American boxer Joseph Diaz Jr., right, throws a right during his preliminary… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
LONDON — Remember all that giddy talk about the huge strides U.S. boxing had made by winning its first four bouts at these Olympics?
Because the last five Americans to enter the London ring have left as losers, with bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr., heavyweight Michael Hunter II and super-heavyweight Dominic Breazeale all falling like dominoes Wednesday in the round of 16.
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That leaves the U.S. careening toward another disastrous Olympic performance after winning only one bronze medal in Beijing four years ago. Once the world's dominant boxing nation, the U.S. has won only one gold since 1996 and only three medals since 2000.
"We've got to go back to the drawing board and stop the bleeding," assistant coach Charles Leverette said. "And we've got to do it fast. We'll go back, regroup, light a fire up under these kids again. And we'll be back."
The U.S. brought nine men to London, the second-largest team in the competition. Now only four are left: lightweight Jose Ramirez and middleweight Terrell Gausha, who fight second-round bouts Thursday; and flyweight Rau'shee Warren and welterweight Errol Spence, who compete Friday.
"I'm comfortable with believing in the athletes that we still have in there," Leverette said. "We still have one unified team. We're just as unified now as we were when we were 4-0."
But that team hasn't been unified long, with six fighters qualifying for the Games less than three months ago. And the coaching staff wasn't in place until late June, when Basheer Abdullah, the national team coach in Athens in 2004, was put in charge. He hasn't been cleared by boxing's world governing body to work the corners here, however, so that task has fallen to Leverette and the other assistants.
"That was unfortunate," Leverette said. "But it didn't deter us. It didn't stop the kids from pulling together from the time that we had them."
Lately they've been falling apart in the ring, though, losing Wednesday to a Cuban world champion and two hulking Russian heavyweights.
Diaz, a teenager from South El Monte, was first up and although he fought courageously against Lazaro Alvarez, the Cuban's slick counterpunching won over the judges, who rewarded him with a 21-15 victory.
"Unfortunately, God's plan wasn't for me to get a gold medal," said Diaz, who will now turn pro. "He's very long, so it's hard to get in on him. Once you get in, he puts his whole body weight on you. He's really smart and he's a really great fighter. I hope he gets the gold medal."
Hunter, considered a medal hopeful going into the Games, fought a sloppy bout with Artur Beterbiev that featured so much holding it looked more like an episode of "Dancing With the Stars."
Still, Hunter led the former world champion going into a final round that ended with the score tied, 10-10, and Hunter bleeding from the nose. Beterbiev was given the decision on countback, in which a winner is determined by tallying the scores from all five judges.
"He was the better man today. And he deserved it," said Hunter, of Las Vegas. "It's very disappointing. I always had a promise that I'd win a gold medal. I haven't fulfilled that."
Yet, if Hunter's fight was sloppy, Breazeale's was downright ugly, with Russian Magomed Omarov pounding him from the opening bell to the final bell, which sounded with Greek referee Nikolaos Poutachidis giving the former college quarterback from Alhambra his second standing-eight count of the bout.
"We're rebuilding," Leverette said. "We'll get this blueprint together, get this foundation down and we're going to go from there."