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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wolfgram Upsets Cuban With King's Best Wishes

ATLANTA -- The King of Tonga sent a good luck fax, his people fasted and the boxer prayed alone for Olympic victory over the mighty Cuban.


Whether it was divine intervention, or more mundane qualities like bravery and composure, boxing fans in Atlanta witnessed an extraordinary event Wednesday night when Tongan super-heavyweight Paea Wolfgram defeated Cuba's Rubalcaba Alexis.


As sporting shocks go, this was way off the end of the Richter scale.


No one outside the South Pacific believed Wolfgram, 26, had a chance in the quarter-final. Many fans feared for the safety of an easygoing man who had fought just 23 times and carried his weight around his waist, not his chest.


But Wolfgram won -- not by hanging on desperately and earning a lucky decision against the much taller, heavily muscled Alexis, but by outboxing and outhitting one of the most feared fighters in the world.


The 17-12 scoreline was just and earned the small island its first Olympic medal. The American crowd became honorary citizens of Tonga, yelling themselves hoarse and chanting the island's name as Wolfgram repeatedly hurt Alexis.


No one laughed after the fight when Wolfgram said he was disappointed he had not finished the fight in the first round. Nor when he said he had come to Atlanta to win gold, not to play tourist.


"Cuba is the pinnacle of world amateur boxing. I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet a Cuban and doubly glad to have beaten him," Wolfgram said.


Tonga's boxing regime is somewhat different to the state-financed Cuban system that turns out gold medalist after gold medalist. Wolfgram is Tongan boxing. There is only one punch bag in the island state.


He only started in the fight game three years ago after injuring himself playing rugby. And his style is based on a good eye, a left hook and calm self-belief in the ring.


When asked how he had prepared for the fight, he replied: "Composure, composure and more composure." He stuck up an American newspaper cutting saying he would be lucky to last three rounds on his bedroom wall to bolster his resolve.


Religion also plays an important part in his preparation. Wolfgram, a Mormon, and his two coaches prayed before the fight and "asked the Lord to look favorably upon us."


Back home, Tongan radio broadcast a message Tuesday asking people to fast and pray for his victory. The other four athletes in the Olympic squad joined in the day-long fast.


The king and prime minister of Tonga sent their best wishes, saying they were proud of him whatever happened against Alexis. Wolfgram reckons his victory is probably the biggest sporting event ever to have hit Tonga.


Once the excitement has faded, he knows it will be difficult to pull himself up for the next fight against Nigerian Duncan Dokiwari. After that, the gold beckons.


"If I win the gold, my coach will die and maybe the king will give me half of Tonga," Wolfgram said.