Carlos Balderas had gold on his mind after rolling through the first two rounds of the men’s lightweight division at this month’s Olympics.
But a medal was not in the cards for the Santa Maria native. Balderas fell by unanimous decision to top-seeded Lazaro Alvarez of Cuba on Friday in a quarterfinal match in the men’s lightweight division. All three judges’ scores were 30-27.
“My body was very tired for some reason; it just wouldn’t wake up.” Balderas said after Friday’s match. “In warm-ups, my body felt very shut down.”
Balderas suggested his exhaustion came from a previous match, a closely-contested unanimous decision win Tuesday over Japan’s Daisuke Narimatsu in which the Santa Maria native overpowered his Japanese opponent. Team USA’s struggles in the lightweight division continues with the loss, with their last medal a bronze coming in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Balderas opened Friday’s match with a close first round, in which he landed a right upper cut to Alvarez’s face before taking a jab combination to his head. But Alvarez — a three-time World Amateur champion and 2012 bronze medalist in the London Games in the bantamweight division — landed a right hook in the final minute to take the round from all three judges.
Fatigue appeared to set in for Balderas in the second round, as he took back-to-back left jabs and a strong right cross square to the face to start the round. Alvarez connected on a left jab to the body midway through the round and finished with a right jab to Balderas’ face in the last minute. A glancing left hook from Balderas knocked Alvarez down, but his Cuban opponent’s flurry of connected punches proved to be more significant to the judges.
“He’s a long fighter and he’s very experienced. He knew exactly what he was doing trying to draw me in,” Balderas said.
With the match in hand, Alvarez opened the third round connecting on a left jab to Balderas’ body and another to his face. A right cross from Balderas glanced off Alvarez’ face, but he connected on a right hook to Alvarez’s body later in the round.
“My feet felt heavy, my arms tired and slow,” Balderas said after the match. “I did as much as I could to be honest. I just fell a little short.”
Speaking after the fight, U.S. Boxing coach Billy Walsh said he thought Balderas fought well enough to win the first round. But he called the match “disappointing,” just one round away from Balderas being guaranteed a medal. Walsh suggested the magnitude of the fight may have affected the Santa Maria native’s composure.
“Absolutely, I think the moment got to them,” Walsh said of Balderas and his U.S. boxing teammate Nico Hernandez, who lost a light flyweight semifinal bout before Balderas’ fight. “I don’t think anyone slept very well last night.”
Alvarez did not speak to American members of the press.
Balderas told reporters after the match that he plans to turn professional. That decision will come later, he said. Before that, he’s looking forward to cheering on the remaining U.S. men’s and women’s boxers and returning home to see his family.
“I’ll be supporting my teammates like they’ve been supporting me, and we’ll be out there until the last day,” he said.
“I just want to rest a little bit, talk with my family and my team and go from there,” he added.