Boxing: “We’re going to tear heads off” the warning of a Cuban from Team Spain to his former teammate and Olympic champion

Expectations are high for the fight between Cubans Emmanuel Reyes and Julio César la Cruz for the ticket to a medal.

A Cuban émigré to Spain has issued a serious warning in the Kokugikan Arena ring.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Heavyweight - Last 16 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Emmanuel Reyes Pla of Spain gestures after winning a fight by the knockdown of Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Heavyweight - Last 16 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Emmanuel Reyes Pla of Spain gestures after winning a fight by the knockdown of Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

“My respects...but here I have come to tear heads off,” declared Emmanuel Reyes after beating Kazakhstan’s Vasily Levit.

The warning was addressed to another Cuban, who is also an Olympic champion, four times world champion and one of the main figures of Olympic boxing: Julio Cesar La Cruz, his old acquaintance from Havana.

Reyes was never able to beat him while they shared the light heavyweight division in Cuba.

The Spanish-Cuban is still euphoric after knocking out in the second round Levit who is not just any Kazakh. The native of Fyodorovka, a village in northern Kazakhstan, is an Olympic runner-up in Rio 2016 and won two bronze medals at the 2017 and 2019 AIBA World Championships.

The habanero’s fists provoked an unusual scene: seeing on the canvas‚ listening to the 10 count, a former Soviet knocked down by someone from other confines.

“Here’s the typhoon giving sticks,” repeats Reyes who was in the national pre-selection of his country shortly before his departure to Europe five years ago.

“I want the gold medal for Spain, which has given me this opportunity to be an Olympian,” says “The Prophet”, the nickname with which he has been baptized by the Spanish press.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Heavyweight - Last 16 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Julio Cesar La Cruz of Cuba in action during his fight against Elly Ochola of Kenya REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Heavyweight - Last 16 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Julio Cesar La Cruz of Cuba in action during his fight against Elly Ochola of Kenya REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

In the same round of 16 of the Olympic tournament in Tokyo, La Cruz, who is called “The Shadow” for his slippery and risky style, easily disposed of the Kenyan Elly Ajowi Ochola.

The Cuban is the captain of the national team and also counts in his career with the top titles of the Pan American Games of Guadalajara 2011, Toronto 2015 and Lima 2019. In that year he was proclaimed the best athlete of the Americas by the Association of National Olympic Committees.

La Cruz (31) and Reyes (29) will face each other this Friday in the 91 kg quarterfinals. Whoever loses will be left without a medal.

It is the second time that two Cubans step into an Olympic ring in a similar situation.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Fazliddin Gaibnazarov of Uzbekistan and Lorenzo Sotomayor Collazo of Azerbaijan compete during the Men's Light Welter (64kg) Final Bout on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 6 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21: Fazliddin Gaibnazarov of Uzbekistan and Lorenzo Sotomayor Collazo of Azerbaijan compete during the Men's Light Welter (64kg) Final Bout on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 6 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

In the quarterfinals of the Rio 2016 tournament, Lorenzo Sotomayor, representing Azerbaijan, defeated Yasniel Toledo, from the Havana expedition.

Sotomayor, who competed in Cuba in the national championships with his province, Pinar del Rio, won the first Olympic silver medal for the boxing of his new adopted country.

The July 30 fight has aroused great expectation in Spain and Cuba.

The last time Spain won an Olympic medal in the ring was in Sydney 2000, when Rafael Lozano, now head coach of the Iberian national team, won silver in the men’s bantamweight.

Of the four fighters that Spain presented, three are still standing: Reyes, Gabriel Escobar (52 kg) and Gazi Jalidov (81 kg) who arrived from Russia in 2004 at the age of 10.

Since the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, Cuba has been grateful to boxing, a sport with a historic tradition on the island for 100 years, for its final place in the medal table by country.

For Tokyo, the panorama has not changed. It could even be more tense, with its smallest delegation since Mexico ‘68 and a first week of the Games with only one bronze medal, in taekwondo.

Cuban authorities set the forecast of a top 20 finish depending on performances in boxing, athletics and Greco-Roman wrestling.

In Rio de Janeiro five years ago, the Cubans won three gold medals in boxing, a number they hope to repeat in the Japanese capital.

In Tokyo, Cuba will keep in action the seven boxers it presented, classifications granted by the IOC Task Force according to the international ranking, a format resorted to after the suspension, due to the covid-19 pandemic, of the Pre-Olympic of the Americas, which was to be held in Buenos Aires, and the World Pre-Olympic in Paris.

Instead, the French capital organized the resumption of the European Pre-Olympic, interrupted in London due to coronavirus infection among some participants, to close the qualification process.

Despite these emerging measures of the Task Force - which replaced the IOC-sanctioned AIBA - 36 men and seven women with professional experience but very few fights took part in Tokyo. Twenty-three of the 43 nominees had less than three fights under their belts.

Some signed contracts during the pandemic after the Olympic Games were postponed for a year, such as Americans Duke Ragan, Keyshawn Davis and Troy Isley.

In Rio de Janeiro in 2016 there were only three professionals.

At the Paris Qualifier “The Prophet” Reyes fulfilled his prophecy, securing his Olympic ticket after his odyssey five years earlier.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Heavyweight - Last 16 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Emmanuel Reyes Pla of Spain in action against Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Heavyweight - Last 16 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 27, 2021. Emmanuel Reyes Pla of Spain in action against Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Reyes wanted to stop being number two (or three) in the ranking of the Cuban pre-selection. In 2016 he left Cuba for Russia, a country where visas are not required for those from the Caribbean island. He wanted to reach La Coruña, Spain, where relatives lived.

He flew to Moscow and then to Belarus where his uncle had gone from Galicia to help him with the procedures to be able to enter the European Union. There he stayed for a month without a solution and returned to the Russian capital to lock himself in a room for four months for fear of being detained as an illegal immigrant.

According to his account, from Russia he traveled to Austria and stayed for two months in a refugee center until he was sent to Germany where he tried to cross to France in a bus. He was detained at the border and was then sent back to Germany.

Eight weeks later, he was sent back to Austria. He was already stubborn and took the risk of taking a flight to Barcelona... And he arrived without any problems. Then he was on his way to La Coruña.

Through boxers he knew, the newly arrived fighter came into contact with the Spanish Federation, which opened its doors and gyms to him, and the way to naturalization through the Consejo Superior de Deportes.

In January 2020 he was granted Spanish nationality. “Spain is already my country. I am not ungrateful to Cuba, where I trained as a boxer, but I grow as a person here,” he told the Iberian press shortly after.

In a matter of hours in the ring installed in one of Tokyo’s Sumo temples, it will be known who of the two Cubans has his head on straight.

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