The session was an indifferent one, without the electricity
that boxing sometimes provides. There was controversy over the
computerized scoring system, which had denied U.S. featherweight Floyd
Mayweather a gold medal the day before and which now denied Cuban
welterweight Juan Hernandez another. But this was as usual. And there was
another Felix Savon walkover as the Cuban heavyweight scored a 20-2
decision in his gold medal match. As usual also.
Good crowds aside, it seemed a deflating experience. Of the U.S. team's cocky bunch of boxers, only bashful David Reid remained alive to provide a jolt of excitement (he would win gold the next day by a knockout). The others had been tripped up in their own arrogance (you unveil your gold medal T-shirts after you win, not before) or by the ever-mysterious judging.
There were no rising stars. Savon, a five-time world champion and now a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has remained steadfast in his loyalty to Cuba and amateurism. He will never be another Ali; he will never star outside the Olympics. Maybe nobody will. Used to be these tournaments were launching pads for startling pro careers. This is where America discovered Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar de la Hoya. But not even the promoters who lurked about the arena could agree on a sure prospect. And what launching pad? NBC refused to show boxing in prime time.
It's a reflection of amateur boxing, or perhaps our taste for novelty, that the most talked-about performer was a super heavyweight named Paea Wolfgram. A 26-year-old from Tonga, Wolfgram weighs in at 309 pounds, punches hard, moves fast and serves up quotes. The Tongan, as he is called, said that King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV had phoned to congratulate him on clinching his country's first Olympic medal. "I was eating a hamburger at the time," Wolfgram recalled, "and said, 'Tell the king I say hello.'"
No doubt promoter Bob Arumwho has made money, by George, with big boys beforeis already drooling at the prospect of a bout between the Tongan and the 330-pound giant of the pay-per-view Toughman fights: Sweet Paea vs. Butterbean. But if that's the legacy of these Olympics, it will be a sad coda to an event that used to be a main dish at the Games, not the vegetable serving everybody pushes to the side of his plate.
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