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Professional boxers come up short at the Olympics

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Professionals were allowed to compete against amateur boxers for the first time in Rio, but none made it past the round of 16.

Michel Borges (red) of Brazil celebrates victory over Hassan Ndam Njikam of Cameroon.
Michel Borges (red) of Brazil celebrates victory over Hassan Ndam Njikam of Cameroon.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Olympic Games were the first in history to allow professional boxers to compete among amateurs, but the first professionals to ever step inside the Olympic boxing ring didn’t come close to winning a medal.

Three pro boxers qualified to fight in Rio de Janeiro, all of whom are more than 30 years old, and none of them were able to win against largely younger competition more than once. Hassan N'Dam N’Jikam, 32, from Cameroon, faced Brazil’s Michel Borges, 25, at the 81kg (178 pounds) division on Saturday, and lost via decision.

"I was an amateur for a long time, but as a professional boxer, my biggest difficulty was to get in the fight," N'Dam N’Jikam said after the bout. "I’ve fought all these amateur boxers before. I’m not surprised I lost to an amateur, because I used to be one. Professionals don’t have an advantage because the characteristics of the fight are different."

Within the boxing community, the decision to open the Olympic field was mostly met with criticism about the advantages the pros would have over the world’s up-and-coming fighters. But given that the sport’s biggest stars largely declined to compete for their countries, the group of pro competitors who did make it to Rio struggled with both the format of the Games — accruing points in three-round bouts rather than 12 — and the quality of the upstarts.

N'Dam N’Jikam, who placed fifth in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, thinks he should have advanced to the next round, and blames the judges for his loss. Sergei Morozov scored the bout 30-27, while Trong Nghia Vuong and Stefan Nordin saw it 29-28 in favor of the Brazilian.

"I’m surprised, not because I’m a professional, but because of the judge’s bad judgement," N'Dam N’Jikam said. "I saw that I lost the first round, but I put pressure in the second and third rounds, hit him way more, and that’s why I was surprised with the decision. I don’t know if it’s the same judgment between amateurs and professionals, but I don’t think it was a good one."

In the 60kg (132 pounds) division, 36-year-old Amnat Ruenroeng from Thailand and 32-year-old Italian Carmine Tommasone scored wins in Rio, but also failed to advance in competition. In his first fight, Tommasone defeated Lindolfo Delgado (Mexico), and Ruenroeng topped Ignacio Perrin (Argentina).

Tommasone fought the division’s favorite, 25-year-old Lazaro Alvarez from Cuba, in the round of 16 on Tuesday and ended up losing via decision.

"From my point of view, I performed very well," Tommasone said through a translator after the loss. "I’ve beaten the Mexican, No. 4, in the first round, and this time was the Cuban, the No. 1 in the world. Although I was defeated, I think I performed very well and I’m very happy about it.

"Participating in the Olympics is the dream of any athlete. When I missed the qualification for Beijing, and became a professional, I felt I didn’t have any more chances, but, in fact, when I was qualified for here, in Rio, then I was very excited about it."

Ruenroeng faced France’s Sofiane Oumiha on Tuesday in the round of 16 and was defeated by TKO.

"AIBA (International Boxing Association) gave us this opportunity, and it was a good opportunity to be in the Olympic Games," Ruenroeng said through a translator. "It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I tried my best."