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U.S. Ends Cuba's 20-Year Reign

Boxing: Mayweather holds off Aragon to become first American to beat a Cuban in the Olympics since 1976.


ATLANTA — A cavalier, cocksure featherweight with heavy hands and a brazen smile ended a 20-year era of Cuban invincibility Wednesday night.

Did it take someone who didn't care that he was making history to actually do it?

Floyd Mayweather could not freeze the moment Wednesday against Lorenzo Aragon, mostly because he doesn't measure himself against anything but himself.

"If he would've beat me, it would've been a real big deal, because I was picked to win," Mayweather said, with only a tiny smile.

Mayweather did not do it easily, comfortably or without barely fending off Aragon's desperate final flurry that turned a late five-point Mayweather lead into the 12-11 final score.

But, when it was over, Mayweather hung on to become the first American to beat a Cuban in the Olympics since 1976.

"I don't care what anybody says, this means a lot to us," said American assistant coach Jesse Ravelo, also a Cuban defector. "It means the intimidation is over."

Moments after the decision was announced, Mayweather, who was not even born the last time an American beat a Cuban in the Olympics, jogged over to tap hands with legendary Cuban Coach Alcides Sagarra, who could only shrug and acknowledge that the reign was over.

But, with the attitude that has carried Mayweather through the incarceration of his father, Floyd Sr., and into the medal rounds of the Olympics, the 19-year-old shrugged off the impact of his victory.

"This is not the end. That wasn't the gold-medal fight," said Mayweather, whose semifinal opponent is Bulgarian Serafim Todorov. "I still have to fight the reigning world champion.

"I hope it motivates my teammates, shows them you've got to dig down if you want that gold."

Mayweather, of Grand Rapids, Mich., became the U.S. team's sixth fighter in the medal round. That's twice as many as the American had in the 1992 Barcelona Games and only one fewer than Cuba's seven.

In earlier quarterfinal action Wednesday, American light-middleweight David Reid beat Mohamed Salah Marmouri of Tunisia, and light-heavyweight gold-medal favorite Antonio Tarver stopped Enrique Flores of Puerto Rico at 1:54 of the third round.

But, it was Mayweather versus Aragon, U.S. versus Cuba, that was the signature bout of the day. Either way, American victory or American loss, it was going to set the tone for today's semifinals.

Flyweight Eric Morel and bantamweight Zahir Raheem had already lost to Cubans.

Because of Sagarra's grinding system, some choking by American fighters--the talented 1992 team went 0-4 against Cuba--and the Olympic boycotts, the last U.S. fighter to beat a Cuban in the Olympics was light-heavyweight Leon Spinks over Sixto Soria the 1976 Montreal Games.

Before and during the bout, Sagarra and the Cubans executed their familiar intimidation tactics--loud noises emanating from their locker room, screams on the march out, threats of throwing in the towel if Aragon did not fight harder.

And the much taller Aragon successfully frustrated the 5-foot-7 Mayweather with aggressive holding, as Mayweather tried to fight inside.

"I'm not anybody who's going to be intimidated," said Mayweather, who bounced back from a quick 0-3 deficit to stay within one point after the first round.

"Nobody's better than anybody else. We talked about this in the dressing room, me and Jesse: What makes the Cuban fighters better than Americans? They have two arms and I have two arms. Everything is equal. Ain't nothing they can do that I can't do."

Mayweather's heavy overhand right and quick left hook dominated the second round--he outscored Aragon, 6-2 in the round--and two more scoring shots gave him a 12-7 lead with 1:20 left to fight.

After he was told he had a five-point lead in the third, Mayweather sounded legitimately shocked that U.S. Coach Al Mitchell didn't instruct him to start running to preserve the lead.

"I didn't even know that," Mayweather said. "If I was up, 12-7, Al Mitchell, why didn't you tell me to run?"

As Mayweather tired, Aragon surged, catching Mayweather with long rights and lefts as the clock ticked down. Aragon appeared to have tied the score with a big left to Mayweather's head in the final seconds, but the score never registered.

What's the immediate effect of the victory?

Today, soft-spoken middleweight Rhoshii Wells, who typifies the sort of American fighter who could have been intimidated in the past, fights Cuban star Ariel Hernandez.

"It's going to mean a lot to the team," Ravelo said. "It's going to get them pumped up. Next for us, Rhoshii Wells has a tough one with Ariel. And this is going to help Rhoshii a lot. He can mentally prepare knowing that he can win too."

For Tarver, the second consecutive stoppage was a sign that he thinks he is ready to assert his dominance in the division.

After another slow start, Tarver dominated Flores, tearing out to a 13-2 lead at the end of the second. When he came back to the American corner, Mitchell told him he was only two points ahead and to keep his head from wandering.

"It's magic in the ring right now," Tarver said. "I can feel the crowd, and I'm not holding back."

Reid also built a big lead through the second round--with the help of a late-hit foul on Marmouri--but had to endure a standing-eight count in the third when Marmouri landed a solid left hook with Reid ahead, 11-8.

"The guy caught me with a good shot, but I don't think it was an eight-count," Reid said. "I just got right back into my game plan."

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