LONDON – The U.S. Olympic boxing team realized it faced a brutal slate of matchups Wednesday, taking on a Cuban world champion and two hulking Russian heavyweights.
None of the three Americans could beat the odds to advance in London.
Top-seeded bantamweight Lazaro Alvarez of Cuba beat Joseph Diaz Jr. 21-15, and U.S. heavyweight Michael Hunter tired badly in the third round of a narrow loss to Russia's Artur Beterbiev.
Super heavyweight Dominic Breazeale then fell far behind early in a 19-8 loss to Russia's Magomed Omarov. The defeats abruptly reduced the American men's team to four boxers after beginning the Olympics with four straight victories last weekend at ExCel arena.
"It's tough, but we knew what we were facing," U.S. coach Basheer Abdullah said. "We had some really tough draws. (Diaz) is one of the best guys at his weight, but when we're competing against a world champion, you've got to box above them. I'm still proud of his effort."
Diaz appeared to be among the top talents in the bantamweight division, but drew a second-round matchup with perhaps the best boxer on the traditionally powerful Cuban team. Although Diaz injected his usual aggression and excitement into the bout, Alvarez used his experience in the amateur style to pepper Diaz with the counterpunches that rack up points quickly.
"I knew I had a really tough fight, but I gave everybody the show they wanted to see," Diaz said. "I thought the scoring should have been a little closer, but he's a good boxer."
Diaz won over the mostly British crowd, but didn't argue when Alvarez won the fight -- even if the decision left his coaches fuming.
"Robbery -- put it in there," U.S. assistant coach Anthony Chase said.
Hunter got off to a strong start against Beterbiev, the 2009 world champion, picking at the Russian with the jab and taking an 8-7 lead into the final round. But Hunter struggled mightily in the final three minutes, getting a bloody nose and repeatedly holding Beterbiev instead of sticking with his game plan.
The final score was 10-10, but Beterbiev won on the amateur boxing tiebreaker in which all five ringside judges vote for a winner.
"He was the better man today," said Hunter, who is fighting a cold as well. "He deserved it. ... My legs got fatigued really fast, and I wasn't able to stay on the outside like I wanted to. My foot placement wasn't there. I wasn't able to turn like I should have been."
Hunter was the U.S. team's super heavyweight four years ago, but didn't qualify for the Olympics after contracting food poisoning shortly before a key bout. He stayed in the amateur ranks and moved down to heavyweight, determined to honor the legacy of his late father, a professional heavyweight himself.
"It's hurting me right now to know that I finally got here and failed real early in this tournament," Hunter said.
Breazeale, a former quarterback at Northern Colorado, only took up boxing about three years ago at All-American Heavyweights, the gym in Carson, Calif., dedicated to producing heavyweight champions. But he never found a groove against Omarov, who won the first round 5-0 after Breazeale was assessed an early standing-eight count.
"Playing the catch-up game is tough at this level," Breazeale said. "I'm learning, definitely, from this experience. The trainers did a great job. Every time I came back to the corner, they said, 'Stick to the game plan.' It's my fault, not sticking to the game plan. In the middle of a bout, you can't second-guess yourself."
Diaz, Hunter and Breazeale all said they're leaning toward turning pro in the fall.
U.S. basketball star Carmelo Anthony and British boxer Amir Khan, a silver medalist in Athens, attended a lively card of afternoon fights.
Alvarez advanced to face Robenilson Vieira of Brazil, who knocked off former world champion Sergey Vodopyanov of Russia, 13-11. Another bantamweight quarterfinal matchup Sunday will feature John Joe Nevin, who kept Ireland unbeaten with a 15-10 win, and Mexico's Oscar Valdez, who upset fourth-seeded Anvar Yunusov of Tajikistan.
Roberto Cammarelle of Italy, the Beijing gold medalist at super heavyweight, opened his defense with an 18-10 victory over Ecuador's Ytalo Perea. World champion super heavyweight Magomedrasul Medzhidov of Azerbaijan stopped his overmatched opponent in the second round.