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Cuba’s Julio Cesar La Cruz beat Kazakhstan’s Adilbek Niyazymbetov to be crowned light-heavyweight Olympic boxing champion on 18 August.
Fighting out of the red corner, La Cruz took the first two rounds on every judge’s scorecard but conceded the third as Niyazymbetov made more of an impression. The Cuban knew he had it won, barring a knockout, and relaxed his guard as he saw out the contest to clinch victory.
Cuba has now won a gold medal in all current 12 men’s weight categories in boxing. The gold was Cuba’s first in the ring at the Rio Games and its first medal in this event since 1980.
“I felt less pressure today,” said a delighted La Cruz after his victory. “I know my opponent well and he’s one of the best boxers in the world. Today I enjoyed the battle and you can see the results right now: I have the medal in my hand.
“I’m very happy I got the gold. I’m thankful to my family and all the people who made this possible. I feel that this medal is a payment for the sacrifice and support I got from everyone, especially my mother."
Niyazymbetov, also the silver medallist in London four years ago, had been hoping to become the second Kazakh boxing champion of the tournament after Daniyar Yeleussinov won welterweight gold on Wednesday.
He said he was disappointed to have come so close once again. “I can’t say I’m totally happy because I had a chance to win a gold medal, and although I have a silver I came to win gold. When you’ve won the silver medal for the second time, it can be a bit emotional. I’ve been training for four years, preparing myself for the gold medal and now I've got a silver medal, which is good but it feels more emotional than when I won silver at the London Olympics.”
Niyazymbetov admitted his opponent’s style was difficult to deal with, saying: “Not many boxers fight well on the counter-attack. To do that you have to defend extremely well and be thinking all the time. That’s the unusual thing about fighting Cuban boxers. You have to think really hard and be very fast to beat them.”
France’s Mathieu Bauderlique and Britain’s Joshua Buatsi took bronze medals as losing semi-finalists. Russia’s 2012 light-heavyweight champion Egor Mekhontsev turned professional after the London Games so was not there to defend his title.