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Cuban ousts Martirosyan

8/19/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Though Andre Ward's six-year winning
streak is still intact, the American light heavyweight now faces
for his biggest test yet.

Ward, a top U.S. medal hopeful from Oakland, Calif., beat
Italy's Clemente Russo 17-9 Thursday to advance to the
quarterfinals at Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall. Up next: Russia's
Evgeny Makarenko, who has a streak of his own. He hasn't lost at a
major international event since 1999.

The Americans finished up a 6-1 run through the preliminaries
Wednesday, sending an impressive eight fighters into the second
round, with two advancing on byes.

But in their first match Thursday, welterweight Vanes
Martirosyan lost 20-11 to Lorenzo Aragon, Cuba's two-time world
champion.

Light welterweight Rock Allen has his first match of the games
in Thursday's evening session. Except for the heavyweights, all
remaining fighters must win two more matches to reach the
semifinals, where a medal is guaranteed.

Ward, who hasn't lost since he was 14 years old, easily beat
Russo in both fighters' first bout of the Olympics.

"I wanted to go out there and look perfect, but there's no such
thing as perfect,'' Ward said. "I was nervous. I always have
nerves. Every time you go into a fight, somebody's trying to take
your head off, crush your dreams.''

Dancing across the ring and scoring points with both hands, Ward
wrapped up an unremarkable fight by coasting through the fourth
round -- perhaps saving his energy for his next bout.

On Tuesday, Ward will fight two-time world champion Makarenko
for a berth in the semifinals and a guaranteed medal. Makarenko
owns a 6-inch height advantage on Ward, as well as nearly nine
years of experience in the amateur style.

But Ward, a natural middleweight who bulks up to take on light
heavyweights, has power and quickness that have led him to multiple
national championships -- and he likes a challenge.

"I saw (Makarenko) walk out. He's big,'' Ward said with a grin.
"He's not the first big guy I've fought, though. I've been
fighting giants my whole life.''

Shortly before Ward's bout, Martirosyan, an 18-year-old from
Glendale, Calif., was done in by the 30-year-old Aragon's
experience and aptitude for the amateur style. Aragon seemed to
score points with any sort of punch, while Martirosyan only scored
for his best hits.

Martirosyan, who was born in Armenia, staggered Aragon twice
with quick shots to the head, but the Cuban piled up enough early
points to hang on in a fight much closer than the score.

"He tries to frustrate you with the holding,'' Martirosyan
said. "He holds you, pulls you back and makes it look like you're
holding, and you're not. It frustrates you. I thought I scored more
points, and I thought I should have won.''

It's a familiar refrain for fighters facing the Cuban team,
which is given a world of respect by amateur judges.

Martirosyan was the second American eliminated, joining light
flyweight Rau'Shee Warren.

With nine Olympic rookies facing a field featuring Cuban and
Russian veterans gunning for multiple gold medals, not much was
expected from the Americans. Their amateur program has been eroded
by easy pro money and the decidedly un-American judging standards
that reward workmanlike precision over creativity.

But as super heavyweight Jason Estrada demonstrated Wednesday
night with a flashy performance in winning his preliminary bout,
the U.S. fighters are determined to have some fun in Athens.

"That's the American style of boxing,'' coach Basheer Abdullah
said. "That's what we do. We entertain. Unfortunately, that's
sometimes not the way it's perceived here in international amateur
boxing.''

The 262-pound Estrada moves on to fight Cuba's Michel Lopez
Nunez. Estrada beat Lopez Nunez for a gold medal in last year's Pan
American Games, and he believes his quick hands will give him the
edge again.

"Regardless of what happens, I'm going to have fun,'' said
Estrada, from Providence, R.I. "All I really wanted to do was have
fun and get the cobwebs out. ... For me, (boxing) is something to
entertain people.''