By Alan Baldwin
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Highly-rated U.S. bantamweight Shakur Stevenson was given a walkover to an Olympic boxing final with Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez on Thursday after Russian opponent Vladimir Nikitin withdrew due to injury.
Nikitin was involved in the most controversial bout of the Games so far when he beat Ireland’s world champion Michael Conlan on Tuesday in a quarter-final that triggered a storm over the new scoring system.
The withdrawal did not surprise the U.S. camp, with coach Billy Walsh quoted on Wednesday evening as saying the Russian’s face was “a mess” from cuts sustained during the Conlan fight and two tough bouts before that.
Associate U.S. men’s team coach Kay Koroma told reporters that they still had to plan on Thursday for the unlikely possibility of the Russian, who gets a bronze medal for his pains, turning up.
“I don’t know how much we would have got out of the Russian because he’s kind of beat-up a little bit,” he said.
“There were rumors about it,” he said. “But we stayed focused, we worked on the game plan, got there this morning and everybody was shaking his (Stevenson’s) hand and saying ‘congratulations, you move on to the next round’.
“And we were like ‘hold on’. And then we looked at the paper and saw his (Nikitin’s) name scratched out. He (Stevenson) wanted to fight but then he’s like, ‘man, I’m going to the finals and this is what I wanted’.”
Ramirez, a southpaw who won gold at London 2012 in the flyweight category, beat Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev 3-0 for another shot at gold.
Stevenson has already caught the eye of visiting former professional world champion Floyd Mayweather, who is in Rio to seek out talent to promote and has apparently signed up the 19-year-old Newark, New Jersey-born boxer.
“I came all the way to Brazil to support the athletes of the United States, but while enjoying the events I had one goal in mind and that was to extend a warm welcome to Shakur Stevenson into The Money Team family,” he said on Twitter, referring to his promotion company.
The middleweight final will be fought between Cuba’s Arlen Lopez and Uzbekistan’s Bektemir Melikuziev.
Mexico’s Misael Rodriguez and Azerbaijan’s Kamran Shakhsuvarly get the bronze medals.
(Editing by Nina Chestney)