COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Artificial crowd noise roared through the speakers at the Olympic Training Center. It was intended to be a distraction. For Rau'shee Warren and Michael Hunter, it was motivation.
Warren and Hunter have become the unrivaled leaders of the U.S. boxing team that starts competition this month at the world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, and they proved their readiness by triumphing in simulated bouts Tuesday against their training partners.
Other winners in fights with judges adhering to international scoring were bantamweight Joseph Diaz Jr., welterweight Errol Spence, middleweight Jesse Hart, light-heavyweight Marcus Browne and super-heavyweight Lenroy Thompson. Losers were light-flyweight Eros Correa, lightweight Jose Ramirez and light-welterweight Jamel Herring.
Only Warren, Hunter and Spence have boxed at worlds, which serve as the first qualifier for the 2012 London Games. Hunter and Thompson need top-six finishes in Baku to earn Olympic berths, while their teammates require top-10 showings to get to London. Those falling short can fight at a continental qualifier in April in Rio de Janeiro, assuming they reclaim their positions at next year's national championships, likely in Colorado Springs.
Five of 10 Americans qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games through worlds, with Warren, a flyweight, and former amateur welterweight Demetrius Andrade winning gold medals in 2007. Missing the grade for Beijing were Hunter, who was a super-heavyweight and is now a heavyweight, and retired light-heavyweight Christopher Downs, formerly of Fort Carson, then the U.S. stumbled to one medal in its worst showing in Olympic history.
This time, Warren envisions a different outcome, as he shoots for his third Olympic trip a feat that never has been accomplished by an American boxer. He said his appointment as captain was natural considering "somebody had to lead the way, and I feel like I'm the perfect guy to do it. I'm real humble. I'm laidback. And I also work hard."
In the two weeks that U.S. boxers have practiced at the OTC, "if they have any questions, they can just sit down and talk to me about it," Warren said. "I'll tell them my experience and tell them what to do or what not to do from what I've been through. ... We got our giggles. We got our laughs. But at the end of the day, we get the work done."
Hunter called himself "one of the most experienced guys here," noting that he has "been there before" in reference to worlds. He likes the potential of this squad compared to the 2008 team because "all the guys, we all get along very well. We're like family already. We all just gravitate toward each other. ... Everybody is pushing everybody to the limit."
USA Boxing coach Joe Zanders anticipates his team will rally behind Warren and Hunter since "the younger guys who are just coming on the scene have someone that they know can provide the kind of leadership that will give them confidence. ... With Rau'shee and Mike, they know exactly what they're doing. It's all about hard work and smart work."