Santa Maria boxer Carlos Balderas was victorious Saturday in his opening bout in the lightweight division of the Olympic boxing tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
Boxing on his birthday, the newly turned 20-year-old beat Kazakhstan’s Berik Abdrakhamanov in Team USA’s opener — a positive sign for the struggling American team that for the first time in its history failed to win an Olympic medal four years ago in London. The Associated Press reported that a crowd of around 20 friends and family were loudly cheering on Balderas — a first-generation Mexican-American whose grandfather moved his family north to work the fields of California’s Central Coast — as he bested the 2013 World Championships bronze medalist by unanimous decision.
“I had chills,” Balderas told Yahoo Sports. “I had chills going down my body. I was patient. I was excited. I was nervous, but at the same time I was very confident. It was back and forth. There were a lot of mixed emotions in the back when I was warming up.”
Balderas kicked off what would be a good day overall for Team USA as Wichita, Kansas native Nico Hernandez won a unanimous decision over two-time Olympian Manuel Cappai later in the day. The last American boxer to medal was Deontay Wilder, who took the bronze in 2008.
“No disrespect to other guys, but I feel like we’ve got something to prove,” Balderas said. “We’ve got a strong, strong team. … I felt it was kind of my responsibility to lead everyone down a good path. [There was] no pressure. I just went in there and had fun.”
Balderas will next face Japan’s Daisuke Narimatsu in a Round-of-16 match Tuesday.