On Wednesday, August 1, United States bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr. saw his Olympic aspirations end in the second round of competition, as he dropped a 21-15 decision to defending world champion and gold-medal favorite Lazaro Alvarez of Cuba.
It was an impressive effort in defeat for the 19-year-old from El Monte, Calif., one that will ensure his eventual professional debut will be highly anticipated by boxing writers and fans.
It was a rematch of their round of 16 bout at last year's world championship, won by Alvarez 19-10.
This time around Diaz's improved confidence and experience were evident, as he gave the Cuban a tough, competitive fight from bell to bell. In a tournament during which questionable judging has now become a theme, many viewers were left feeling that the fight was much closer than the final score would indicate.
Both men started fast at the opening bell, determined to give everything they had. For most of the round Alvarez employed his exceptional reach to control distance and score, but Diaz mounted a tough pressure attack and displayed strong defensive skills inside close range. At the end of one, Alvarez led 7-6.
The second round was frankly a mystery to me. Diaz launched an aggressive, valiant attack, and to my eyes seemed to score on the Cuban at least as evenly as he did in the first. But the judges somehow saw it as 7-4 for the Cuban, putting him up 14-10 going into the final frame.
The final round provided another full three minutes of action, with the world champion again edging the upstart American teenager, this time by a 7-5 count.
While the fight truly did seem closer than the final score, a decision for the Cuban still seemed just.
If this had been scored on professional criteria, however, a strong argument could have been made for a Diaz shutout. He pushed the action and landed the much more significant punches in all three rounds.
The southpaw has an intelligent but aggressive pressure style that will translate very well to the pro game. He showed signs of a body attack that, while not always useful under the amateur scoring system, will pay valuable dividends when it comes time to break down professional opponents in the future.
Until a generation ago, Olympic success was a fast track to professional acclaim. Under the current scoring system, though, it is no longer seen as the same kind of gold standard, and for good reason. The kind of style and strategy that wins amateur fights is likely to be completely ineffectual against a rugged, heavy-handed pro.
What is still potentially invaluable is the opportunity to be showcased on what remains a very prominent international stage. Joseph Diaz Jr. will go home this month without an Olympic medal. But he will return to a nation of boxing fans very excited to see him take his next step.
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