U.S. team had little punch

Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- Oh, how Howard Cosell would mock this.

Having followed the halcyon days of Cassius and Smokin’ Joe and Big George and the young Sugar Ray, how it would have pained the perspicacious Howard to watch these pusillanimous pugilists of our 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing team land with a thud and a dud.

The latest and last victim was our flamingo-legged heavyweight, Deontay Wilder, who brought literal meaning to “never laid a glove on him” in Friday’s listless loss to Italy’s Clemente Russo, thereby knocking the entire U.S. boxing team out of Beijing’s ring.

Although he earned a bronze medal just by showing up, Wilder’s failure meant that for the first time in 112 years of Olympic boxing, the Americans would go down for the medal count without so much as a single gold or silver.


I haven’t seen a fight club that deserves to be talked about so little since that one with Brad Pitt.

In my pidgin Italian, I did ask the rock-jawed Russo after the so-called fight what he thought of his worthy opponent.

“I am surprised that the United States has just one man with a medal,” the Italian stallion said. “And even he is not so good.”

Ouch. One last jab.


A lucky tap and a generous judge in the last 10 seconds of a four-round fight gave Wilder a point that prevented a shutout. The score went down in the Olympic record books as 7-1 and made it look as if this tall drink of water from Alabama actually landed a punch.

Hagler-Hearns, this wasn’t.

Wilder is a 6-foot-7, 190-pound palooka from Tuscaloosa who is built more like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than like Muhammad Ali.

I mean, he seems like a sweet kid and all, and he has an adorable daughter with a horrible malady (spina bifida), but if this dude is a heavyweight contender, I’m Mrs. Don King. I can’t imagine watching this rope-thin 22-year-old inflict pain on a Mike Tyson or a Lennox Lewis if he smacked either one of them on the jaw with a George Foreman grill.


“It’s all about having fun, man,” Wilder summed things up after his loss, which gives you a pretty good idea of how ferocious an individual he is.

China has pandas less docile.

And yet, of our Olympians, he was the best we had, our lonesome medalist. I hope the team members were able to shop for a few souvenirs. They won’t be bringing much else back with them to the States, other than duffel bags filled with used mouthpieces and a bunch of weak excuses that involved blaming their coaches or the judges.

Boxing premiered in 1896 and we began throwing our weight around. That goes for little guys like Oliver Kirk, who won two different divisions in 1904, as well as quick lightweights like Oscar De La Hoya, long-armed welterweights like Mark Breland, flashy middleweights like a teenage Floyd Patterson and ruthless light-heavies like a toothless Leon Spinks.


Wilder’s arms moved, but his fists did not make contact with his foe’s face for any of the first three two-minute rounds. Not until 0:09 remained in Round 4 did the American collect a round of sarcastic cheers from the stands by scoring a point with a punch, although the Italian hardly felt it.

“I score one point in the first round and so it is up to him to come to me,” Russo said. “He did not. I thought it would be harder work.”

Russo fought in Chicago at the 2007 world championships and beat Russia’s Rakhim Chakhkiev by a 6-3 decision for the heavyweight crown. A rematch is coming right up; it is Chakhkiev who now stands between him and Italy’s first gold medal in boxing in 20 years.

America might go that long itself if the quality of its team does not improve.


We took eight boxing gold medals in the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympics alone and a very impressive five at Montreal in 1976 when the nasal ringside voice of Cosell declared each and every one of them to be an overnight American idol.

Boxing in Beijing?

Count us out. These were our most limp Olympians yet.