Yuri CORTEZ / AFP
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A trio of Cuban boxers put on a masterclass at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday, August in a throwback to some of the finest traditions of the country's amateur fighters.
Light flyweight Joahnys Argilagos underlined his rich potential as he became the first boxer at the Games into the semi-finals to guarantee at least a bronze medal, as the boxing approaches the business end of the competition.
The 19-year-old prospect and world champion had Kenya's Peter Warui - who is nearly twice his age - running around in circles on his way to a unanimous points decision, as Cuba extended their ominous perfect start.
Cuba, with its rich boxing heritage that has culminated in 34 gold medals and counting, is among the most successful countries in Olympic boxing history and strongly fancied to do well again in Rio.
Julio Cesar La Cruz, a 3-time world amateur light heavyweight champion with spectacularly graceful movement across the ring, was equally emphatic in a unanimous points victory over the hopelessly outclassed Mehmet Unal of Turkey.
And in the final contest of the day, heavyweight Erislandy Savon, nephew of Cuban all-time great Felix Savon, showed glimpses of the killer instinct that made his uncle an Olympic legend.
Argilagos displayed the full array of his electric footwork, at one point ducking a haymaker from Warui, whose momentum took him tumbling into the ropes.
The young Cuban merely grinned back at his opponent and later delivered a sucker-punch while appearing to look in the opposite direction.
Argilagos faces Yurberjen Martinez - who he has trained with in the past - in the semis on Friday, after the Colombian defeated Samuel Carmona Heredia of Spain on a split points decision.
"I felt more confident than in my first fight," said Argilagos, after delivering one of the most impressive displays in Rio to date.
"I knew I was going to bring joy to Cuba and I stuck to my tactical master plan."
"The Colombian is going to be a very tough rival," added Argilagos, also a former youth world champion and one of the hottest prospects around.
"We have never fought but we have trained together and I know that he has some good weapons."
La Cruz, who turns 27 on Thursday and called his win an early birthday present to himself, picked Unal off at will and appeared to barely break sweat in a one-sided demolition to surge into the quarter-finals.
A quarter-finalist at the last Games in London, he will face home Brazilian hope Michel Borges in the last 8.
Savon, whose features are far older than his 26 years, made it a Cuban hat-trick and another guaranteed bronze when he silenced vocal Argentines in the arena supporting the limited Alberto Peralta, who hardly landed a single telling blow and was nearly out on his feet by the end.
Savon is aware of the expectation that comes with his famous name and says he has seen all the videos of his uncle's fights.
But he said: "We have different styles. He was a puncher and I'm more a stylist."
"This is my moment to win the gold medal and to rekindle the name of my uncle in the Olympics," he added. – Rappler.com