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Tarver Escapes With Win, Diaz Moves U.S. Team To 9-1

July 25, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Arnaldo Mesa continued Cuba’s 20-year Olympic mastery over U.S. boxers today with a first-round win that left Zahir Raheem crying in the arms of his coaches.

Raheem fell face first to the canvas in disbelief when the referee stopped the fight with 45 seconds left in the first round of the 119-pound bout.

Raheem was knocked down earlier in the fight and had just taken a standing 8-count, but did not appear to be badly hurt when the referee stopped the fight.

Raheem buried his head on the shoulder of assistant U.S. coach Pat Burns and cried. He refused to shake Mesa’s hand before leaving the ring.

The win was the second by a Cuban over a U.S. boxer in the games and the fifth straight in Olympic competition. The last time a U.S. boxer beat a Cuban in the Olympics was in 1976, when Leon Spinks stopped Sixto Soria.

With the win, Cuba moved to 12-0 while the U.S. team is 9-2.

A day earlier, Antonio Tarver waited until the third round to throw any meaningful punches against his Russian opponent, barely escaping with a 5-2 win that had many in the Alexander Memorial Coliseum booing both fighters.

It was a win, but a shaky one at best, for the amateur light heavyweight world champion and perhaps the strongest U.S. favorite for an Olympic gold medal.

``In the third round I found myself fighting, which for me is the last resort,″ Tarver said. ``I was real fortunate to get a `W.′ ″

While the heralded Tarver barely won, one of the lesser-known Americans, David Diaz, won big.

Diaz had no problem with an outclassed Jacobo Garcia of the Virgin Islands in a 139-pound bout Wednesday night, pounding him around the ring before the referee finally called a halt to the fight with 33 seconds remaining.

Unlike the defensive-minded Tarver, Diaz came to fight, throwing punch after punch from an unorthodox left-handed stance to hand Garcia three standing 8-counts before a final knockdown forced the fight to be stopped.

``I’m a better fighter than a boxer,″ Diaz said. ``The coaches basically told me to get down and fight with the guy. I didn’t want to take any chances in there.″

Both Diaz and Tarver had to wait until five days into the competition to finally get to fight, and both wanted to join in a surprisingly strong start by the U.S. team.

But they handled the wait differently, with Diaz using it to help him stay motivated.

``I was just so anxious. We’re doing so good I just wanted to be a part of it,″ Diaz said. ``Nobody knows David Diaz. But after awhile you’ll see who I am. Just watch.″

Tarver, meanwhile, was tight as he struggled to meet the expectations created by his wins last year in the Pan Am Games and the World Championships.

``I thought his performance was lousy,″ U.S. coach Al Mitchell said. ``But last night I thought it would be. I just felt in my mind it would be a tough fight.″

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