The world’s #1 light heavyweight saw action on Saturday at the ExCeL Centre, and while it was, after all, the Olympics, it was something that didn’t look like much more than a tune-up fight.
Cuba’s Julio Cesar La Cruz Peraza, who is not only ranked #1 by AIBA but also is the #1 seed in the tournament, got a bye thatlet him through to the second round, but of all the contestants in these Olympic Games, he may have had the easiest road to get one step from the medal round, scoring a 25-8 decision over Ihab Almatbouli of Jordan.
La Cruz is going to turn 23 in just a few days, but he has come a long way in a short time. He had a career year in 2011, winning on eof eight gold medals for Cuba in the Pan Am Games, and then won the World Championships. Along the way scored a win over Egor Mekhontsev, who he may have to face in this tournament for the opportunity to go to the finals. In that world championship event, Mekhontsev was seeded #1.
La Cruz, well, cruised against Almatbouli, who was clearly out of his depth. he held his hands down and took plenty of liberties, and against this particular opponent, who had advanced here with a 19-7 win over Lukmon Lawal of Nigeria, it was not much of a problem. Almatbouli looked flustered throughout the bout, and he couldn’t match speed with his Cuban opponent. His corner had no answers for him; they didn’t even know the questions.
La Cruz won the first round 7-3, then piled it on in the second 11-2, before coasting home with a 7-3 tally in the final stanza.
The captain of the Cuban squad, La Cruz will now move to the quarterfinals, where he’ll face Yamaguchi Falcao of Brazil, the same man he routed 22-12 in finals of last year’s Pan Am Games.
There was an interesting remark made by B.J. Flores, the cruiserweight contender and NBC commentator, before the bout started. He mentioned that La Cruz was “carrying on the tradition of great Cuban light heavyweights,” but to tell the truth, the cupboard is bare as far as Olympic gold is concerned. No Cuban boxer has ever won the Olympics at this weight level; in 1976 Sixto Soria did get to the finals, where he lost to eventual world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks.
Meanwhile, it was quite a feat for Almatbouli just to be in the position he was in. He is the first Jordanian boxer ever to compete in the Olympics, and he brought them one rousing victory to boot.