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Mercy rule moves Vargas on

8/20/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Moments after the American boxing team's
winning streak ended, Devin Vargas started a new one.

Light flyweight Rau'Shee Warren became the first U.S. boxer
eliminated from the Olympics, losing a frustrating 22-9 decision
Wednesday to China's Zou Shiming.

But Vargas joined six teammates in the second round with a 27-7
victory over Morocco heavyweight Rachid El Haddak in the afternoon
session. In the evening, American super heavyweight Jason Estrada
was scheduled to fight Tonga's Ma'afu Hawke in the final bout of
the preliminaries.

Vargas, a 22-year-old from a boxing-crazy family in Toledo,
Ohio, impressed the crowd at Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall with his
dominance of El Haddak. Moving nimbly and surprising the Moroccan
with even the simplest jabs, Vargas showed that his work on skill
and strategy over the past six months has turned him into much more
than a brawler.

"I think I'm peaking at just the right time," Vargas said.
"He looked a little nervous, a little scared. It's a
once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'm just trying to enjoy this and
have fun."

The fight was stopped 82 seconds into the third round on the
20-point mercy rule.

"I have decent power, but I'll save it until someone gets on me
and I need it," Vargas said.

That might be Sunday, when Vargas will face Belarus' Viktar
Zuyev, the runner-up at the European championships earlier this
year.

Zuyev's preliminary fight against Italy's Daniel Betti was
stopped when Betti hurt his right leg while falling to the canvas
in the first round. With only 16 heavyweights competing in Athens,
the winner of Sunday's fight will be guaranteed a medal.

The U.S. team won four straight fights before Warren, a
17-year-old from Cincinnati, ran into a clever veteran fighter who
finished second in last year's world championships.

Zou thoroughly exploited the inexperience of Warren, the
youngest boxer in the tournament, to turn an otherwise close fight
into a rout with timely point-scoring punches. After the decision
was announced, the disappointed teenager pulled the hood of his
robe completely over his head while leaving the ring.

"I still don't really know what the scoring was," Warren said.
"I felt calm, confident. It was a good experience for me to walk
into the arena like this. ... I haven't seen too many fighters like
this, though."

In the most anticipated fight of the afternoon session, Cuban
heavyweight Odlanier Solis duplicated his three-point victory over
Russia's Alexander Alexseev in last year's world championships,
winning 24-21. Solis, Cuba's successor to three-time gold medalist
Felix Savon, is a two-time world champion.

Ron Siler beat Australia's Bradley Hore 32-18 Tuesday night in a
one-sided flyweight bout. Andre Dirrell, Vanes Martirosyan and
Vicente Escobedo advanced to the second round with earlier
victories, while Andre Ward and Rock Allen received byes.

"I hope we just keep going the way we go," said Siler, the
24-year-old elder statesman and team captain. "We have the talent
and the skills. It's all mental now."

Siler, also from Cincinnati, executed his coaches' plan
perfectly against Hore, who was itching for an undisciplined brawl
in his first Olympic fight.

The American fighters have appeared well-coached in Athens,
doing their best to adhere to the amateur boxing ideals of speed,
plenty of punches and strong defense. Siler chased Hore around the
ring for two rounds, scoring when he pleased, then drew Hore into
losing battles in every part of the ring in the final two rounds.

"He was coming in with some wild shots," Siler said. "But I
felt he was slower than my sparring partners. I could see his
punches after the first round."