By Patrick Johnston
LONDON (Reuters) - Italian heavyweight Clemente Russo was booed on Sunday after reducing his Olympic quarter-final against Cuba's Jose Larduet Gomez into a holding farce in the third round.
The first two rounds were entertaining enough but a packed crowd at the ExCel arena then began chanting 'Cuba, Cuba' as Russo looked like he should have been taking part in one of the wrestling bouts that are also being held at the east London venue.
The Italian, employing a flashy hands-down style, picked off Larduet in the opening two rounds to open a 9-7 lead before resulting to questionable tactics in the third.
Right or wrong it worked as the final round was scored 3-3 to give Russo a 12-10 win, putting him in the semi-finals and guaranteeing at least a bronze medal.
"They booed because it was an ugly fight. I don't think they booed me personally," Russo told reporters through an interpreter.
"I had the experience to win the fight. There were very few shots and I tried to make the referee think that it wasn't just me holding and I managed it - it worked."
Russo, the 2007 world champion, was giving away a considerable height advantage and kept darting in to land his punches before holding to avoid a counter.
Rule 12.1.9 of the International Boxing Association rules says 'Holding or locking of the opponent's arm or head, or pushing an arm underneath the arm of an opponent' is a foul.
Slovakian referee Rene Just chose not to split the duo on the frequent occasions they became entangled, infuriating Larduet's cornermen.
Perhaps Just was thinking of German counterpart Frank Scharmach who was suspended for five days on Thursday for being too quick in disqualifying a fighter for persistent holding.
"I agree it wasn't a great show. I think only Clemente had the clean hits, his opponent didn't really have any clean shots and he deserved the win in the end," said a member of Russo's corner.
The tactics also angered the 22-year-old Larduet.
"I don't know what to say because I don't agree with the referee's decision. I think it is unfair," the Cuban said.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)