Escobedo: The best man won
ATHENS, Greece -- Vicente Escobedo's family and friends whooped and hollered and waved American flags when he stepped into the ring. By the third round of a fight that had turned into a boxing lesson, they were silent.
No matter how hard Escobedo tried, his opponent from Azerbaijan, Rovshan Huseynov, just kept piling up the points. And when it was over, Escobedo's Olympic hopes were, too.
"He fought a smart fight -- the best man won tonight,'' Escobedo said. "I was trying too hard, I believe.''
The Woodland, Calif., lightweight became the fourth U.S. boxer eliminated from the Olympics, leaving just five fighters still alive. Worse yet, Americans have lost three of their past four fights and don't seem to have a clue on how to cope with their more experienced opponents.
That showed a day earlier when light welterweight Rock Allen was never in his fight against a Bulgarian, and again on Friday when Escobedo's pro-style tactics couldn't solve a counterpunching style that seems so much better suited for amateur boxing.
"It's difficult to fight European styles because we're not familiar with them,'' Escobedo said. "You see these awkward styles, and it's hard to adjust in just four rounds.''
If the U.S. team doesn't want to be shut out in these Games, the remaining fighters better figure out how to adjust -- and soon.
The American fighters aren't just being outboxed. They've also been hurt by their inexperience and the tendency of the judges to favor the styles of certain countries.
"Our guys are fighting guys who have more international experience and are like pros,'' said Raul Marquez, a member of the 1992 Olympic team who is working for NBC. "The judges also like the Cubans and the eastern European counties. They have their guys picked.''
Two more Americans fight Saturday, with flyweight Ron Siler taking on Tulashboy Doniyorov of Uzbekistan and middleweight Andrew Dirrell facing Nabil Kassel of Algeria.
Cuban fighters, meanwhile, continued to roll, winning three more fights Friday to improve to 14-1. And 17-year-old British lightweight Amir Khan, the only member of his country's boxing team, was impressive for a second time with a 37-21 victory against Dimitar Stilianov of Bulgaria.
Khan did what Escobedo couldn't, getting inside and landing big right hands against the Bulgarian to advance to a quarterfinal match.
"I was boxing someone 10 years older who was the European champion but I wasn't as nervous as my first contest,'' Khan said. "I'm just taking things step by step. My real aim was the next Olympic Games, so being here is a bonus for me.''
U.S. coach Basheer Abdullah hopes his remaining boxers get a better shake from the judges than Escobedo, who seemed to land plenty of punches as he chased Huseynov around the ring in the fourth round but only got credit for one landing in the last 90 seconds of a 36-18 loss.
Huseynov, on the other hand, was given 13 points for the round, which he spent backing up and throwing an occasional counterpunch.
"That was really tough to swallow,'' Abdullah said. "From where I was sitting I didn't see the Azerbaijan boxer score 13 points in the final round.''
Escobedo actually lost the fight in the second and third rounds when Huseynov danced back and forth in front of him and didn't give him a target to hit. The 22-year-old tried to press the action, but missed often and didn't connect cleanly.
"It felt like I was reaching too much and my punches were being smothered,'' Escobedo said.
Escobedo said he was unsure whether he would turn pro or go to college and study architecture, but would not remain in amateur boxing another four years. Though disappointed, he said he would leave Athens with a lot of good memories.
"I didn't get the gold but I'm always going to be an Olympian and no one can change that,'' he said. "Someday I can tell my child or grandchildren I was an Olympian in Athens 2004.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press