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US Olympic boxers struggling with cuts

In this photo taken on Dec 9, Derae Crane and Cam Awesome (left), compete in the US Olympic Boxing Trials in Reno, Nev. (AP)
In this photo taken on Dec 9, Derae Crane and Cam Awesome (left), compete
in the US Olympic Boxing Trials in Reno, Nev. (AP)

RENO, Nevada, Dec 11, (AP): Antonio Vargas never had a cut in his boxing life until blood trickled down his forehead Wednesday during his most important bout. The touted flyweight fought through the surprise and pain, but his Olympic dreams were imperiled when he lost a split decision at the US team trials.

“It happened so fast,” Vargas said. “It was just a clash of heads. I had that fight, man.”

Vargas didn’t blame his loss on the blood, but facial cuts are a growing problem worldwide for Olympic-style boxers fighting for places in Rio de Janeiro at the first Olympics since the International Boxing Association (AIBA) decided male boxers will no longer wear protective headgear.

Seven fighters developed significant cuts during the first three days of the US Olympic trials in Reno this week, including heavyweight favorite Cam F. Awesome and Vargas, the Pan Am Games champion who might be the Americans’ best chance to end their 12-year gold medal drought. They both fought on, but three other boxers were cut badly enough to force them out of the tournament.

Mark Dawson was done after he needed 18 stitches in his forehead to seal a grotesque cut, also the first of his career. Even Chris Ousley’s Olympic dream died because his opponent, Carlos Monroe, was cut down to the skull and couldn’t continue, yet still won their bout on the scorecards.

The problems aren’t confined to the US, with serious cuts reported from tournaments around the world since the 2013 rule change. AIBA reportedly reassessed its headgear decision during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when Australian boxer Daniel Lewis was cut too badly to continue, but quickly confirmed the plan would move forward to Rio.

Even AIBA’s detractors realize the absence of headgear has made Olympic boxing more television-friendly. While AIBA acknowledges the danger of cuts, it claims the change was made because concussions will decrease without the heavy protective padding, although many American coaches and fighters chuckle at the science used to justify the decision.

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