Any time U.S. fighters face a Cuban in international boxing, it's a learning experience. Usually a painful one.
So when light flyweight Luis Yanez beat Cuba's Yampier Hernandez in the quarterfinals of the Pan-American Games, the celebrations were anything but muted. For once, it was an American amateur dominating a Cuban pro in the ring, and the U.S. contingent loved it.
Yanez, who avenged an 11-10 loss to Hernandez in February, came on in the latter rounds to win, a rare occurrence in U.S.-Cuba bouts. He survived being penalized twice by the referee, winning 11-8.
"I was down the second and third round, but I picked up my pace a little bit," Yanez said. "I saw that I was winning, so I kept boxing, I kept moving around and using my reach. This was one of my goals and I achieved it. My second goal is to win that gold."
Boxing gold is rare for Americans in international events, especially when the Cubans stand in the way. In the past two Pan-Ams, Cubans have won 15 golds and Americans have earned two. Overall, Cuba has 71 golds in Pan-Ams boxing to 29 for the United States - few of those recently.
U.S. coach Dan Campbell attributes some of the Cubans' success to their ability to adapt to the international style of judging. Cubans get so much experience in the ring against Europeans, Asians, Australians and South Americans that they learn rapidly what the judges look for.
American fighters, unless they remain amateurs a long time, rarely log that kind of time at non-U.S. events.
"Our young boxers' styles don't fit well in international competitions," Campbell admits. "And we always field young teams; we can't get around it. Other countries have older boxers, so we have to get our guys in better shape and in a short period of time make them stronger boxers.
"We know wherever we go (internationally), we will see strong Cubans. We have to learn from them and learn how to beat them."
That, of course, has been a struggle for all fighters, not just Americans. But the Cubans are dealing with their own problems nowadays: defections.
They lost three top boxers since Athens, and two more, including two-time Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, a bantamweight world champ, did not show for their fights Sunday in Rio.
The ones who do show up are formidable, but U.S. fighters claim there is no intimidation factor.
"The more international experience we can get, the better," said super heavyweight Mike Wilson, who lost to a Canadian on Monday. "One thing the U.S. fighters lack is these kinds of international fights, and if the Cubans are the top competition, it's good to fight them.
"They are real disciplined fighters. If you get one point on them, they are right back at you and trying to score. They understand the system and what they need to do to score points real well. They're the top team in the world, but I don't see their style being much different than us."
But the results have been. So beginning to change that more than a year before the Olympics would be a boost for Americans, who have their Olympic trials coming up late next month.
"There's one way to do that: hard work," said heavyweight Adam Willett, who lost to a Venezuelan on Monday. "I feel the way I got good is I kept my eye on the fights, learned everything I could watching, whether it was juniors, Golden Gloves, pros. Not partying, but keeping my eye on the game and on the prize."