Richard Torrez Jr. dug deep when it mattered.
The super heavyweight, bred in California, secured the third medal for the US boxing team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and made it to the semifinals after a split-decision win against Cuban Dainier Pero.
The scores were 29-28 on all five scorecards, one for Pero and the other four in favor of Torrez, who joined Duke Ragan (men in featherweight) and Oshae Jones (women in Welterweight) is in the medal round.
It required a rally and a significant change in tactics for Torrez, who was overtaken by Pero on lap one, in which the American was trailing on four of the five scorecards.
The pattern was reminiscent of their previous meeting when Pero Torrez outperformed in the semi-finals of the Pan Am Games 2019. Pero won the tournament and had a good chance of at least taking bronze here in Tokyo.
Torrez accelerated on lap two while Pero showed signs of fatigue towards the end of the frame. In the middle of the group there was a brief shock when the time called for the doctor at the ring to examine a cut above the left eye of Torrez, who was fighting his way through the blood.
Pero landed right hands to start lap three, even though his engine was clearly running low. Torrez enjoyed the superior work rate and exerted relentless pressure for the final 90 seconds of the fight while Pero barely managed to get through a punch.
Torrez left it all in the ring, the kind of finish you should offer when your Olympic medal hopes are at stake. His work was rewarded on the cards and won the third and final round to celebrate a well-deserved victory.
Cuba suffer their first defeat in Tokyo after setting their record of 13-0 at the time, including three wins on Sunday. Pero is the first member of this year’s team who has not won a medal.
Torrez is the first U.S. super heavyweight to win a medal since Riddick Bowe took silver in Seoul in 1988.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox