The session was an indifferent one, without the electricity that
boxing sometimes provides. There was controversy over the
computerized scoring system, which had denied U.S. featherweight
Floyd Mayweather a gold medal the day before and which now
denied Cuban welterweight Juan Hernandez another. But this was
as usual. And there was another Felix Savon walkover as the
Cuban heavyweight scored a 20-2 decision in his gold medal
match. As usual also.
Good crowds aside, it seemed a deflating experience. Of the U.S.
team's cocky bunch of boxers, only bashful David Reid remained
alive to provide a jolt of excitement (he would win gold the
next day by a knockout). The others had been tripped up in their
own arrogance (you unveil your gold medal T-shirts after you
win, not before) or by the ever-mysterious judging.
There were no rising stars. Savon, a five-time world champion
and now a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has remained steadfast
in his loyalty to Cuba and amateurism. He will never be another
Ali; he will never star outside the Olympics. Maybe nobody will.
Used to be these tournaments were launching pads for startling
pro careers. This is where America discovered Sugar Ray Leonard
and Oscar de la Hoya. But not even the promoters who lurked
about the arena could agree on a sure prospect. And what
launching pad? NBC refused to show boxing in prime time.
It's a reflection of amateur boxing, or perhaps our taste for
novelty, that the most talked-about performer was a super
heavyweight named Paea Wolfgram. A 26-year-old from Tonga,
Wolfgram weighs in at 309 pounds, punches hard, moves fast and
serves up quotes. The Tongan, as he is called, said that King
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV had phoned to congratulate him on clinching
his country's first Olympic medal. "I was eating a hamburger at
the time," Wolfgram recalled, "and said, 'Tell the king I say
No doubt promoter Bob Arum--who has made money, by George, with
big boys before--is already drooling at the prospect of a bout
between the Tongan and the 330-pound giant of the pay-per-view
Toughman fights: Sweet Paea vs. Butterbean. But if that's the
legacy of these Olympics, it will be a sad coda to an event that
used to be a main dish at the Games, not the vegetable serving
everybody pushes to the side of his plate.