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Ready to turn pro, Estrada shrugs off loss

8/23/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- The biggest guy on the U.S. boxing team
turned in the biggest flop when it mattered most.

American super heavyweight Jason Estrada gave perhaps the most
lackluster performance yet by a U.S. boxer Monday night, losing a
chance for an Olympic medal by dropping a 21-7 decision to Cuba's
Michel Lopez Nunez.

With a pro career already on his mind, Estrada simply shrugged
off the loss.

"That's just the way boxing is," he said. "I'm not going to
really worry about it."

If Estrada wasn't going to worry, his coach certainly was. After
watching another American fighter simply go through the motions,
Basheer Abdullah had seen enough.

"It discouraged me. I'm disappointed that he had that type of
attitude," Abdullah said. "Somehow we have to find a way to make
athletes take pride in representing the United States."

U.S. coaches had high hopes for Estrada in the quarterfinal
match, considering he had beaten Nunez last year at the Pan Am
Games and had superior hand speed to the Cuban.

But Estrada fought passively, admitting later he never
pursued Nunez because he figured he would lose anyway and didn't
want to take any more punishment.

"If I'm going to lose I'm going to lose getting hit as little
as possible," Estrada said. "I'd rather not get hit at all. This
is just one part of my life, I've got a lot more to go."

The loss was another big setback for a U.S. team that started
the Olympics winning six of the first seven fights before losing
six of their last eight. With just two fighters left, the team
faces the real possibility of winning no medals for the first time
ever in the Olympics.

Already, it's the worst performance of an American team since
1948, and the two remaining fighters, middleweight Andre Dirrell
and light heavyweight Andre Ward, both face difficult quarterfinal
opponents in a two-time Russian world champion and a Cuban.

"We may make history the opposite way we wanted to make
history," Abdullah said. "Right now we're on the brink of not
taking any medals here."

Cuba won't have that problem. Three more Cubans advanced to the
semifinals Monday, giving them six boxers already assured of medals
with three more still to fight.

Russia also is having a strong tournament, and reigning super
heavyweight world champion Alexander Povetkin moved into the
semifinal round with a 31-15 win over Mukhtarkhan Dildabekov of
Kazakhstan.

Estrada needed to only win two fights to get in the medal
rounds, and looked good in winning his opening bout against an
outmatched opponent from Tonga, who reportedly had only five fights
in his career.

But he weighed 262 pounds to the 228 he weighed when he beat
Nunez to win the Pan Am gold and there was flab around his belly
and little speed in his hands against the Cuban.

Like many of his teammates before him, Estrada fell behind
early, and was trailing 7-1 after the first round. In a tournament
where hardly any boxers have come from behind with the computerized
scoring system, his only chance was to go after Nunez and make it a
fight.

Estrada chose not to, though, and never gave himself a chance to
win.

"He tried to make me come to him, but I just tried to stay with
my game plan," Estrada said. "There was no point to me chasing
him."

Estrada complained that some of his punches weren't scored, a
complaint echoed by some boxers who face countries like Cuba that
they believe the judges favor. But Estrada was clearly outclassed
by the Cuban, who piled up points early with straight punches and
then used movement to stay away and protect the lead.

Estrada and most of his teammates plan to go pro, and there was
one pro boxing agent wearing a T-shirt with Estrada's picture on it
at the boxing venue.

"These things happen," Estrada said. "It's just the end of
this book and I'll have to bring a new book out."

Abdullah was not so gracious after watching another one of his
fighters refuse to adapt to the amateur style and give a
halfhearted effort.

"When you've got somebody offering you a pro contract, that
blinds you from representing your country and taking pride in it,"
Abdullah said. "Think about it, you're taking a kid out of the
ghetto and offering him 'X' millions of dollars (instead of) the
pride of representing the United States? Come on."