Almost everyone born in the post-Atari era knows the term well.
It’s the end of the line, either for a specific level of a game or ultimately, to conquer the ultimate archenemy, the big boss.
By the time most read this, the world will know if American featherweight Duke Ragan was able to defeat Russian Albert Batyrgaziev to end a gold medal drought that spanned three Olympics by 2004. For the games in Tokyo he is Ragan’s final boss.
It doesn’t come with the story that Ragan’s other two remaining teammates will be wearing as they advance.
On Thursday, lightweight Keyshawn Davis will face Armenian Hovhannes Bachkov in the division semi-finals (NBCOlympics.com, 1:32 AM EST). If Davis wins, the other side of the bracket could mean a scariest kind of boss fight to get to the top of the podium.
In the other lightweight semi-final, Australian Harry Garside will try to piss off what is arguably the best fighter in Tokyo pound for pound. The 25-year-old Cuban Andy Cruz has already won two amateur world championships. An Olympic gold medal is missing from his collection of honors and Cruz is preferred by most to get it.
If anyone can prevent Cruz from advancing, it could be Davis. So far, the American has not found out Cruz. Cruz and Davis met three times in 2019, the last time in the world finals. Davis ran Cruz close to each other all three times, lost the first two times through split and majority calls, and fell just under 2 rounds to 1 to four out of five cards in the third.
All of this could feel like déjà vu to Davis. Like two years ago in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Davis will have to pass Bachkov in the semifinals before he can worry about Cruz. The gaming equivalent for what Davis would encounter in Cruz could try navigating one of the Soulsborne games.
In these notoriously difficult games, players try to try again and “You died” until they learn to get good and move forward. If Davis gets past Bachkov one more time, he’ll have another chance to see if he’s gotten good enough to overcome the toughest boss fight of his first experience. Already a pro, Davis will return to the paid ranks quickly and may not have a chance to see Cruz again.
It’s an added layer of drama to an already dramatic situation.
Additional drama only adds to the fun from the perspective.
If Davis can make it to the final, against Cruz or not, he and his super heavyweight teammate Richard Torrez Jr. have a chance to close Tokyo in style on Sunday.
Torrez’s run at the Olympics is quietly gaining traction outside of the boxing circles. On Wednesday, the picture of Torrez and a related headline appeared at the top of the Drudge Report, one of the world’s largest news aggregators. It took well over twelve hours. For those who undermine the value of the Olympics in this era of boxing, it’s worth noting that this is the kind of attention that only the Olympics allow.
The story of Torrez, which is told with every victory in a row, certainly has its charm: farewell, chess team, magician. It wouldn’t be so interesting if Torrez’s style wasn’t TV-friendly too. Bullying forward and throwing loudly, Torrez comes to fight, forcing his opponents to keep up. In his semi-final win over Kazakhstan’s Kamshybek Kunkabayev, Torrez was shaken in the second, coming back to score a knockdown before the frame was done, and blowing his opponent’s nose in the third to secure a place in the final.
Can Torrez put the ghosts of the past aside for his boss fight?
Torrez has already played against Bakhodir Jalolov from Uzbekistan. It didn’t end well for the American. On his way to winning the 2019 World Cup, Jalolov went through Torrez in the first round of the quarter-finals. It was not a stunned standstill either. Jalolov hit Torrez coldly.
Jalolov is still 6’7, can still beat like hell and Torrez still has to go forward to win. Coming back from the previous loss to win Olympic gold would be one of the best stories in any sport for the United States in 2021.
Will the story make it on air in any significant way? Those who look forward to US Olympic boxing every four years may have no hope. While streaming has made more boxes accessible than ever, it is still battling for a lot of prime-time exposure. Replays on the US network were regularly cut, won or lost for the US team on individual combat rounds.
The coverage could be better.
For Olympic boxing as a whole, the boss fight brings a return to prestige coverage that once rivaled athletics and gymnastics.
In a year when prime-time viewing ratings for the Olympics on NBC are reportedly about fifty percent lower than they were in 2016, it might be time to reconsider the programming. Boxing hasn’t really been a centerpiece of NBC coverage since the 1988 Games, but has been pegged in favor of things like beach volleyball. Olympic ratings are struggling to win the coveted eyes of 18-49 year olds, and a recent Harris poll suggests boxing should be scrutinized ahead of the 2024 Games.
Harris found boxing had the strongest results for people who say they are fans than any other sport but the three biggest team sports in the United States. There has been a growth in the younger population, suggesting a new generation of fans is finding the sweet science. The ability of individual boxers to make a name for themselves through social media and direct fan interaction doesn’t hurt. Could the Olympics find something from this new audience?
Boxing has been sidelined for so long that it would be almost a novelty again if they tried. A gold medal or three by Sunday couldn’t hurt the case.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.