Vasquez leads Soldiers at U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials
August 10, 2011
MOBILE, Ala. - U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program boxer Sgt. Samuel Vasquez was the last Soldier standing when he climbed into the ring at the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials on Aug. 4 at the Mobile Civic Center.
Vasquez was leading after one round and tied after two, but Amir Imam of Albany, N.Y., unleashed a flurry of combinations midway through the third and final round for a 31-23 victory, eliminating Vasquez from the double-elimination tournament.
“I was doing well until the last round,” said Vasquez, 25, a two-time Armed Forces champion stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. “In that last round, I let my hands down. And when I let my hands down, I get clocked by shots I shouldn’t be taking.
“Once that happened, he broke me a little bit and I kind of fell apart. None of the shots hurt me, but I was counting his points in my mind and that discouraged me. I wanted to keep my hands up and still go forward to catch up, but he just kept scoring.”
Vasquez threw “bunches of punches” and led 9-7 after one round of the 152-pound bout. He stuck to his game plan in the second round and the score was tied going into the third. Then Vasquez reverted to his bulldog style and stepped into several of Imam’s scoring blows.
“In hindsight, I would have been smarter and boxed him more; maybe not allowed him to come in so much and countered his shots,” Vasquez said. “He was careful. He did it perfectly. He watched what I did and waited for me to engage him, and then came right at me. … He was the smarter boxer today. I let my ego get to me, but I’ll be back.”
Army WCAP boxing coach Basheer Abdullah, a three-time U.S. Olympic coach and technical advisor, agreed with Vasquez’s assessment.
“I know he left it in the ring and I know that he can beat any of these guys when he’s performing up to his best,” Abdullah said. “When he performs up to his ability and stays focused and executes the fight plans, then he gives himself a great chance of winning. I think he’s going to learn a lot from this.”
On Wednesday, Vasquez was in complete control during his 18-10 victory over Bryant Perella of Lehigh Acres, Fla.
“He’s in all the national tournaments at the end, like top four, so I knew he was pretty decent,” Vasquez said. “I kept staying in and just boxed.”
Vasquez was encouraged by his 19-10 victory over Golden Gloves reigning national champion Arturo Trujillo of Easton, Pa., on Tuesday.
“I knew he was an aggressive fighter,” Vasquez said. “I was coming forward, but he was slower than me. Every time he came in, it would be boom, boom, boom, and I would move out of the way. He couldn’t touch me. He kept on missing.”
Vasquez started rolling with a 26-10 victory over Houston’s Regis Prograis on Monday night.
“I just boxed him,” Vasquez said. “He wasn’t any problem. I just kept my distance. He was a shorter guy, and I just out-boxed him.”
Vasquez lost a 24-17 decision to eventual tournament champion Errol Spence of Desoto, Texas, in their opening bout on Sunday.
“I didn’t box him,” Vasquez said. “I went in for the knockout all three rounds, and I wore him down. After the fight, I told him, ‘I’m coming for you. I’ll see you in the finals.’
“Errol told me, ‘To be honest with you, I hope you lose because I don’t want to fight you again.’ Those were his exact words. So I knew I had him.”
Vasquez, however, did not advance to the finals against Spence, but the Soldier’s chances of competing in London at the 2012 Olympic Games did not necessarily end in Mobile.
Boxers who prevailed at the U.S. Olympic Trials must qualify their respective weight classes to compete in the Olympics. The boxers from light flyweight through light heavyweight will have to place in the top 10 while the heavyweight and super heavyweights will have to place in the top six at the 2011 International Boxing Association World Championships this autumn in Baku, Azerbaijan. If they falter in Azerbaijan, USA Boxing will re-open those weight classes to competitors at the 2012 U.S. National Championships. Winners there will then attempt to qualify their weight classes for the Olympics at a last-chance America’s Qualifier in Mexico.
Vasquez is already talking about becoming a professional fighter, but he has not given up on boxing in London just yet.
“I need to turn pro, that’s my whole goal through this thing,” Vasquez said. “To make the Olympic team, of course, was my first goal. I still have a chance because if [Spence] does not qualify my weight class we’re going to have another tournament, and I’m in it, so it’s not over yet.”
“If we don’t qualify this weight class at the World Championships and he goes back to the reload tournament, I think he’s got a great chance of pulling it out,” he said. “The road to London does not stop in Mobile. There’s still a very slim chance of getting some Army boxers back in there to have the opportunity to try to qualify.”
Six other Soldiers competed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Men’s Boxing, contested July 31 through Aug. 6 in Mobile.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Shepherd, 30, a former WCAP boxer stationed at Fort Carson, won his first two bouts of the tournament before dropping a 15-9 decision to eventual super heavyweight champion Lenroy Thompson of Lenexa, Kan., on Wednesday.
“I wasn’t able to get the big guy off of me,” Shepherd said. “I wasn’t able to physically move him. I wasn’t sure if he hit me or I was throwing a shot, but I felt something shoot up my arm and I took a knee.
“With the pain and the lack of strength that I had in my arm, I didn’t feel like I could effectively keep him off of me. I was up by two points after the first round and my arm wasn’t responding. It went downhill from there.”
Shepherd withdrew from his scheduled Thursday bout against San Francisco’s Laron Mitchell because of a suspected stress fracture in his right forearm sustained Monday during his 25-15 victory over Brett Rather of Las Vegas.
“It caused a problem [against Thompson on Wednesday night],” Shepherd said. “I didn’t feel like I could put any power on my right hand to slow him down or deter him from coming in.
“I went to the hospital and they didn’t see a broken bone, which is good,” Shepherd said. “The doctor thinks it’s a stress fracture. It’s disappointing, especially when [Thompson] was a guy who I beat at the last Olympic Trials.”
Shepherd opened the tourney Sunday with an 18-8 victory over O’Jayland Brown of Sacramento.
“I was feeling real good about my bracket and I was feeling real good about the way I competed on the first night,” Shepherd said. “On the second night, when the pain got more severe, I still felt good about that but I just wasn’t able to carry forward, unfortunately.
Spc. Jeffrey Spencer of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson was eliminated by Sijou Shabazz of Las Cruces, N.M., who prevailed 12-10 in their light heavyweight bout on Wednesday.
“I felt this week that Spencer gave two bouts away by poor execution and a lack of will for going forward,” Abdullah said. “On the other nights, he was very entertaining. I think he defeated one of the most talented boxers in his division. He executed and he listened. I was impressed.”
That was Abdullah’s take on Spencer’s 12-11 victory over Shaborn Ryals of Capitol Heights, Md., on Tuesday.
“He was off and on,” Abdullah said. “He has the talent to win that weight class.”
Abdullah thinks the light-heavyweight class is one of Team USA’s weakest for the international style of boxing, therefore Spencer may get another opportunity next year to make the Olympic squad.
“If Spencer gets another chance, I’m very optimistic of his chances if we get back to the reload,” Abdullah said.
WCAP boxer Staff Sgt. John Franklin of Fort Carson lost 22-13 to three-time U.S. Olympic Team member Rau’shee Warren of Cincinnati at 114 pounds on Sunday.
Franklin bounced back to score a 28-14 victory over Gabriel Montoya of Rock Springs, Wyo., on Monday before being eliminated Tuesday by Oscar Cantu of Kingsville, Texas. Cantu prevailed 78-73 on a tiebreaker after battling Franklin to a 15-15 deadlock.
WCAP Capt. Michael Benedosso of Fort Carson and All-Army boxers Sgts. Charles Blackwell of Tucson, Ariz., and Toribio Ramirez of Fort Stewart, Ga., lost both of their bouts in Mobile.