Ramirez-Stevenson Olympic final could be boxing classic
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The two most successful nations in Olympic boxing history somehow haven't faced each other with a gold medal on the line in 20 years.
U.S. bantamweight Shakur Stevenson and Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez will end that drought Saturday in a fight that could resonate through boxing for years.
Two of the most spectacular fighters at the Rio Olympics have emerged from a terrifically talented division to face off for gold. Floyd Mayweather isn't the only boxing promoter who will be watching closely when the smooth American and the lyrical Cuban trade punches for the first time - and probably not the last.
''I think it's about to be a great matchup,'' Stevenson said. ''We've got the 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba, great fighter. You've got the up-and-coming rising superstar from the USA, and we're about to put on a show. We're ready to turn this place out.''
After winning gold as a flyweight in London, Ramirez has more experience than the 19-year-old Stevenson. Yet Stevenson has never lost an amateur fight in international competition, soaring from Newark to Rio in a meteoric career.
''He's a good fighter with a lot of good technical skills,'' Ramirez said of Stevenson. ''It's a great matchup for our final fight at the Olympics. He's a guy that likes to fight, and so am I. He's a guy that brings a lot of skill and intelligence to the ring.''
Stevenson is one fight away from winning the first gold medal for an American man since Andre Ward, his favorite boxer, did it 12 years ago. Stevenson and Ward have spoken throughout the tournament.
Stevenson also received advice from Mayweather, who traveled to Rio to watch the top pro prospect on the American team. Mayweather also got a look at Ramirez, who has showed off the skills and athleticism reminiscent of every great boxer of Cuba's illustrious Olympic past.
But Ramirez is part of a new generation: Rather than treating opponents with chilly indifference and ignoring media outside the ring, he is a friendly, self-effacing personality who eagerly gives interviews and expounds on his fights with a personality that suggests he could be popular outside Cuba.
''I'm not feeling pressure so much as I'm really excited,'' said Ramirez, who got suspended from the national team in 2014 for repeatedly missing training. ''I had a low moment, but my family and my teammates all helped me get back up, and I want to get that medal. I need that medal.''
Stevenson will be fresher than Ramirez, who had to fight four times to reach the final. Stevenson got a first-round bye, and he had to win only two fights before he advanced Thursday by walkover when battered Russian bronze medalist Vladimir Nikitin couldn't pass his medical check.
No matter the outcome, Stevenson and Ramirez realize they probably haven't seen the last of each other - if Ramirez eventually elects to turn pro in the West, that is.
When they're told that they could easily be headliners in a Vegas pay-per-view fight in the near future, both fighters dismiss the prospect with a smile.
Ramirez realizes there will be speculation about his interest in turning pro after this matchup, but he has claimed his focus is entirely on winning another gold medal for his girlfriend and their daughter, Renata.
But he also enjoyed his chance to speak with Mayweather about the future beyond this landmark matchup.
''He's the champion of champions,'' Ramirez said with a grin. ''He told me to do my best here. It makes me really proud.''