It was the nadir of American heavyweight boxing. It was the end point that had been feared for a generation. Five years later, it is still a source of puzzle and perplexity.
At the 2016 Olympics, the United States did not nominate any boxers in the light, heavy or super heavyweight divisions. A lineage that included Muhammad Ali was not only oppressed, it was worse than that. It was totally forgotten.
Resurrecting Olympic power at a milestone event is Richard Torrez’s task. So no pressure. He’s an incredibly cool, purpose-built athlete who wouldn’t look out of place in an American teen drama – “it’s just another day in the ring for me,” he smiles.
The sobering crash of the US heavyweight scene at Rio 2016 was anticipated but not prevented.
Gone are the days when Ali (then Cassius Clay), Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Leon Spinks won gold; Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Antonio Tarver add medals in the biggest weight divisions.
Andre Ward won gold in 2004 as a light heavyweight, but the best big men the United States could muster were Devin Vargas and Jason Estrada. That number fell to just one in 2008 – Deontay Wilder, who won bronze.
In 2012, Dominic Breazeale, Michael Hunter and Marcus Browne all crashed in the first round, resulting in the total absence of American heavyweights four years later for the first time in nine Games.
Audley Harrison, the 2000 UK super-heavyweight gold medalist who paved the way for Anthony Joshua and co, has insisted that would-be American boxers have their heads turned to other lucrative careers.
“They just use the talent in other sports,” Harrison said at the time. “If you are the parents of one of these talented kids, they can’t get scholarship in boxing. You can in basketball, American football, soccer and more, so what are you going to them? to say?
“Why are you going to go through boxing when you’re not winning anything?”
Enter Richard Torrez.
Maybe it would still take a super heavyweight who has boxing in his blood to bring about a makeshift recovery. He does not believe in fate but says: “If there is a fate, then it is mine.
Torrez acknowledges that potential boxers have instead chosen to become NFL or NBA players, but he tells Tokyo Sky Sports: “I feel like boxing is his own niche. If a guy wants to go in football? That’s great. But you’ll always have that one guy who wants to fight.
“You will always have this guy who wants to bite into his mouthpiece and punch.
“So that’s not a major problem. Yeah, it might get some of the guys out. But the grown ups know what they want to do with their lives – they want to be a boxer.”
Defiantly, he says, “Whether it’s American football or basketball, I don’t know where the big guys are. But they’re coming back big.
“We had some great heavyweights and I consider myself to be the best.
“We are going to shock the nation over the next two years.
“The big guys are here to stay.”
Torrez is 21 years old. He graduated from high school as a valedictorian (an honor bestowed on the top student in college), was a member of his school’s robotics and chess clubs, and he enjoys magic tricks.
He may not be an American heavyweight in Mike Tyson’s mold, but he has real pedigree in a sport he was ready to dominate before he was born.
“My grandfather wanted it to happen, my father wanted it to happen,” he says. “It’s something I’ve built my whole life.
“My grandfather started boxing when he was a kid. His uncle came back from the Air Force and gave my grandfather gloves. Grandpa went around town trying to box all the way. world !
“Then people started coming to him and he opened a gym in his shed.
“My dad got into boxing because my grandfather told him, ‘If you come, you’ll have McDonald’s afterwards!’
“He stayed with that and became fourth and fifth in the world in two amateur weight classes. He’s the person I admire the most.
“The first time I got in the ring? I was four. The first time I fought? I was eight. The first time I won national championships? I was 10 years old. .
“I haven’t lost to the United States in the past eight years. I’ve been on the elite national team for four years.
“My dad was on my grandfather’s shoulders. And I was on my dad’s shoulders. It’s a very nice view from here, you know?”
Torrez is from a small farming town in the San Joaquin Valley, California. He won 10 national championships, a Golden Gloves title and a bronze medal at the Pan American Games. His amateur record before the Olympics is indicative of 151 wins and 10 losses.
He notably defeated Jared Anderson, currently a pro billed as one of the most dangerous emerging prospects in the world.
Last year, when Torrez’s dream for Tokyo 2020 was interrupted, he heard from Andre Ward, the 2004 gold medalist who retired as an undefeated pro as the best boxer on the planet.
“He told us to take the time during the pandemic to sulk or to heal,” Torrez said.
Despite the shortage of young emerging talent that Torrez aims to revitalize, the pro heavyweight scene has been booming since 2016 with Americans Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr in the thick of the madness.
“I’m keeping an eye on it,” Torrez said. “The Olympics are my dream and my goal. I would run around the playing field pretending to be the Olympic champion, not the WBC champion.
“I plan to go pro to get the most out of what I have.”
These Olympic Games will allow professional boxers to enter, a subject of division among the athletes themselves.
“It doesn’t suit me,” Frazer Clarke, the GB team’s super heavyweight, told Sky Sports. “I don’t know what that will mean for the next Olympics.”
But Torrez disagrees and says, “I want to be the best in the world. Not an amateur, not a pro. I want to be the best.
“If that means there will be pros at the Olympics, more power for them.
“I mean I won the Olympics, not just the amateur Olympics.
“I’m all for them to fight because I want to fight the best.”
Uzbekistan Bakhodir Jalolov took advantage of this rule to win eight professional fights by knockout and now comes back as a serious threat to the Olympic gold medal.
In 2019, he delivered Torrez’s only knockout loss.
But the switch between amateur and professional boxing hasn’t worked for Australia’s Justis Huni, who has won five professional fights in the past year but suffered a hand injury in his last outing which l ‘excluded from the Olympics.
“It’s always a gamble, especially in the heavyweight division where a punch can change everything,” shrugs Torrez who has never been tempted by an early transition to pro play.
“We hit hard, we take hard hits and injuries happen more in the super heavyweight division than in any other.
“You have to weigh the risk and the reward.
“Some people need the money, some want to sit on their knocks more than they do with amateurs.”
Amateur boxing may be a small community, but Torrez has yet to share a ring with Frazer Clarke, his Team GB counterpart.
“He’s a great guy, I’ve been to a lot of camps with him, we’ve had some really good sparring sessions,” said the American.
“He’s a guy as well as a boxer. He has exceptional skills and he’s a great guy.
“He will be a really good competitor if we meet.
“I study him, I watch a movie of him, when we practice, I watch the video in return.
“I have learned over the years, being in the elite international pool, to sit down with the coaches to study the opponents.
“I never used to do that because when I looked at people they fought differently than when they fought me.
“I look for critiques in their boxing. I offer game plans and solutions.”
The success in Tokyo for Torrez would be extremely substantial; not since Tyrell Biggs in 1984 has the United States won a super-heavyweight gold medal.
A young man with gold around his neck who could walk and talk, like Torrez would become a precious commodity overnight. But this trip is not a silver bullet, it has been part of his lineage since his grandfather received a pair of old crispy gloves.
“You don’t have to be born a boxer to be a great,” he says. “I was lucky my dad and grandpa were boxers so it was a generational thing.
“My life was fixed.
“It gives me an advantage.”