LONDON Top seeded Cuban bantamweight Lazaro Alvarez Estrada beat future U.S. professional fighter Joseph Diaz Jr. on Wednesday to advance to the quarter-finals in the best fight of the Games so far.
The 21-year-old world amateur champion, possessing one of the longest reaches in the 56 kg division, overcame the American teenager 21-15 in a fight that could have been for Olympic gold had they been in opposite sides of the draw.
Diaz Jr., who told Reuters this week that he would turn pro after the Games so he could buy a new house for his unemployed parents, had the Cuban shaken in the first round and justifiably counted himself unlucky to be 4 points behind going into the last.
Estrada, who also beat Diaz Jr. on his way to his first world title last year, was able to pick off the American on enough occasions to convince the judges and his rapid fire combinations will have the rest of the draw worried.
"I felt a lot of pressure, whilst I am the number one seed this is also my first Olympics Games. There is a lot of expectations on me," Estrada told reporters through a translator.
"It was a lot of pressure because there is so many things riding on it and it is something I feel I want to do for my country."
Diaz Jr., who plans to enter professional boxing at super-bantamweight level, said he hoped the Cuban would go on to win the gold, an achievement that eluded the whole of the boxing mad nation four years ago.
After his parents sold t-shirts and washed cars to raise enough money to travel to London with their son, Diaz Jr. was looking forward to have some family time and not having to watch his weight so assiduously.
"We're probably going to have a bit of a vacation now, go out for dinner. Finally I get to eat me some french fries and cheesecakes which I haven't had for a long time," he said.
Estrada next faces Robenilson Vieira de Jesus on Sunday after the Brazilian narrowly beat Russia's Sergey Vodopiyanov 13-11. The winner of their fight will be guaranteed a spot on the medals podium.
Twice a bronze-medalist at the World amateur championships, the only Irish fighter to do so, John Joe Nevin also advanced to the quarter-finals, beating Kanat Abutalipov of Kazakhstan 15-10 in the cagiest fight of the session.
Nevin, a member of Ireland's travelling community, will square up against Oscar Fierro Valdez on Sunday after the Mexican upset fourth-seeded world amateur championship bronze medalist Anvar Yunusov of Tajikistan in a 13-7 win.
Nevin was under no illusion of what will happen if he is not on his game.
"On a good performance I can go all the way. On a bad performance, anyone can beat me," the Irishman said.
(Editing by Alison Williams)