Not to perpetuate stereotypes, but the most expressive, ebullient fighters at the World Boxing Championships at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion were, without a doubt, the Italians — at least in the final stages. I first noted in Friday’s semifinals that Italian coach Francesco Damiani kept throwing up his arms to contest judging and urge on lightweight Domenico Valentino. When Valentino won, Damiani immediately climbed up onto the apron, and Valentino jumped into his arms — the ropes of the ring between them.
Valentino lost in Saturday’s finals, but when Italian heavyweight Clemente Russo won gold in a stirring decision over Russian Rakhim Chakhkiev, literally beating the Russian to the last punch with the score tied at six and 35 seconds left in the final round, Russo too jumped into Damiani’s arms. That’s a pretty hefty load, but Damiani could handle it, at one point having held a share of the world heavyweight title himself in the late 80s and early 90s. Russo took off his boxing helmet to reveal a classic Italian profile, and as he left the ring, I swear, every female reporter or photographer in the press section made a point of going down and checking him out as he went by to the locker room, Russo talking and gesticulating all the while with his hands. (Doubt me? Check out this pic of Valentino and Russo.) “Viva Italia!” someone shouted in the stands.
The best — and the worst — was yet to come, however. The Italians had a finalist in the super heavyweight division as well, Roberto Cammarelle, and he came out strong and led Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Glazkov from the start, but early in the fourth and final round Damiani stood up in the Italian corner — and was ordered out by the referee. It seems the International Boxing Association holds coaches to a high standard in which they’re expected to sit quietly in the corner, and some refs take that more seriously than others. Cammarelle held on, and as the last seconds ticked down Damiani tried to return to the corner, only to be stopped by security and ushered to the locker room. He had to content himself with shouting congratulations over his shoulder. Too bad; I would have liked to see Cammarelle, all 91-plus kilograms of him, jump into Damiani’s arms.