TOKYO — Albert Batyrgaziev of Russia won the boxing featherweight gold medal on Thursday, and in the process stopped the first of three Americans trying to win gold in men’s boxing for the first time in 17 years.
Batyrgaziev, using flurries of speed and playing squarely into the rules of amateur boxing that reward many punches in a short amount of time, won a 3-2 split decision over Duke Ragan, a fighter from Cincinnati who, like Batyrgaziev, is in the early part of his professional career.
Batyrgaziev and Ragan have seven professional fights combined — all wins — and after their bout for gold immediately started selling a possible rematch down the line.
“That would be an additional motivation, an additional motive to keep training, in order to meet again as professionals,” said Batyrgaziev, 23, who started in kickboxing before switching to boxing at 18 with the goal of becoming an Olympian.
Ragan had been hoping to join Andre Ward, a fellow American who won gold as a light heavyweight at the 2004 Games in Athens and encouraged Ragan throughout his run in Tokyo. Since then, the biggest Olympic boxing success from the United States has been Claressa Shields, who won Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016 as a middleweight before she turned pro in boxing and mixed martial arts.
“I’m proud of you bro,” Ward said on Twitter after the fight. “You did your family & your city proud. Rest up, regroup, time to win a world title.”
Ragan, who started his professional career during the coronavirus pandemic in a series of bouts organized by the boxing promotion company Top Rank in Las Vegas, said he hoped to take revenge on Batyrgaziev on a bigger stage, “like fighting for a world title or something.”
Their bout was one of nearly 300 that have played out during these Games at Kokugikan Arena, a storied, intimate hall in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo that is known as Japan’s main home for sumo wrestling. The arena, though modified for the Olympics, kept the portraits of 32 grand champion wrestlers, known as yokozuna, in the rafters. And it retained its familiar, deep-red carpet floor and upper-deck seats, although the mats along the mezzanine were missing their signature cushions — zabuton in Japanese — that would normally be used for prime seating all the way up to the sumo ring.
Ragan had qualified for these Games in part because of changes to the way boxing was organized for the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee had suspended the International Boxing Association because of problems with judging, ethical violations and corruption, and placed the sport under the control of a special task force.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellations of several qualifying events, and the task force decided to use results from earlier tournaments to fill open spots for the hundreds of bouts staged in Tokyo, which worked in Ragan’s favor.
Two other American men are competing for gold: the lightweight Keyshawn Davis, who has a semifinal on Friday, and the super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr., who fights for gold Sunday in one of the final events of the Olympics. Oshae Jones took bronze on Tuesday after losing a women’s welterweight semifinal.
In Olympic boxing, each of the losing semifinalists wins a bronze medal without fighting another bout.
Ken Belson contributed reporting.