US boxer Nico Hernandez scores big upset of Russian star
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Nico Hernandez realized the enormous odds he faced when he stepped in the ring with Russia's Vasilii Egorov, the second-seeded light flyweight in the Olympic boxing tournament.
Those odds were nothing that a fighter from Wichita couldn't overcome with a little help from an Irish coach.
Hernandez pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the Olympics' first three days on Monday night with a unanimous decision over Egorov, the European champion and runner-up at last year's world championships.
''I knew he was one of the top seeds, and I knew I wasn't expected to win,'' said Hernandez, a 20-year-old former cross-country runner who trains back home in Kansas with his father, Lewis. ''It feels great. This is definitely a booster for me, for my confidence. I knew I could do it. I just had to be on my top game tonight.''
Hernandez flawlessly executed a game plan put together by veteran amateur coach Billy Walsh, who has been in charge of the U.S. program since late last year. Walsh predicted Egorov would throw a high volume of wild punches, and he instructed Hernandez to block the big shots before countering with his own combinations and body shots.
For almost every moment of the three-round fight, Hernandez did what Walsh asked. He slowed in the third round against Egorov's increasingly desperate onslaught, but still won 29-28 on all three cards.
''You can have all the skills or all the plans in the world, but if this guy doesn't implement it, it looks like a disaster,'' Walsh said. ''Today and in his first fight, Nico followed all of the plans, and he was brilliant. He got the rewards, and now we're in the top eight.''
Hernandez has won two fights in the first three days of the Olympic tournament, putting him one win away from a medal. He fights Ecuador's Carlos Quipo on Wednesday, with the winner guaranteed at least a bronze.
That's remarkable progress for a fighter who wasn't among most prognosticators' medal picks - and for a team that was widely expected to struggle again in Rio after the U.S. men left London with no medals for the first time.
But Hernandez has been steadily improving in the year since he lost in the first round of the world championships in Qatar to Brendan Irvine, the Irish boxer who was then coached by Walsh.
''We devised a plan to beat him then, but when we came in (to the U.S. team), very quickly he learned and adapted,'' Walsh said. ''We've built a relationship, and we've got confidence in each other.''