Andy Cruz Gomez glided across the ring in jubilation, then proceeded to carry out the “floss,” motioning his arms to the back and front of his physique quickly in expression as Keyshawn Davis solemnly exited the ring by means of the ropes.
The sensible boxer from Cuba had simply defeated Davis by way of unanimous resolution, and it wasn’t the primary time he had crushed the American. This September 2019 victory within the gold medal match of the AIBA World Championships in Russia was essentially the most impactful, although. And the three-round combat wasn’t all that shut.
Cruz, a 25-year-old disciple of the vaunted Cuban college of boxing, managed the motion together with his glorious jab and ended the combat by marching Davis right into a nook earlier than unleashing a barrage of pictures.
Davis could not discover Cruz within the ring, even when his foe was pressuring him — Cruz’s elusiveness in tight quarters is a sight to behold. The pair has fought thrice and every time Cruz’s hand has been raised on the finish of the combat.
On Sunday (at 1:15 a.m. ET), they will meet for the ultimate time within the amateurs, and the stakes for these lightweights could not be any increased. An Olympic gold medal is on the road.
Past the non-public stakes for Davis, for whom Olympic gold has lengthy been a dream, it could be the primary gold medal for a U.S. males’s boxer since Andre Ward received in Athens in 2004. Davis is the primary light-weight from the U.S. males’s boxing group to combat for attain the Olympic finals since Oscar De La Hoya, who received that gold medal in 1992 in Barcelona.
“It has been, what, 17 years? … He has the prospect, he has the ability,” De La Hoya mentioned. “It looks as if he is actually focus and decided. It is all about simply preventing arduous to the final second. There isn’t any getting drained, there is not any interested by anything however successful that gold. And he can do it. It could be monumental for USA Boxing and Olympic boxing. So we’re rooting for him 1,000 %.”
Davis is one in every of two American males in gold medal competition after featherweight Duke Ragan settled for silver, dropping a 3-2 resolution to Russia’s Albert Batyrgaziev on Thursday. Tremendous heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr. fights in a gold medal bout of his personal one hour after Davis and Cruz sq. off.
Davis certified for the gold medal combat by defeating Hovhannes Bachkov of Armenia by unanimous resolution on Friday. Coincidentally, Davis beat Bachkov in 2019 to succeed in the AIBA World Championships finals, the place he met Cruz. Within the second semifinal, Cruz received a unanimous resolution of his personal over Harry Garside of Australia.
Davis believed this might be the ultimate earlier than the event started, and now Cruz stands in between him and realizing his dream.
“All people hoping that me and Cruz will probably be within the finals,” Davis mentioned earlier than his first Olympic combat. “All people hoping it is going to be a helluva combat. Final three fights had been helluva fights.”
And Davis definitely will not be missing for motivation.
“I do not actually just like the dude,” Davis, 22, advised ESPN days earlier than the Olympics kicked off. “He walks round with a little bit chip on his shoulder.”
Davis started boxing at 9 after his mom, Wanda, took him and his two brothers, Kelvin and Keon, to Metropolis of Norfolk Gymnasium at Barraud Park in Virginia. Wanda was searching for one other outlet for her three boys to let loose some vitality past soccer and basketball, each seasonal sports activities.
She was bought when she was advised they’d practice 5 days per week, all yr spherical.
Davis was instantly invested, and his work paid off. He prospered for years as an novice, after which crossed paths with a boxing icon in 2016 which took his ardour to a different degree. Keyshawn met Pernell Whitaker, a hall-of-fame boxer and winner of a gold medal on the 1984 Video games in Los Angeles, and carried a major presence within the boxing scene in Norfolk.
“That they had a good relationship,” mentioned Wanda, who added Whitaker would often come to supply Davis pointers throughout sparring classes.
“‘Candy Pea’ at all times used to inform me to make use of my quickness and use my pace,” Davis recalled. “He mentioned I reminded him a number of himself. ‘Do not ever lose that, at all times keep behind that.’ And he was a fan of the jab.”
Whitaker owns top-of-the-line jabs in boxing historical past, a lead hand that led him to world championships in three divisions. Earlier than his large success within the execs, he introduced Olympic gold house to Norfolk. That victory was 15 years earlier than Davis was even born, however the victory over Luis Ortiz is immortalized on YouTube. Keyshawn watched that combat quite a few instances to arrange for his personal gold-medal match he knew was coming all alongside.
Davis seemingly had to surrender his Olympic desires when COVID compelled his hand in turning professional in 2020. However when Olympic qualifiers had been additionally interrupted, three professionals — Davis, Ragan and Troy Isley — were invited to join the team in Tokyo.
In a flash, his Olympic desires had been again on the desk.
The Cuban will probably be favored to win as soon as once more on Sunday. He is regarded spectacular within the Olympics, and is effectively on his strategy to the Val Baker Trophy for essentially the most excellent boxer of the event.
If Cruz hopes a gold medal will probably be a launching pad to a budding professional profession, although, he has apparent obstacles to beat. Cuba does not permit its residents to combat professionally. Former champions like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara defected to the US to pursue skilled careers. The closest expertise Cruz can boast was his time within the semi-pro World Sequence of Boxing, a breeding floor that vaulted boxers like Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk to pound-for-pound stardom.
Cruz constructed an ideal 16-0 file within the WSOB earlier than returning to the amateurs, the place he received two gold medals on the Pan American Video games and one other two on the AIBA World Championships.
However Davis has already turned professional. His debut within the paid ranks got here in a high-profile alternative in February on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez vs. Avni Yildirim. It was a hit by any measure, as Davis earned a second-round TKO victory.
Davis’ subsequent two fights had been additionally on main occasions, with a stoppage victory in April on the Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton card, and a six-round resolution triumph on the undercard of Alvarez-Billy Joe Saunders in Might. He was 3-0 and seemingly on an expert quick observe when he received the decision to affix the Olympic group, and he jumped on the alternative.
Davis believes his three professional fights — and the coaching he is completed for them — would be the distinction in his fourth combat in opposition to Cruz.
“My shot placement is completely different,” Davis mentioned. “I understand how to arrange pictures; know the right way to set traps. I understand how to alter the tempo. With these eight-ounce [gloves], you don’t want to get hit. My protection is rather a lot tighter, sharper. I am on my toes extra; I am beginning to use my ft extra.”
De La Hoya had some perception to supply with regard to how Davis might flip the script after dropping to Cruz of their three earlier conferences.
“Strive one thing completely different. Strive a distinct technique,” mentioned De La Hoya. “Do not attempt to combat the identical combat that you simply fought thrice that you simply got here up brief. Attempt to do the bizarre. Attempt to confuse him. It does not matter the way you look. Nobody is supplying you with factors on how excellent your jab is, or your proper hand.
“Simply throw punches and have that dedication to win. Once I fought within the Olympics I used to be so frightened about how individuals judged me and the way my combos had been trying, however within the Olympics simply throw that out the window. I do not care if I look sloppy, it simply does not matter. Simply do no matter it takes to win.”
The stakes could not be a lot increased, and even earlier than the event started, Davis realized that his lifelong dream of standing atop the rostrum with gold dangling from his neck must undergo Cruz.
“I will beat him like I ought to,” Davis mentioned. “This fourth time goes to be completely different. I discovered a lot from these three fights.”
That is the mark of a fantastic professional fighter — changes. Juan Manuel Marquez fought Manny Pacquiao thrice with no victory. The fourth assembly ended with Pacquiao unconscious, courtesy of a blistering overhand proper from Marquez.
Davis has studied movie in preparation for the person he knew can be standing throughout from him. “I discovered from each one in every of your fights,” Davis mentioned in a message to Cruz. “I’ll by no means cease studying.”
One contest stood out to Davis throughout all that movie examine: a loss Cruz suffered to France’s Sofiane Oumiha in April 2019.
“I lastly understood how he misplaced to the France child,” Davis mentioned, “and I will chew off that type.”
Davis defeated Oumiha in September of that yr, after which, in a prelude to preventing Cruz within the Olympic ultimate, defeated Oumiha in his Spherical of 16 combat on July 31.
Davis scored a stoppage in that rematch, which is spectacular contemplating Oumiha entered the Tokyo Video games because the No. 1 seed. The end got here courtesy of an overhand proper that despatched Oumiha stumbling earlier than the ref determined he could not proceed.
Keyshawn Davis known as his shot 🔮
— ESPN Ringside (@ESPNRingside) July 31, 2021
That form of energy may very well be key in ensuring the fourth assembly will probably be completely different. Scoring a stoppage within the Olympics is not any straightforward feat between the larger gloves (10 ounces fairly than 8) and shorter rounds (three fairly than 10 or 12 on the highest degree). Whatever the outcome, Davis’ novice profession ends on Sunday.
If Cruz and Davis meet once more down the road, they will accomplish that as paid professionals. For now, they combat for excess of cash: nationwide delight, aggressive rivalry and, for Davis, an opportunity to lastly finish that 17-year U.S. males’s boxing gold-medal drought.
“Bringing us professional boxers again on the group, I really feel prefer it was destined for me,” Davis mentioned. “I really feel prefer it’s destined for me to win that gold medal.”