With Light Flyweight Nico Hernandez securing Team USA’s first Olympic medal in eight years by winning some bronze bling last week, the stakes are high for the remaining boxers who still have their eyes focused on the squad’s first Olympic Gold in men's boxing since Andre Ward in 2004.
Today, Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.) will face Mongolia's Tsendbaatar Erdenebat in the quarterfinals at 11:45 a.m., and light welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell will take on Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnazarov at 12:15 p.m.
(Antuanne Russell in first round Olympic bout Photo Credit: roundbyroundboxing.com)
Stevenson is trying to fulfill his prediction of taking gold like his idol Ward. The Newark, NJ thumper believes he is a boxer of destiny. After easily dispensing of his Brazilian opponent in his opening bout, Stevenson wasn't satisfied. He said the bout was a warm up and we'd see improvement in his next performance.
“That was a C minus performance, we’ve got to get it to an A,” said Stevenson, always respectful and gracious, but never mincing words or holding back for the cameras.
Fighting against a hometown fighter in your first Olympic event and having to do battle while the crowd is relentlessly booing you can't be easy. Stevenson admitted that he was a bit shaken at first, but eventually he seemed to embrace the hate. It inspired the Brick City native.
“Before I heard the crowd, I was really excited but when I got there and they started booing, I got a little nervous, " Shakur said in a statement through Team USA boxing. "I was excited for the most part. I didn’t really have a game plan. I wanted to see what he was going to do. I realized he’s got long arms and tries to stay on the outside and make it ugly so I had to press him out, go forward. I started going forward, started touching his cut. I saw he had a cut so I kept hitting it. He got tired at the end and I started teeing off on him but once I started teeing off on him, I was like alright, I got this.”
With his quarterfinals opponent hailing from Mongolia, Stevenson will probably have the majority of the support in this fight, which doesn't bode well for his opponent.
Prior to these Olympic Games, Stevenson was considered the gem of Team USA’s formidable squad, but Russell was considered a legit medal hopeful as well. Both men have handled the competition so far in these Rio Olympics and now we get down to crunch time as one bad round can shatter a boxer’s Olympic creams.
The 20-year-old Russell, already 2-0 in these Olympics, has a boxing pedigree that few boxers in this tournament can match.
His father, Gary Russell Sr., has five sons, all of whom are named Gary Russell, and four of the sons are boxers. Older brother Gary Russell Jr. qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games, but was unable to compete after collapsing on the day of Opening Ceremony.
The younger Russell, walked the same path his older brother did through the Olympic Trials, losing on the first day of the double-elimination competition, then winning six consecutive bouts to secure the trials and the opportunity to represent the United States at an Olympic Games.
With his 2014 Golden Gloves title, Antuanne joined his three boxing brothers as the first group of four siblings to win a national Golden Gloves title. Now, he wants to out due his older brothers and finally win a gold medal for a family that has been so accomplished at the professional level.
“The dynasty is already set in stone, " Russell said. "I just have to keep pushing the envelope. That’s all. By me pushing the envelope, I’m just doing what I’m trained to do,” he said.
If Russell does win gold it would be a shining moment for Team USA. The last time the United States earned an Olympic medal in the light welterweight division was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, when Ricardo Williams brought home silver.
The country will be pulling for these two American heroes as they try to put USA boxing back on the map.