IT'S a tough road ahead for Philippine boxers Charly Suarez and Rogen Ladon, definitely not one paved in gold, when they start their campaign in the amateur boxing competition of the 2016 Rio Olympics with noticeable changes and familiar roadblocks along the way.
For starters, a number of pro boxers are actually taking part in the Games despite the fear of many that the lives of young, inexperienced pugs will be at risk when they square off against seasoned boxers.
The lightweight class will have former International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (17-1, 5 knockouts as a pro) representing Thailand. Ruenroeng actually has Olympic experience, as a light flyweight in the 2008 Beijing Games, but went only as far as the quarterfinals.
In the light heavyweight (81 kg) division, super middleweight contender Hassan N’Dam (34-2, 20 knockouts), a two-time world middleweight title challenger, is representing Cameroon. The 32-year-old N’Dam was also a quarterfinalist in the 2004 Athens Games.
Aside from having pro contenders in the ring, Rio Olympian male boxers will also fight without headgears after the International Boxing Association (Aiba) convinced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that wearing the equipment actually causes concussions.
Another first in tournament’s history is the use of the ‘10-point must’ scoring system commonly applied in pro boxing. This means that the boxer who wins the round must be given 10 points, while the other side may be given anywhere between 6 to 9 points depending on how close the round was.
Amid all the changes, one thing remains constant: the Olympic boxing team from Cuba remains the favorite to dominate the competition. Cuba has claimed a total of 67 Olympic boxing medals, 34 of them gold. Along the way, the country has produced legends in the Olympic ring, like Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon.
There are 10 weight categories in the men’s Olympic boxing and for each weight class there is a representative from Cuba. The Philippines is represented by lightweight (60 kg.) Charly Suarez and light flyweight (49 kg.) Rogen Ladon and both could end up rubbing mitts with a Cuban fighter.
Ladon, 22, is competing in the same weight class where Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco pocketed a silver medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the last recorded medal of the Philippines in the Games. Ladon is ranked No. 3 in the light flyweight class by Aiba.
Who is ranked No. 1? You guessed it right, Cuban Joahnys Argilagos Perez. At 19, Perez is the youngest member of Cuba’s Olympic boxing team. He was barely 15 when he topped the Aiba Junior World Amateur Championships in 2013.
“My goal is to be in the final and make the top of the podium,” said Perez, who also won a gold medal at the AMBC American Confederation Boxing Championships last year, beating US’ Nico Hernandez in the semifinals.
The hard-hitting Hernandez,a kid who owns a devastating left hook, is also competing as a light flyweight in Rio.
Outside Perez, Ladon’s toughest competition also includes Russia’s Vassily Yegorov, ranked No. 2 and gold medalist in the 2015 European championships. In the 2015 World Amateur Championships, the 24-year-old Yegorov settled for the silver after losing to Perez.
Suarez, 27, is arguably making his farewell appearance as an amateur boxer. Suarez earned a ticket to Rio in impressive fashion, stopping Chinese Shan Jun in the 2016 Asia and Oceania Boxing Olympic qualifying tournament. Suarez is ranked No. 14 in the lightweight class, with another Cuban topping the rankings in Lazaro Alvarez.
The 25-year-old Alvarez is a slick southpaw who won a bronze medal while competing as a bantamweight in the 2012 London Games. Alvarez has since moved up to the lightweight class where he now reigns supreme. Alvarez collared gold medals in the 2011, 2013, and 2015 World Amateur Championships.
Other fighters to watch in the lightweight class are former world champ Ruenroeng and Great Britain’s Joseph Cordina, a 5-foot-9, 24-year-old pug who won a gold medal in the 2015 European Championships.
In the case of Ruenroeng, it’s his reputation as an ex-world champ that stands out, but in terms of style the Thai is really nothing but a hit-and-run fighter. Ruenroeng is actually looked upon as a lucky entrant; he was knocked out in the second round by Mexican amateur fighter Lindolfo Delgado and only qualified for Rio because he was able to go deep enough in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
The men’s boxing competition will follow a straight knockout format, with three judges deciding the winner of each bout. The losing fighters in the semifinals will both be rewarded with bronze medals.