Spotlight on a “FEARSOME FOUR” Competing in London
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The London 2012 Olympics are finally here and I hope fans across the universe catch “boxing fever” as many talented pugilists will fight for gold beginning this weekend. THE CLOCK IS TICKING AND THE TORCH WILL SOON BE LIT!
The Opening Ceremony for the official Games of the XXX Olympiad is Friday, July 27 and boxing matches will commence on Saturday, July 28 at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in Newham. The competition will continue through August 12. And while I’m not one of the lucky ones to be in London to catch all the action, I will be watching across the pond to cheer on a few special athletes I have crossed paths during events I have covered. Having been fortunate to have interviewed several of the fighters on the 2012 team, I will be glued to the TV to watch their Olympic dreams come true.
With thousands upon thousands all competing for the coveted spot of Olympic boxer, only a few reached this goal. For these rare few, they are now experiencing the fruits of their labor–the golden opportunity to walk in the historic Opening Ceremony, meet global athletes from other nations, and enjoy all that the Athlete’s Village has to offer. I have no doubt it will be a memorable, life-changing opportunity for each of these prizefighters. To get there, they have sacrificed years of blood, sweat and tears by competing in countless amateur shows and tournaments in the U.S. and internationally.
Twelve elite American boxers will be in the world’s spotlight this weekend. British boxer and 2004 Olympian Amir Khan (trained by Freddie Roach) recently welcomed the team on his home soil at a presser in Bolton. On Team USA, Head Coach Basheer Abdullah, assistant coaches Christy Halbert, Anthony Chase, Charles Leverette and Gloria Peek and Olympic Team Manager Delilah Rico will be guiding these young athletes to glory.
Through hard work and discipline, they have risen in the ultimate ranks and can forever call themselves a 2012 Olympian. Sporting the uniform of their special Ralph Lauren suits and berets, the U.S. fighters have a chance to take their place among the immortals.
I am so excited to watch this year’s crop of boxers–and I am thrilled to watch the first-ever women’s boxing competition in these 2012 Olympic Games! History will be made in the sweet science and beyond. While I have yet to meet the female trio of Marlen Esparza, Claressa Shields and Queen Underwood who will be lacing up in the inaugural ladies’ bouts, I have chatted with one third of the sluggers who will be competing in the summer games. The following are my recollections and thoughts of what you can expect from these four 2012 Olympians.
Goin’ for the Gold, here’s my “Fearless Foursome” to keep your eye on:
JOSEPH DIAZ JR./ Bantam (56kg)/ Age 19:
I first interviewed the pride of South El Monte during the “World Series of Boxing” shows in which “Jo-Jo” competed on the Los Angeles Matadors team. The
California teen phenom has the support of his father/trainer, family and local fans who have had various fundraisers leading up to the Olympics. His fans will be wearing “Team Diaz: I’m Here for the Gold” T-shirts as they root for their fave. The likable pug is the youngest member of the men’s team and after his stint in London, he will surely return home to receive a hero’s welcome. The 19-year-old is a friendly, humble and “normal” kid who takes time to make local appearances and has become a role model for youngsters in the San Gabriel Valley community. A clue to how he “flips the switch” from his down-to-earth demeanor to full-on beast mode came in a comment he told me during a Matador weigh-in. In regards to the civility I noticed between the competing teams, Jo-Jo had this to say: “There’s no trash talking; everyone’s friends here…BUT it’s ALL business when it comes to stepping into the ring!” Expect the teenager to take care of business when he squares off this Saturday.
RAU’SHEE WARREN/ Fly (52kg)/ Age 25:
This Cincinnati star has been on the boxing radar for a while. These London Games will be his THIRD time competing in the Olympics and his reputation as a world-class athlete has already been cemented. Already competing in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, this hard-hitting three-time Olympian will make the history books. I interviewed Rau’Shee during his time as an L.A. Matador. “Baby Pit” is one focused 25-year-old who has set his sights on bringing home a medal. The gladiator told me he began boxing at the tender age of six, in the same gym where hometown hero Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor trained. This amateur superstar has over 300 bouts logged in. The veteran sharpshooter can also lend invaluable leadership to the team. After one of his fights last year, Team Captain commented during our interview on what it would be like if he made the U.S. Olympics for the unprecedented third time: “It would mean a LOT to me–and to boxing. Me, being the first Olympian to go back, I feel like I’m a role model for some of the kids coming up that may look up to me. I want to show them that don’t EVER give up on your dreams!”
DOMINIC BREAZEALE/ Super Heavy (+91kg)/ Age 26:
Relatively new to the sweet science, SoCal’s Breazeale is part of a famed squad training out of The Rock in Carson, California. I have been to this gym a couple of times; they have a very interesting program thriving there with their “All-American Heavyweights (AAH).” Taking college football players (with a height and weight requirement) and placing them in a boxing gym was an idea called “crazy” by some critics when the idea was first hatched. But with AAH founder/CEO Michael King’s vision and dream of producing Olympic champions, this innovative brainchild has hit the jackpot with the likable Breazeale (a former University of Northern California quarterback) earning a spot on the 2012 roster. “In the beginning people probably thought he was crazy,” Dominic told me at a 2011 event. “But the transition between the sports has been great. And Mr. King has been great; I love what he’s doing here.” Breazeale is a married family man with a little boy and was a proven leader at The Rock, where virtue and values are held in high regards. This likable 26 year old has only been boxing for about four years. But after his time in the U.K., expect to see more of this 6′ 6″ powerhouse.
OSCAR MOLINA (Fighting on TEAM MEXICO)/ Welter (69kg)/ Age 22:
Competing as a member of Team Mexico, this fighter and his family are also very well known in Southern California. Oscar’s twin brother Javier Molina was a 2008 U.S. Olympian and is currently a pro with 11 victories. Older bro Carlos Molina is an unbeaten WBO Inter-Continental Lightweight champ. Team Molina is really building a dynasty with these three siblings all boxing–and all finding success in the ring. The twin warriors were also the subject of the recent “Born and Bred” documentary. Two brothers, two Olympians. The Norwalk family shares in the success of the boys and will be lending their support in England. “This has been my dream, now it’s coming true!” “I’m very excited about London,” Oscar told me, his voice relaying the pure joy and happiness in attaining such a goal as this. “This has been my dream for a long, LONG time! This is the moment I had been waiting for…And now I’ve achieved it.” In May, right after Oscar won a spot in the Brazil qualifiers, the new Mexican Olympian shared the joy of achieving his ultimate goal–and what he was looking forward to most. “The OPENING CEREMONY!” he told me. Draped in the colors of the Mexican flag, Oscar will also make a huge legion of Southland fans proud.
And I want to give one very special “shout out” to:
DELILAH RICO/ 2012 Olympic Boxing Team Manager:
Anyone associated with USA Boxing and Colorado Springs will recognize Delilah for her endless hours organizing and overseeing the action of endless rounds at shows through the years as a volunteer with LBC #33 Southern California Association Chief of Officials. I’ve gotten to know her through these competitions and can attest to her diligence, dedication and unwavering passion for the sport. “Lady D” has been a tireless heroine while traveling extensively in support of amateur boxing. A strong mother of three (Denise, Damien and Desirae), the Los Angeles fight veteran has also raised two young amateur champs of her own. Denise Rico and Damien Rico have made their mom proud with their own accomplishments in the ring. Delilah has an extensive background in working with women boxing as well. Always encouraging and good at thinking on her feet and “keeping on her toes,” Delilah will give the team that extra spark they may need!
There you have it, my own personal thoughts on a few of the faces you will be seeing in the boxing competition at ExCel. Their once-in-a-lifetime journey begins NOW. Victory awaits; it is there for the taking.
WHO WILL WIN GOLD THIS YEAR?
WHOSE FACE WILL YOU SEE SMILING FROM THE COVER OF A WHEATIES BOX?
For all of the athletes stepping inside the ropes, I wish you all the luck in the world as you achieve your Olympic dreams. You have inspired many. Good luck in making your countries proud.
AND MAY THE BEST MEN–AND WOMEN–WIN!
The 12 U.S. Olympians and a link to the fight schedule airing are below.
2012 Team Roster:
Marlen Esparza, Flyweight
Claressa Shields, Middleweight
Queen Underwood, Lightweight
Dominic Breazeale, Super Heavyweight
Marcus Browne, Light Heavyweight
Joseph Diaz Jr., Bantamweight
Terrell Gausha, Middleweight
Jamel Herring, Light Welterweight
Michael Hunter, Super Heavyweight
Jose Ramirez, Lightweight
Errol Spence, Welterweight
Rau’shee Warren, Flyweight
FULL BOXING SCHEDULE:
Photos by Michele Chong/ Group Photo courtesy of USA Boxing & Team Khan
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