(LONDON, ENGLAND) – American bantamweight Joseph Diaz, Jr. (S. El Monte, Calif.) claimed the first win of the Olympic Games on Saturday afternoon with a convincing 19-9 win over Pavlo Ischenko of Ukraine in first round action. The pair faced off in the first bout of the entire tournament with Diaz enjoying the distinction of the throwing the first punch of the 2012 Olympic Games. Diaz set the perfect tone for his American teammates, winning a 19-9 decision over his Ukrainian opponent in the U.S. opener.
Diaz took the ring first, decked out in his red USA uniform and American flag bandana in front of a packed house at the ExCel Centre. Both boxers looked for momentum early in the contest with Diaz staying busy early in the bout. He began to find his rhythm late in the round, landing several straight left hands to close the round, and held a 4-3 lead after the first.
Diaz continued his strong and effective boxing in the second stanza, staying aggressive and landing strong, accurate shots to outscore Ischenko by a 5-3 margin in the middle round. The 19-year-old held a 9-6 lead with one round remaining, but he refused to sit on his advantage in the final stanza. Diaz pounded Ischenko in the third, landing a wide array of upper cuts and straight left hands that stung his opponent. “I felt like he got a little tired (in the third round) and I felt like I was just getting started,” Diaz said. “The first round I ended up winning but I wasn’t really throwing as much. In the second round, I picked it up and in the third round, and I picked it up even more and that gave me the W.”
He kept the pressure on until the final bell rang and was named the victory by a 19-9 final margin. Diaz’s efforts earned him the first victory of the 2012 Olympic Games and got his American team off to a great start.
“It felt great just being in there. The environment is amazing. I just knew that I had to do what I needed to do and I prayed to God,” Diaz said. “I just realized that this guy is human just like me. He sweats and bleeds, he’s nervous just like me so I’ve got to do what I do and that’s what I did.”
Diaz now moves onto second round action and a rematch with Cuban world champion XXX on Wednesday, August 1. He dropped his quarterfinal contest at the 2011 World Championships to XXX, but believes that their Olympic match-up could feature a different outcome. “I lost by a few points the first time we fought and I feel like I could have done a little more and that’s what I’m going to do Wednesday. On Wednesday, I’m going to give everyone a good show,” Diaz said.
The 19-year-old California native enjoyed great support from both his teammates and five family members in the crowd, which included his parents and two sisters. His father and trainer, Joseph Diaz, Sr., could be heard yelling words of support throughout the three round contest and his son gave his father what he wanted on day one, a strong victory. “It really means a lot to have my family here. They’re out there in the crowd cheering me on and I feel that momentum, Diaz said. “I feel that extra boost that it’s giving me so I can give them that extra strength and that extra conditioning. My family means everything and I hope I can bring back a medal for them and help them out financially even more.”
Diaz faced a stressful arrival to the ExCel Centre after the bus got lost en route to the venue and arrived much later than originally planned, but he refused to allow that to impact his focus, putting on a great performance in his Olympic debut.
Middleweight Terrell Gausha (Cleveland, Ohio) will take the ring in tonight’s evening action, battling Armenia’s Andranik Hakobyan at approximately 10:15 p.m. London time (5:15 ET).
123 lbs: Joseph Diaz, Jr., S. El Monte, Calif./USA dec. Pavlo Ischenko, UKR, 19-9
“I have a really tough draw and I knew that the Ukrainian was a really good fighter and the Cuban is the number one seed but I fought him already and I have a different game plan so we’ll see what happens on Wednesday.”
“My game plan was just to maintain my composure and stay in on him. I knew that he had a very good hook. I watched his fights on you tube and I know that he was going to be really strong and his punches felt really hard but I know that I’m in really great shape. I had a great training camp and have a great strength and conditioning coach and I came and did what I did and I pulled it off.”
“I think I lost by like seven points (to the Cuban) but I know that this time around, I’m going to give him a good fight and hopefully pick up that W.”
“I believe it was just my speed. He probably thought I was a little slower than usual but I was kind of fast and I was just picking my left hand because I know he was just looking for my body shots. I was just picking my straight left hand and it was landing every time and I just thank God for this blessing.”
“The uppercuts on the inside were working. I know that I was picking my body shots well and I was following it with the upper cuts and I just kept doing it throughout the fight.”
It feels really great (to be the first winner of the 2012 Olympic Games). I’m giving the whole Team USA a boost right now. They’re all motivated already. Everyone was already motivated because they want to get that medal but I feel like I motivated them even more. I feel that now they’ve seen the environment so they’re not going to be that anxious and nervous. They’re gonna be ready.”
“I knew I was going to be the first bout today after my weigh in so I was kind of nervous, but I knew that no matter if I’m the first bout or the ninth bout, I’m going to do what I have to do.”
“Ah man, the environment is intense, it’s crazy, I really love it. Everyone cheering us on and everyone saying ooh when the punches land, its great.”