By Padraic Halpin
LONDON (Reuters) - Classy Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo won Cuba's first boxing gold in eight years on Saturday when he beat Ukraine's Denys Berinchyk in a battle which pitted the great amateur boxing nation against the rising force of the sport.
Sotolongo, one of the most clinical boxers at the Games who beat world light-welterweight champion Everton dos Santos Lopes of Brazil on his way to the final, caught the aggressive Ukrainian with one left upper cut too many to win 22-15.
"Today is the day which is the most important in my whole career. Without my family I could not achieve this victory. They will be so proud, I dedicate this to them," Sotolongo told reporters.
Sotolongo, one of four Cuban bronze medallists at the Beijing Games, took a tight first round 5-4 after both men came out aggressively, trading powerful right and left jabs, and the Cuban's left upper-cut proved the difference.
It was the same story in the second round with the 23-year-old Cuban proving too quick for Berinchyk who has sported one of the oddest haircuts at the Olympics, an eye-catching mostly shaved style with a lengthy piece of hair left on top.
The Ukrainian world championship silver medallist may have produced one of the tournament's best rounds in the semi-finals, scoring more points in the final three minutes than most have managed in nine, but there was little chance of a repeat on Saturday.
Sotolongo was just as relentless in the final round, delivering a series of stinging right jabs before beating his chest as the final bell rang and waving the Cuban flag in a victory lap of honour once the result was confirmed.
"Silver is more precious for me than gold because it's been such a long road to the final," Berinchyk told reporters. "My opponent was very good but I gave everything I had in my previous bout. I couldn't show my best today."
Sotolongo's teenage team mate, the thrilling Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana, has a chance of a second Cuban gold on Sunday while two of Berinchyk's colleagues, including Vasyl Lomachenko, can still hand Ukraine a first success of the Games.
Losing semi-finalists Vincenzo Mangiacapre of Italy and Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg of Mongolia took bronze.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Michael Holden)