Cuba’s Odlanier Solis strongly suggested he would be the successor to the great Felix Savon when he stopped Syria’s Naser Al Shami on Friday to reach the heavyweight final of the Olympic tournament.
His country’s top fighter in the showcase class since Savon retired after winning his third Olympic title four years ago in Sydney, Solis proved far too fast and clever for his opponent.
The hard-hitting Syrian, who had impressed on his way to the last four, received a standing count of eight in the first round and was being outclassed when the referee ended the contest with 31 seconds remaining in the third round.
Solis, who had cleared the biggest hurdle in the first round by beating his main rival, Russian Alexander Alekseev, will take on Viktar Zuyev of Belarus in the final.
Zuyev progressed without throwing a punch as his scheduled semi-final opponent, Egypt’s Mohamed Elsayed, failed the pre-fight medical examination because of an arm injury.
Cuba, who already have three boxers in the weekend finals and five more eager to follow in later action, are trying to better their tally of four golds from each of the last two games.
Their Americans rivals are desperate for just one title after leaving Sydney without any, but now face a struggle.
Their chances of winning gold in Athens suffered a heavy blow when middleweight Andre Dirrell lost a 23-18 decision to world champion Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan after a fierce contest.
Dirrell’s semi-final exit means the Americans’ hopes now rest solely on light-heavyweight Andre Ward, who will be in action later on Friday.
“We lost points before we stepped into the ring if you ask me,” said assistant U.S. coach Anthony Bradley, hinting the judging had not been fair.
Dirrell, however, did not complain about the verdict.
“I accept the bronze and will take it back to the United States with pride,” he said. “He (Golovkin) fought smartly and I can’t take anything away from him.”
The first Cuban to step into the ring on Friday was flyweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, whose swift footwork and hand speed gave him a stylish 20-11 win over Rustamhodza Rahimov of Germany and earned him the right to challenge France’s Jerome Thomas in the gold medal contest.
“I’ve never faced a Cuban in a senior event but they have two arms and two legs like everybody else,” said Thomas, who was made to work by Azerbaijan’s Fuad Aslanov for a 23-18 win.
Light-welterweight Yudel Johnson then gave Cuba more to celebrate with a 13-9 decision over Bulgarian Boris Georgiev, who was counted out in the third round after being floored by a fierce right hook.