RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — U.S. boxer Shakur Stevenson reached the Olympic bantamweight final Thursday after his Russian semifinal opponent was unable to fight because of an injury, marking the first time since 2004 that an American fighter will be in a gold medal match.
Stevenson won by walkover against Vladimir Nikitin, who sustained heavy damage in three consecutive brutal fights, clearing the way for Stevenson to advance to the final against Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba on Saturday.
"I always want to fight, but once I found out I wasn't fighting (Nikitin), I kind of liked it," Stevenson said. "I can use the extra days off. Once I found out I wasn't fighting, I just kept moving to Saturday."
Stevenson will secure either gold or silver for the U.S., something the country hasn't accomplished since Andre Ward won gold in Athens in 2004.
Ramirez, the London Olympics gold medalist at flyweight, advanced with a masterful victory over Uzbekistan's Murodjin Akhmadaliev while Stevenson watched from the stands.
"I paid close attention to it," Stevenson said. "He had a tough opponent from Uzbekistan, and he got it done. He made it look easy, and we're about to get after it, I swear."
Stevenson is an elite 19-year-old prospect from Newark, New Jersey, with sophisticated boxing skills and remarkable athleticism. He hasn't lost an international bout in his amateur career, and he received a preliminary-round bye as a seeded fighter in Rio before beating Brazil's Robenilson de Jesus and Mongolia's Erdenebat Tsendbataar, both by unanimous decision.
The U.S. men won just one bronze medal in Beijing and none at all in London. With light flyweight Nico Hernandez's bronze medal and Stevenson's win, the Rio men's team will leave the Olympics with two medals for the first time since Athens 12 years ago.
Nikitin took a pounding Tuesday from Irish world champion Michael Conlan. Nikitin still received the decision in a hard-fought bout, prompting an outraged Conlan to denounce the international boxing association and Russia as conspirators in corruption.
Nikitin also won a disputed decision over Thailand's Chatchai Butdee before taking on Conlan. The Russian started his tournament by beating Vanuatu's Boe Warawara in a bout that left Nikitin bleeding grotesquely from a cut on his shaved scalp, and the cut opened up in each of his two ensuing fights.
Conlan's potential semifinal matchup with Stevenson was one of the most anticipated bouts of the Rio tournament. Even Stevenson's personal coach, Kay Koroma, was excited about the potential test.
"I've had many conversations with him where he said that he made his own list when he got here," said Koroma, who is also a coach for USA Boxing. "'I saw my bracket. I get to see Conlan in the semifinals and Robeisy in the finals.' He didn't get to see Conlan, and he didn't get to see the Russian, but the end of it is happening, and now he's got to fulfill it. What a way to win a gold medal, fighting the person you want to fight."
Stevenson has been widely expected to begin his pro career with Top Rank Promotions this fall, but Floyd Mayweather tweeted Wednesday that he wished to "extend a warm welcome to @ShakurStevenson into The Money Team family." Mayweather runs an eponymous promotional company, but has no stars under contract with the potential drawing power of Stevenson.
Stevenson declined to confirm he had teamed up with Mayweather to be his promoter or in another capacity, grinningly saying he hasn't even decided whether he will go pro.
"Nothing is decided yet," Stevenson said. "I'm going to focus on winning the gold medal, and after I win the gold medal, I'm going to weigh my options and see what's next for me."
But Stevenson spoke glowingly of the retired champion after meeting him earlier in the Rio tournament. Mayweather, who attended Stevenson's fights, subsequently referred to Stevenson as "the next Floyd Mayweather."
"If he calls me and tells me stuff, I'll take it, but I'm focused," Stevenson said. "I'm ready. It don't matter who I talk to."