In recent years, USA Boxing has had one boxer to thank for keeping its name golden - Claressa Shields.
In May 2012, women’s boxing debuted as an Olympic event, birthing the greatness Shileds, the Flint, Michigan native who won Gold in the London Games.
Her Houston-based teammate Marlen Esparza brought home the bronze, cementing the Jordan cry face image of a men’s team that boasted future pro champions: Rau’shee Warren, Errol Spence, Jr., and Dominic Breazeale.
Fast-forward four years to a new crop looking to break the gold medal drought experienced by the men’s team. There are some notables and some unknowns that are already making a splash in the elite men’s competition.
Led by the anticipation of Newark’s Shakur Stevenson and the DMV’s Gary Antuanne Russell, USA Boxing has experienced a resurgence.
Shakur has a perfect 23-0 international record and is the first American male to win junior and youth world titles and a Youth Olympic Games gold medal. Ironically, his favorite boxer is Andre “S.O.G.” Ward, the last American male to win a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Gary Antuanne Russell is a part of a boxing dynasty steered by father and trainer Gary Russell, Sr. and older brother Gary Russell, Jr., a 2008 Olympian. As one of four brothers that all won the National Golden Gloves Championships, the expectation for Gold is feverish for Russell.
Gary Russell, Jr., currently on a three-fight win streak, is the current WBC World featherweight champion. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Russell, Jr. lost consciousness while attempting to cut weight in his Olympic Village dorm room and dropped out of competition.
Gary Antuanne Russell stepped into his first light welterweight bout on Wednesday and won his first bout via unanimous decision against fellow Olympic Trials participant and Brooklyn native, Richardson Hitchins, who is representing Haiti in Rio.
Wichita, Kansas native Nico Hernandez has already solidified the men’s chance of bringing home a medal as he has gone on a whirlwind winning streak. The light flyweight landed his third unanimous decision victory win Wednesday, guaranteeing at minimum a bronze medal en route to his semi-final bout today.
Shakur Stevenson’s bantamweight Olympics debut isn’t until Sunday. If he gets on the same roll his other notable teammates are on, this just might be the team to deliver multiple medals.
In the London Olympics, Errol Spence was the only American man to reach the Olympic quarterfinals by winning two bouts. With Hernandez and Carlos Balderas having already accomplished that within the first four days of this year's competition, Team USA's boxing coaches Billy Walsh and Kay Koroma’s hold of these fighters can certainly be recognized.
USA Boxing still has the most total boxing medals in Olympic history with 49 Gold, 23 Silver and 39 Bronze. Hopefully, this new generation of hopefuls can add to their current teammate Claressa Shields’ glory and return the glitter to the USA men’s program with Gold Medal performances.