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All it took was three punches

July 31, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

As precious seconds ticked away in a round of 32 men's middleweight boxing bout on Saturday afternoon between the United States' Terrell Gausha and Armenia's Andranik Hakobyan, I lay lifelessly on my couch, watching the 24-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, duck and dodge rights and lefts from the 30-year-old, two-time Olympian.

Gausha went into the final round of the 75kg match down one point and while he fought admirably in the third round, it appeared the decision was not going to go his way with 30 seconds remaining.

Then, Gausha rocked the chin of Hakobyan with a pair of right jabs, knocking the 6-foot-1 Armenian to the mat.

I was on my feet and soon, Hakobyan was back on his as well.

With 10 seconds left on the clock, Gausha wasted no time connecting a hard left hook that forced the referee to do what he should have done the first time and call the fight just as time expired.

Just like that, I was celebrating as if Aaron Rodgers hit with Greg Jennings on a 60-yard touchdown pass; my dog, Roxie, was hiding in her kennel in fear of my sudden burst of excitement; and Gausha was destined for highlight reels across the globe.

Three punches earned Gausha another fight in London and three punches once again had me hooked on Teddy Atlas and the Olympic boxing coverage.

Boxing was never one of my favorite Olympic sports, not until the summer of 2006 when then Mining Journal Sports Editor Renee Prusi assigned myself and fellow part-time MJ sports reporter Kurt Mensching to the U.S. Junior Olympic National Boxing Championships at the Superior Dome. While the fights were very entertaining - then USOEC head coach Al Mitchell joked so many punches were thrown because the kids were too stupid to defend themselves at 15 and 16 years old - the stories behind the athletes were what made it such an intriguing event.

Kurt did a great feature on the fighters from the Kronk Gym in Detroit and the legendary facilities' ability to help get kids off the streets.

Mitchell, who is serving as the technical adviser right now for Team USA at the London Olympics, introduced us to a Philadelphia kid he wanted to bring to the USOEC. It was probably the young fighter's only shot of getting a college education and Mitchell was off to sweet talk his parents into relocating the kid to the Upper Peninsula.

I had the opportunity one day to feature the young up-and-coming female fighters, who were getting their second shot at Junior Olympic glory. At that time, the London Olympics were only a distant hope after being denied entry to the Beijing games.

The young women were also being denied entry into the USOEC at the time since women's boxing was an Olympic sport, but it still didn't stop many of the young ladies from seeking out Mitchell and begging for a spot.

Their stories, along with those of the fighters from Detroit and Philadelphia, got me emotionally involved in the fights, and the same happened this weekend.

Later in the weekend after seeing highlight after highlight of Gausha landed those three punches, I read a story from the Chicago Tribune on Gausha's impressive victory.

Back in Gausha's hometown of Cleveland, friends and neighbors raised $8,000 to fly the boxer's mother - a daycare worker - and sister to London for the games. They sold T-shirts, held barbecue chicken dinners and accepted donations, according to the story, to pay for the trip.

Gausha's 19-year-old teammate Joseph Diaz Junior, who won his opening bout Saturday, has a similar story. According to an L.A. Times story, his father has been laid off for three years and his mother lost her full-time secretary, though she has some part-time work. The family sold T-shirts and washed cars so they could see their son in London.

After the Olympics, Diaz is set to turn pro, and who can blame him with his family facing eviction from their home.

The pro ranks shouldn't be Diaz's only option, however. USA Boxing needs to get its act together and bring the program back to the USOEC, with a positive influence like Mitchell at the helm.

From its inception in 1987 to is most recent suspension prior to last year, the USOEC boxing program produced three Olympic medalists in 2000 bronze medalists Clarence Vinson and Jermain Taylor and 1996 gold medalist David Reid.

The program also created policemen, auto mechanics and small business owners on top of its Olympians and World Champions.

Those are the rags to riches stories Marquette and the boxing community are missing out on without a USOEC program. For now, I'll take what I can get from the London Games, with the women set to take to the ring on Sunday.

I'm looking forward to seeing my fellow Americans - male and females - ring the bells of their foreign opponents.

I'm also looking forward to hearing their story.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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