RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (AUGUST 13, 2016) – Team USA’s flyweight Antonio Vargas (Kissimmee, Fla.) faced less than a warm welcome in his Olympic Games opener with host nation boxer Juliao Neto of Brazil on Saturday at Riocentro Pavilion 6 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Vargas kicked off his tournament a week in to the event and he made his debut a victorious one in their preliminary bout.
The American team has faced hostile crowds every time they entered the ring in Brazil, but Vargas battled the loudest crowd the squad has heard. Despite the boos bellowing through the arena, Vargas wore a wide smile as he walked to the the ring for the first time at the Olympic Games. The bout was sloppy from the start due to Neto’s awkward style and constant holding. Vargas connected with several hooks in the round and looked to punch his way of Neto’s consistent clinching. The referee was actively involved throughout the bout as he looked to take control and warned Neto multiple times for slapping in the first round. Vargas looked to take control in the second round despite his opponent’s constant holding. He took the second round on all three judges’ scorecards and headed in to the final three minutes needing the last round. Vargas boxed and stayed outside more in the last round to try to avoid Neto’s holding and get shots of his own off. The referee finally took a point from the Brazilian boxer for holding in the third round to the displeasure of his host nation crowd. Vargas managed to ignore the crowd and finish the bout effectively before winning a split decision victory.
“It’s kind of hard with all the noise. You hear the atmosphere, you hear the crowd roaring, the stairs rumbling so it was kind of hard for me to keep my cool going in to the fight. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in an atmosphere like that before. This was one of the fights I kind of felt nervous. Being in his backyard, hearing his fans was like wow, I gotta pick it up. That was one of the first times I experienced that stuff but I’m glad I broke the ice. I got the victory and I give all the glory to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Vargas said.
The 19-year-old Vargas said he could tell that he was in the ring with a much older fighter and approached this fight differently than their second meeting. “He was a very tough fighter. Him being 34, I could tell he was a grown man. I fought him before. The first time I fought him (at the Pan American Games qualifier), I beat him unanimously. I out-boxed him but in this fight, being in his backyard, I felt like I had to bring the fight more. In that third round, I started boxing him more. I should have done that from the beginning because I knew he was going to try to rough me up. I was a lot faster than him, more technical than him,” he added. “The first fight is usually the toughest for me because that’s breaking the ice so now that I got that out the way, I know when I fight Monday, I’m going to do it a lot better.”
Vargas’ next bout will take place on his 20th birthday as he faces Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov at 11:45 a.m. Brazil time (10:45 a.m. ET) on Monday, August 15.
Two American boxers will compete on Sunday at the 2016 Olympic Games. Junior and Youth World Champion and Youth Olympic Games gold medalist Shakur Stevenson (Newark, N.J.) will experience a similar welcome when he steps in to the ring for the first time at the Olympic Games against Brazil’s Robenilson de Jesus at 12:15 p.m. Brazil time (11:15 a.m. ET). Light welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell (Capitol Heights, Md.) will be back for his second bout on Saturday in a match-up with Thailand’s Wuttichai Masuk at 1:30 p.m. Brazil time (12:30 p.m. ET).
114 lbs/52 kg: Antonio Vargas, Kissimmee, Fla./USA dec. Juliao Neto, 2-0uk, THA, 2-1