It was bizarre--which is to say that it was just another day of
boxing. Victorious U.S. 201-pound boxer Nate Jones was halfway
through his postfight news conference yesterday at Alexander
Memorial Coliseum when his voice trailed off. On a TV to his
right a bout was going on to determine who would face Jones in
tomorrow's semifinal, and Canada's David Defiagbon had just
jackknifed and dropped to the canvas as if his legs had been
yanked from under him. Defiagbon was rolling on the floor,
clawing at his groin with one glove, complaining that he'd been
struck by a low blow from France's Christophe Mendy. At first
Mendy just blinked. Then he backed off and looked at Pakistani
referee Abduk Samad. Then he looked down in disbelief at
This is an article from the July 31, 1996 issue
"That wasn't a low blow," U.S. coach Jesse Ravelo said
derisively, his eyes glued to the same television Jones was
watching. But Defiagbon was still down and writhing, writhing,
writhing, his face contorted in pain.
"Oh, come on," Jones said, wagging his head and stifling a
laugh. Replays showed Mendy had thrown a short right hand that
caught Defiagbon at his beltline, maybe a smidgen low but
certainly not low enough to cause the prolonged thrashing now
going on in the ring for three minutes, four minutes.There was
1:59 left in the third round, and Defiagbon was clinging to a
10-9 lead when he collapsed. "I didn't want to win this way,"
Defiagbon said after the fight. "I wasn't faking it. I felt like
I was hit by electric shock."
"There was no reason for David to put on a show or fake it,"
Canadian coach Yvon Michel insisted. No reason at all, except
that Mendy was the second-ranked heavyweight in the world, the
one fighter given a good chance to end the Olympic reign of
Cuban world champion Felix Savon, who won gold in '92, and Mendy
was gaining on Defiagbon. From the outset of the third round the
Frenchman had been boring in on Defiagbon, stalking him into the
corners, slinging punches that were backing him up. Then that
one marginal blow went flying. And after a doctor examined
Defiagbon in the ring and took the Canadian's word that he
couldn't continue, Mendy was disqualified. The fight was stopped.
"This is sacrilegious. I've sacrificed years of my life for
this," an enraged Mendy said through an interpreter, his eyes
teary after his disqualification. "This is dishonest. Why stop
that fight? Why?"
Unless a protest filed by France's Olympic boxing federation on
behalf of Mendy is judged valid before tomorrow's semifinal
bouts, Jones's chances of reaching the gold medal fight have
greatly increased. Though Defiagbon is more mobile than Mendy,
he's not nearly as polished or as hard-hitting. His arms are
licorice-thin. As commanding as Jones was in his 21-4 victory
over China's Jiang Tao yesterday, even Jones admitted, "It
probably would've meant more to me to beat Mendy. Everyone was
picking him to win the gold medal. I'm not supposed to be here.
A lot of people said I can't punch, that I'm a street kid, that
I'll never amount to anything. I'm trying to prove them wrong."
Jones was one of four Americans fighting in yesterday's
quarterfinal round. At 106 pounds, Albert Guardado of Topeka,
Kans., lost a 19-14 decision to Oleg Kiryukhin of Ukraine. But
southpaw Terrance Cauthen, a lightweight who trains in former
heavyweight champion Joe Frazier's Philadelphia gym, outboxed
Thailand's Veongviact Phongsit 14-10. And 165-pounder Rhoshii
Wells, the beneficiary of some stingy scoring in the second
round, advanced to a semifinal showdown against Cuban great
Ariel Hernandez. Wells and Dilshood Yarbekov of Uzbekistan tied
8-8, but Wells won the bout on a tiebreaker--49 blows landed to
Yarbekov's 45. All three U.S. winners are now assured of no
worse than bronze medals. Three more U.S. boxers go today in the
remaining quarterfinal bouts.
Frazier was ringside to watch Cauthen's bout, and he later held
a news conference ostensibly to praise Cauthen. But when he was
asked what he thought of ACOG's choice of Muhammad Ali as the
person to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies,
Frazier launched into a bitter assessment of his former
archrival, whom he derisively kept referring to as "Cassius" or
"the Butterfly." Alluding to Ali's uncontrolled trembling from
Parkinson's disease, Frazier said, "I was pleased he was able to
get the torch and light it and not fall in." Then he added,
"They could've gotten someone else who would have been able to
make it to the torch. It was a slap in the face to boxing. He
was a draft dodger. He didn't like his white brothers. He hasn't
done much for the sport. I think there are guys who have done
When Frazier was asked if he would have been a better choice, he
shot back, "Why not? I'm a good American." And after tossing a
few more barbs, he was gone. But not before his daughter Jacquie
Frazier-Lyde took the microphone and brazenly plugged Frazier's
autobiography, Smokin' Joe, which was released this spring.
For boxing, it was just another day at the gym.