RIO DE JANEIRO – There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of head-scratching decisions in Olympic boxing over the years.
In Tuesday’s third bout, Irish bantamweight Michael Conlan lost a bout to Russian Vladimir Nikitin that ranks up there with some of the most outrageous calls.
But the bad judging wasn’t confined to the Irish, who were hopping mad Tuesday after having a fighter eliminated they thought had won for the second consecutive day.
That, though, was nothing compared to what happened to Conlan.
And then, about an hour later, American Gary Antuanne Russell was the victim of another inexplicable decision.
Russell seemed to thoroughly outbox Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in their quarterfinal light welterweight match that had a medal on the line.
For most of the final two rounds, Gaibnazarov simply ran laps around the ring and was warned several times for failing to engage.
But when the scores were announced, it was yet another shocking call that seemed to go opposite of the way everyone expected. Gaibnazarov took a stunning split decision to move onto the semifinals. Judge Enrico Licini favored Russell, two rounds to one, or 29-28, but judges Roland Juhasz and Kestutis Bagdanavicius had it 29-28 for Gaibnazarov.
It was an almost incomprehensible outcome. Yahoo Sports had it 30-27 for Russell.
“The first round was a little competitive, even though it shouldn’t have been, but even that round, I thought I won,” a disconsolate Russell said after the bout. “The [next] two rounds, I pulled away from him, I believe. I won them hands down, even though it was a little sloppy. I believe I did more than enough to outscore him. I was the aggressor, and more.”
The loss cost Russell a medal and eliminated him from the tournament. U.S. coach Billy Walsh was irate, and even former U.S. Olympian Floyd Mayweather, who once was robbed himself, couldn’t believe the call.
“I thought Gary Russell got robbed,” Mayweather said. “Clearly. Clearly.”
Gaibnazarov’s best round was the first, and there is at least an argument that could be made he deserved to win that round, even though many ringsiders felt Russell also took that one.
But the scoring of the second round was incomprehensible. Gaibnazarov was circling the ring and repeatedly failing to engage. He threw very few punches and absorbed the harder, cleaner shots.
It was hard for Russell to accept, and he could barely contain his emotions. He was so focused on winning a gold medal that it was as if he didn’t even conceive he could lose in such a manner.
“I have high expectations I set,” Russell said. “I set the bar for myself very high. I’m trying to live up to my family’s legacy and then some. Outside looking in, I know a lot of people believe I won.”
Russell said calls such as the one that went against Conlan made it difficult for the fighters who followed him to compete at the top of their game.
They knew in the back of their minds that no matter what they did, it might not matter.
“[The judging] puts a little frustration on a lot of people’s mental [outlook],” Russell said when asked about the scoring in Conlan’s fight. “It rubs them wrong, especially going into a fight when you’re trying to be comfortable. Seeing a fight go down and they get a unanimous decision knowing that [the other] person won hands-down, that kind of spooks them out mentally.”
[Photos: Faces of Olympic heartbreak]
The U.S. is now guaranteed two medals, as light flyweight Nico Hernandez won a bronze and bantamweight Shakur Stevenson is still alive and will at least take home a bronze. Also, middleweight Claressa Shields, the reigning gold medalist, debuts Wednesday and is an overwhelming favorite to repeat.
Three medals in one Olympics is as well as the U.S. has done since 2004, but that was not on the top of Walsh’s mind on Wednesday.
He believes that women’s lightweight Mikaela Mayer deserved to win her quarterfinal fight on Monday over Anastasia Belyakova of Russia, a defeat that cost Mayer a medal.
And he was adamant on Tuesday that Russell clearly defeated Gaibnazarov.
“That guy hardly threw a punch in the last round,” Walsh said. “He ran for the whole round. We’re told not to do that. You’ve got to fight. Stand and fight. That’s disgraceful. It was disgraceful.
“Gary scored more points. He hit him more times. He was the aggressor. He did all the things we needed. He worked to the body. He worked to the head. He stayed on top of him and didn’t give him space. The guy ran for three rounds and we out-punched. I have no idea how they came up with that.”
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