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Fighting for Honduras, U.S.-born teen loses to French boxer

France’s Sofiane Oumiha, left, fights Honduras’ Teofimo Lopez during a men's lightweight 60-kg preliminary boxing match. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)
France’s Sofiane Oumiha, left, fights Honduras’ Teofimo Lopez during a men's lightweight 60-kg preliminary boxing match. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)
By Dan Gelston Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – His heart in the United States and his fight for Honduras, Teofimo Lopez stood in the Olympic ring feeling like a boxer without a country.

The 19-year-old fighter was born in New York, raised in Florida, and developed into a prime candidate for the United States in the boxing tournament. With a win in the Olympic trials, Lopez certainly had the credentials to land a spot in USA Boxing.

Because of a convoluted series of circumstances, Lopez was squeezed out of a likely role fighting for his home country. Instead, he fought for the homeland of both of his parents and became the entire Olympic boxing team for Honduras.

But by the time Lopez lost a unanimous decision Sunday to Sofiane Oumiha of France, he was ready to move on and forget about Rio.

Lopez felt abandoned by the Amateur International Boxing Association and unwanted by Honduras.

“They didn’t want me to win,” Lopez said. “They came here to see me lose. I’m not Honduran. They called me ‘gringo.’ It’s like a slap in my face.”

Lopez declined to identify the people he said had turned against him before the fight, although it was impossible to find fans in the stands rooting against the outspoken teen. About a dozen Hondurans went wild for Lopez and waved their country’s flag when he walked to the ring. Lopez gestured in appreciation toward the cluster of fans when he was introduced by the ring announcer.

Lopez was sharp in the ring but lost 30-27 on all three cards to a fighter with a much deeper pedigree.

Lopez’s father and trainer, Junior, was furious at the decision and the way his son swerved from the game plan to try for an early knockout. Junior Lopez stopped to scold his son during a news conference afterward.

“If you would have done what I told you, you would have stopped that dude,” Junior said.

“All right. But unanimous, that’s crazy,” Lopez said.

“You won the fight! But they’re not going to give it to you. I told you from the beginning,” his father said, hands gesturing toward his son’s face.

“Dad, it’s over, man.”

Lopez never wanted to fight for another country, only eventually being persuaded to fight for Honduras once he realized it was his only opportunity to make the Olympics.

Qualifying for the Olympics has long been a complicated system, and the winner of a little-known tournament was actually used for the first time to select team members.

Lopez won the lightweight division at the U.S. Olympic trials in December, and his feat was still not enough to make the team.

Carlos Baldera had qualified for the one open lightweight slot based on his finish in the World Series of Boxing, a little-seen series not really known outside of amateur circles. Lopez was not old enough to compete in the series.

Lopez, a 2015 Golden Gloves champion, was able to use his parents’ birth country as another way to fight.

He had the Olympics, just not his country.

If Lopez had fought for Team USA, Junior Lopez said the scorecard would have read in his son’s favor.

“Of course, he would have freakin’ won,” Junior said.

An IABA official nearby shook his head and flatly shot down the idea that Lopez’s fighting nationality would have played a role in the result.

Lopez still performed a backflip in the ring once he lost the decision.

“I always said, ‘medalha de ouro,’” Portuguese for gold medal, “because when you attract positivity it comes to you.

“But that didn’t come out today,” he said.

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