With a chance at gold, Torrez eyes first US men’s Olympic boxing title since 2004

“Eye of the Tiger” would have been a more obvious choice, but Richard Torrez Jr defies many of boxing’s cliches.

He strode towards the ring for his super heavyweight semi-final to the strains of the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” It seemed a rather gentle and ruminative choice of walk-up motivational music for an Olympic athlete, especially one planning on spending the next few minutes pummeling a 6ft 3in human chainsaw from Kazakhstan.

But it worked. Torrez was clearly on top against Kamshybek Kunkabayev, bloodying his nose so badly the cut caused the referee to stop the fight in the third round. Now he will meet Bakhodir Jalolov of Uzbekistan in the gold medal bout, aiming to become the first American super heavyweight to win an Olympic title since Tyrell Biggs in 1984.

Until Torrez secured at least silver on Wednesday in this sumo hall in central Tokyo, where pictures of great wrestlers hang from the ceiling and shoes must be removed in the box seats, no American had even won a medal in the division since Riddick Bowe lost to Lennox Lewis in the 1988 title fight and took silver.

Torrez, a thoughtful and methodical 22-year-old amateur from California’s agricultural Central Valley, is leaving nothing in his preparations to chance. “I watched a video somewhere that says that classical music kinda helps your brain function,” he said, “and so why not have that as a benefit to go in the ring to?”

He would listen to the gossamer strains of Beethoven’s piano sonata in high school as soothing mood music before exams and chess matches. At school he excelled academically, was into robotics and ran the chess club.

Relatively small for a super heavyweight, at 6ft 2in, and wary of his opponent’s left, the southpaw rehearsed his tactics again and again ahead of the bout. “This wasn’t the first time I had this fight,” he said. “I had this fight at least five times last night, I had this fight three times this morning, and I was walking into the ring replaying this fight again too. It’s something I’ve envisioned and it was able to come to fruition and I’m very proud of that.” He also wore his lucky polo shirt earlier in the day. Maybe that helped, too.

Torrez was nervous ahead of his first fight in Tokyo, a points decision over Chouaib Bouloudinats of Algeria last Thursday. Now, though, he senses he is part of something greater; something this most analytic and reasonable of fighters cannot fully rationalise.

“I have this existential feeling that it’s just destiny,” he said. “There’s nothing else to it. I don’t know the way to put it, I don’t know how to say it. What is love, you know? It’s kind of the same thing. I’m meant to be here, all I know is that.”

Oshae Jones, a welterweight, earned bronze a few minutes before Torrez’s bout. She was distraught after losing her semi-final to Gu Hong of China, screaming in frustration as she rushed away from the ring and into the bowels of the arena after the split decision.

One of Torrez’s coaches, his father, Richard Sr, competed in the US Olympic trials in 1984 but failed to make the team. Now his son is on the brink of becoming the first American man to win Olympic boxing gold since Andre Ward in 2004 – unless his teammates, Duke Ragan (featherweight) and Keyshawn Davis (lightweight) get there first later this week, that is.

“I think this is something the US needs, and I’m just proud I can be the person for that,” he said.