BEIJING – Don King sat in a chair in China’s Chengdu province on Saturday, decked out in a plastic poncho and gloves while a baby panda cub was placed in his lap.
Bizarre as the scene must have looked, it was still not as surreal as the mess engulfing the United States Olympic boxing team at Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium.
A squad of fighters expected to bring home at least three medals was whittled down to just one Sunday night, as heavyweight Deontay Wilder scraped into the semifinals courtesy of a tiebreaker.
All around him, there was acrimony, as a talented team continued to pick at its wounds for a final time before most of them head off in separate directions toward the pro ranks.
Much of the ire has been directed toward head coach Dan Campbell, with the entire U.S Boxing program also coming under attack.
Flyweight Rau’shee Warren, a pre-tournament favorite and world champion who lost in the first round, let rip at Campbell in an interview with Yahoo! Sports outside the venue on Sunday night.
Warren was furious that his coach, Mike Stafford, was only allowed to attend the residency program in Colorado Springs for two weeks over the past year, and insisted that both the program and Campbell’s methods had damaged his hopes of Olympic glory.
"I felt like the whole year away from home, my coach should have been there from the start to the end," said Warren, who will now turn professional. "I feel like both the system and the coaching was to blame for what has happened. We were in camp for a year and just did the same basic thing over and over. It was limited.
“I felt like we didn’t get shown anything new and that if my coach was there he could have straightened me out.”
Andrade regularly looked to his father, Paul, in the stands during the fight but also listened to Campbell in the corner between rounds.
“I hope the advice he was getting from me was the same as what he was getting in the corner,” said Paul Andrade. “I don’t know if it was, but I sure hope so because that is what was best for him.”
Andrade showed a high work rate yet was unable to close the gap on his opponent in the fourth and final round, losing 11-9.
“I combined both sets of advice I was getting,” Andrade said. “Sometimes I would use my father’s and sometimes from the corner. My father has been my coach ever since I was small, so I am always going to look to him first.”
Luis Yanez, a light flyweight, conflicted regularly with Campbell and totally ignored his advice during his defeat on Saturday.
The parents of medal contender Gary Russell Jr. were also highly critical of the coach after their son collapsed while attempting to make weight
For his part, Campbell believes parents, friends and personal coaches were too quick to “interfere” with the attempts to build a winning team, and that the fighters were too willing to listen to the noises from back home.
“A lot of guys reverted back to what they do domestically,” said Campbell. “That just doesn’t work here. They hear a lot of things from their personal coaches and people from home, and that kind of interference can cause a loss. I don’t blame anybody. There is a maturity process that has to happen. But most of the coaches have never been to an international event, let alone the Olympics. It causes problems. The kid gets caught in between.
“It is all about whether they can trust you. But nine times out of 10 they are going to go back to the guy they have always been with.”
Complaints about the scoring of the judges could not mask that this has been a truly woeful Olympics for the U.S. boxing team, regardless of whether Wilder goes on to win the gold.
Campbell claimed he was so frustrated with the external influences that he believes future U.S. squads may be better off not including the best fighters available but instead choosing lower-rated prospects who are more likely to listen to advice.
Ironically, Wilder is the only member of the squad whose personal coach, Jay Deas, stepped aside to let Campbell exert his full influence without compromise.
Wilder has boxed for just three years and insisted he was happy with both Campbell and the program. But he said his teammates “have their own opinions, and I respect that.”
As Wilder came through to talk to the media, his opponent, Mohammed Arjaoui, was in fits of tears a few yards away while being harangued by Moroccan television.
Wilder took a look at Arjaoui and the reporters trying desperately to get a legible response from him and gave a shrug that indicated his bemusement.
Just another strange day in the world of Olympic boxing.
The only consolation is that it probably can’t get any stranger. Unless Don King shows up with his panda.