LONDON — After Carlos Suarez put on a losing performance that still had the Olympic crowd chanting his name, the Ohioan wearing Trinidad and Tobago's uniform only said what so many fighters are thinking when they lose an amateur boxing match.
"It's not boxing," the light flyweight said. "It's tag."
Suarez dropped a 16-6 decision to Turkey's Ferhat Pehlivan on Tuesday night while fighting for his mother's homeland. Both fighters struggled to land clean punches through a shoving, brawling mess of a bout, yet Suarez was left frustrated and furious after the five ringside judges decided the awkward Pehlivan – who probably slipped and fell to the canvas more than a dozen times during the bout – had landed more scoring punches.
"That was a horrible decision," said the light flyweight from Lima, Ohio. "That's the problem with amateur boxing. That's the problem with the scoring system. That's the problem with Olympic boxing. ... Those aren't punches. I didn't feel none of his shots. He didn't hurt me one time. I'm fed up, man, big-time. At least I put on a good show in my last fight, though."
Until AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo can make good on his intention of returning amateur boxing to a pro-style scoring system, five ringside judges decide winners by attempting to count the number of clean punches landed. For all but the most gifted fighters, the amateur sport can still be described as fencing with gloves – and for most boxers from nations with strong professional cultures, it's tough to change the way they've been thinking about their sport since childhood.
Suarez is just the second boxer to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Olympics, the first since 1996. Instead of trying for a spot on the U.S. team, which didn't qualify a light flyweight for London, he followed the parentage strategy that allowed former welterweight champion Andre Berto to fight for Haiti at the Athens Olympics.
Suarez didn't dominate his only bout, and he was docked points by the referee for holding late in the three-round fight. But at least he attempted to interrupt Pehlivan's combination of technical sparring and clumsiness with a little passion, even getting up in Pehlivan's face for a staredown after a fall.
The strategy didn't score enough points, but it left the mostly British crowd chanting "Carlos! Carlos!" as the aspiring rapper left the ring with both arms raised.
"It was amazing to hear the fans like that," Suarez said. "I understand it's Olympic boxing, but this guy was in there slapping all the time, and he's falling over 10 times. There's nothing I could do about it. I'm proud of my performance. At least I put on a show. You could hear in the reaction of the crowd who they felt won it."
Suarez wasn't alone in his frustration, either. French light flyweight Jeremy Beccu bitterly protested the judging in his 18-17 loss to Kazakhstan's Birzhan Zhakypov after putting on a strong performance that would have won him the fight handily under professional rules.
"I knew I had to fight against the judges also, alas," Beccu said. "It's really unfair. I should have won. Nobody can convince me otherwise."
Complaints about the judging still have been down sharply in London after two weeks of seemingly nonstop whining in Beijing, although the sniping may rise again when the top seeds in each weight category begin hitting the ring on Wednesday and beyond. AIBA recently made changes to its computerized scoring system that actually seem to be producing better results.
The computers have been derided by boxing fans and fighters alike for two decades, yet the fighters and teams who learn to exploit them can reap rich rewards. Plenty of those fighters advanced at ExCel from the fourth day of competition, including three-time Olympian Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg: The world's second-ranked light welterweight from Mongolia rode the cheers of his vocal fans to a 20-12 victory over Zdenek Chladek of the Czech Republic.
In the early session, Little Pacquiao came up big for the Philippines.
Light flyweight Mark Barriga easily handled Italy's Manuel Cappai in the opening bout for the only Filipino boxer in London, earning a 17-7 victory. Barriga's one-sided win was an encouraging result for a strong boxing nation with little recent history of amateur success.
The 19-year-old Barriga trained in Manny Pacquiao's camp to prepare for the Olympics, earning the nickname "Little Pacquiao" in the Filipino media. The 5-foot-2 slugger's potent punching power suggests he was taking notes from the beloved Filipino congressman.
Two Cubans also advanced, and Indian light flyweight Devendro Singh Laishram recorded the quickest stoppage of the tournament. Laishram was far too much for Honduras' Bayron Molina, delivering multiple unblocked head shots before the referee stepped in with 36 seconds left in the first round.
"He wasn't a very good boxer, and I knew that," Laishram said. "I had sized him up. The coming rounds are going to be more difficult."
His Indian teammate, light welterweight Manoj Kumar, also advanced handily, as did Australia's Jeffrey Horn.
Puerto Rico's promising Jantony Ortiz, who beat Suarez in the semifinals of the Americas qualifier earlier this summer, trounced Ghana's Tetteh Sulemanu 20-6 in the opening bout of the evening session.