Pro trip: Hassan N'Dam loses opening fight at Rio Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) After a 12-year professional boxing career, Hassan N'Dam dreamed of returning to the Olympics and winning the gold medal that eluded him in Athens.
Instead, N'Dam is headed home with a bitter lesson in the amateur version of his sport.
N'Dam was ousted in his opening bout in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night, losing a unanimous decision to Brazil's Michel Borges.
The 32-year-old N'Dam, who held versions of two pro middleweight titles, is the biggest name among the three professional boxers who joined the Rio field earlier this summer. Although the French-Cameroonian veteran appeared to land cleaner shots in the final two rounds, Borges got the decision in his hometown with a quick start and the wild support of a crowd that roared for his every punch.
''I'm very disappointed about this,'' N'Dam said. ''He's a good fighter, but I think I'm better than him. I took too much time to come into the fight, but I lost the fight.''
N'Dam's stunning loss buried any fears of an Olympic tournament dominated by professionals in Rio.
Lightweight Carmine Tommasone, who has never fought professionally outside of his native Italy, became the first pro boxer to win an Olympic fight in the morning session at Riocentro Pavilion 6, beating Mexico's Lindolfo Delgado.
Thailand lightweight Amnat Ruenroeng, the third pro in the field, fights Sunday.
When the International Boxing Association (AIBA) decided earlier this year to allow any boxer to attempt to qualify for the Olympics, many observers condemned the move, envisioning a bizarre event with elite prizefighters seriously hurting teenage amateurs.
But every big-name boxer in the world passed on Rio, citing everything from injury worries to the Olympic-style sport's peculiar demands in a multi-fight tournament featuring daily weigh-ins and three-round bouts.
The last factor doomed N'Dam, who acknowledged feeling out his opponent in an inactive first round.
In the pros, that's a smart strategy. In the amateur game, the fight is already one-third over.
''I did it too slow,'' N'Dam said. ''I'm not happy. I came too far for this competition. I took too much time from my professional career. I have no regrets, but I took too long to get into the fight.''
N'Dam had hoped to better his performance in the loaded Olympic middleweight tournament in 2004, when the amateur game still used the now-discarded punch-counting system to determine winners. N'Dam beat future Irish world middleweight champion Andy Lee, but lost a decision to Russia's Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov, who went on to beat Gennady Golovkin for the middleweight gold medal in Athens.
Many boxing experts predicted wild mismatches when pros joined the Olympic qualification process this summer - and perhaps it would have happened if the likes of Golovkin or Canelo Alvarez had signed up.
But the amateur game presents challenges that can be just as problematic as a Wladimir Klitschko jab.
''It's very different,'' Tommasone said. ''I (had to adjust) for a three-round Olympic fight. I usually prepare for a 10-round, 12-round (fight). I had to win the match with intelligence.''
The 32-year-old Tommasone thoroughly controlled his first Olympic fight, trouncing the 21-year-old Delgado with activity and precision. Tommasone fights as a 126-pound professional featherweight, but chose the 132-pound lightweight division for the Olympics, likely making it easier to deal with daily weigh-ins.
Tommasone, nicknamed ''Mr. Wolf'' after Harvey Keitel's problem-solving character in ''Pulp Fiction,'' barely missed qualification for the Beijing Games. He eagerly seized the Italian federation's invitation to qualify last month in Venezuela.
''The Olympics are a dream for every athlete, and for me, it is wonderful,'' Tommasone said. ''When I learned that I could qualify, I wanted to do it immediately. It was my dream.''
AP Summer Games website: http://summergames.ap.org/