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Monday, Aug. 6, 2012

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History in the making: Jordan's Ihab Almatbouli (right) is the first boxer from his nation to record a win at the Olympics. AP

Jordanian boxer Almatbouli remembers humble roots

Staff writer

LONDON — You'll be hard-pressed to find a more inspiring Olympic athlete right now than light-heavyweight boxer Ihab Almatbouli of Jordan.

He understands this, and he won't fade away into the sunset after falling to Cuba's Julio La Cruz Peraza 25-8 in their round of 16 bout Saturday at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Jordan prince Feizal Al Hussein was a motivational presence for Almatbouli during his bout at ExCel.

"I am very honored that the prince is here," the 26-year-old boxer said. "His presence gave me a boost. I wanted to do better in front of His Highness but, unfortunately, I was facing the world champion. It was difficult."

Almatbouli can't forget his humble roots. He grew up in al-Baqa'a, a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan.

"I hope I'm going to be one of the role models to the young people of the refugee camp," Almatbouli said.

Indeed, his opportunity to be here in London competing with world-class athletes is a blessing — and he knows it.

"I am very loved in Jordan, even before the Olympics. At home, all my friends and family and brothers are watching," he said.

Following his loss to La Cruz Peraza, Almatbouli first informed the prince that his post-London plan was to guide his jab-and-hook-throwing siblings — he has three younger brothers — in their own path to reach the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in four years.

But during a 10-minute conversation with the prince an apparent change of heart took place.

"OK, sir, I will give you my word that I will continue," Almatbouli told the Jordanian royalty.

La Cruz Peraza, the winner over Almatbouli, commended his foe's effort.

"He (Almatbouli) was good," the Cuban said. "I got a good win. I got my rhythm in the second round. I was able to move around the ring, do my boxing."

After Almatbouli became the first Jordanian to record a victory at the Olympics by defeating Nigeria's Lukmon Lawal 19-7, his status as a national hero increased significantly.

And now it's time for Almatbouli to make plans to return to the gym. Four years are not that far away.

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