By Paulo Prada
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Cuban super heavyweight Leinier Pero dedicated his Olympic boxing victory to Fidel Castro on Saturday, the day the revolutionary and former leader of the Caribbean country celebrated his 90th birthday.
"I want to send my regards to the commander," said Pero, 23, after his win by unanimous decision over Italian Guido Vianello. "We have to learn to be great and here we are with a victory that we dedicate to him."
Pero, champion at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, is one of ten fighters on the Olympic squad from Cuba, a country where boxing is revered, and that has consistently out punched bigger nations at major tournaments including the Olympics.
Hailing from the central Cuban city of Camagüey, Pero advances to a round of 16 among preliminary victors.
But two of Cuba's boxers, including a gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics in London, have already been eliminated at the Rio Games. Earlier on Saturday, welterweight Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo, the Olympic champion four years ago, lost his bout to Shakhram Giyasov, of Uzbekistan.
On Friday, Joahnys Argilagos, a flyweight and 2015 world champion, lost a semifinal fight to Yurberjen Martinez, of Colombia. Despite the defeat, Argilagos secured a bronze medal because of rules that prevent a third-place fight among those who lose semifinals.
Castro, who thanked Cubans for weeks of birthday celebrations in a letter published on Saturday, led a band of guerrillas to topple the government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The leftist remained Cuba's leader for nearly half a century before leaving the presidency to his brother, Raul, in 2008.
(Reporting by Paulo Prada, editing by Susanna Twidale)