The future of the heavyweight division in boxing, to some degree, may rest on the broad shoulders of Jason Estrada in the Summer Olympic Games in Athens. How well boxers perform and what color medals they capture will determine the value of signing bonuses for those such as Estrada who will turn pro when they return home and negotiate with interested promoters.
Estrada, of Providence, is the United States super heavyweight champion and pre-Olympic medal favorite along with Russian Alexander Povetkin, World and European champion, Cuba's Michael Nunez, and Italy's Roberto Cammarelle.
Much more is at stake, however, considering the U.S. hasn't captured a gold medal in boxing since 1996 and none in the heavyweight/super heavyweight class in 20 years. Considering the present state of pro boxing, particularly its marquee division during normal times, heavyweight; boxing fans are turning their collective, often blackened eyes to the Olympics in general, super heavyweights in particular. Recently retired heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, as well as many boxing experts, have predicted boxing's next star must emerge from the 2004 Olympics. The top 10 heavyweights in pro boxing today range between the ages of 31 and 35. Boxing needs young blood, especially its big boys, and Estrada may be exactly what the doctor's ordered.
Team USA already is in Greece completing training camp in preparation for next week's start of the Olympics. Jason has embraced pressure the past four years leading up the amateur boxing's greatest stage, The Olympics, and now it's showtime.
"I keep hearing the same names as everybody," Estrada said, "but you can't count anybody out. Everybody here had to qualify and they're competing for a medal. I've never fought or seen the Russian box. If I face him, I hope we're both 100-percent and may the best man win. The Cuban has real boxing skills, the best I've ever faced, but I'd rather be in against a boxer like him than a puncher with less sills who makes the bout sloppy. I out-boxed him in the Pan-Am Games."
Estrada, 23, defeated Nunez, 14-6, to become the first non-Cuban to capture a gold medal in the 201+pound super heavyweight division at the Pan-American games. Jason was the first boxer to win both the U.S. Nationals and U.S. Challenge three years in a row. (2001-2003).
"I can box or bang," Jason noted. "I'd rather box, especially in the amateurs. My hand and foot speed are my strengths. I want to perform well at the Olympics for my family and country. I'm turning pro when I come back home, but I don't want to stay in boxing too long. I plan on winning the title and retiring by the time I'm around 30. Right now, though, all I'm thinking about is getting through my first match in the Olympics. This is a single elimination tournament, one loss and you're out, and nobody has an idea who they're fighting. You could draw the best opponent in the first match. I've worked very hard for a long time to have this opportunity and I'm ready for it."