's semifinals.
"Who is Martinez?" Collins asked, innocently.
"Everyone keeps talking about Cubans around here. I'm the guy to watch in this weight class. Is Martinez a Cuban? OK, then he weighs 119 pounds, like me. That's all I need to know."
Foster had to hold off a wildly charging Argentine, Oscar Ponce Caton, in order to advance to Thursday's semifinals against Brazil's Wanderley Oliveria. The awkward, strong Caton, loser of the first two rounds, went out with his boots on. Charging furiously, he caught Foster off balance and landed the first dozen blows of the round before gradually running out of steam.
If Foster, from Great Falls, Mont., beats Oliveria, he'll no doubt meet Cuba's Canderlario Duvergel in the 139-pound finals Sunday.
"He knew I'd won the first two rounds, so he went all-out," Foster said. "He was wild, but he was also strong. He caught me with some shots. I've got two tough guys out of the way, so I feel good about how I'm doing here. I'm going for the gold, now."
Liles, from Syracuse, must now face Cuban Orestes Solano, a crude, rugged in-fighter, in Thursday's semifinals in the 156s. His win Tuesday was achieved over a no-quit Brazilian, Silva. Liles got a 5-0 decision, but Canadian and Venezuelan judges called it closer than anyone else in the crowd of 2,178 did, 59-58.
Puerto Rico has easily the third best team here. The Puerto Ricans won twice more Tuesday and increased their record to 13-3. The United States has reached 9 of 12 semifinals, including heavyweight Michael Bent and superheavyweight Bowe, neither of whom have boxed yet. Puerto Rico has boxers in eight semifinals bouts.