Fernando Vargas was 10 years old in the summer of '88, when he watched in amazement as American Roy Jones Jr. lost a controversial gold-medal decision in the Seoul Olympics.
Since then, Vargas says he has been victimized around the world by judges biased against the United States. But he never figured something like that would happen to him this year, not with the Games on his home turf.
The Oxnard welterweight lost 8-7 to Romanian Marian Simion on Thursday afternoon at Alexander Coliseum in a second-round bout that showed the computerized scoring system adopted after the Jones debacle is not foolproof.
Trailing 7-6 late in the third and final round, Vargas rocked Simion with a three-punch combination that failed to earn a single point. "They were all scoring blows," he said.
When the Syrian referee raised Simion's arm in victory, Vargas wheeled in disbelief, walked to his corner, then leaned against the ropes to compose himself.
He was one of two Americans to fight and lose second-round bouts.
Four bouts earlier, bantamweight Zahir Raheem was stopped 2:15 into the first round by Cuba's Arnaldo Mesa. Heavyweight Nate Jones reached the quarterfinals, however, when he stopped injured Fola Okesola of Britain in the third round.
After the Vargas bout, the fighter and his coaches criticized the computerized scoring system, accused one judge of bias and charged the rest of the boxing world with conspiring to keep Americans from winning.
"I know and he knows I won the fight," Vargas said.
"There's no better country than the U.S., and that's the only way to get us back is cheating us."
U.S. coaches Al Mitchell and Jesse Ravelo said they planned to protest the decision.
Vargas won the first round, 4-2, but was blanked by Simion, 5-0, in the second, a round he and his coaches thought was his best. A series of Vargas flurries in the third round produced a 7-7 tie, but the Romanian was credited with the decisive point during an exchange with 22 seconds left.
Vargas, who plans to turn pro immediately, had raised his right hand in triumph before the decision.
"I was shocked," he said. "I see I'm rocking his head, one, two, three, four. It wasn't even close."
At least he handled the loss well, more than could be said for Raheem.
Mesa knocked the American down midway with a straight left, then staggered Raheem 20 seconds later with the same punch. The referee gave Raheem a standing 8-count, then stopped the fight despite Raheem's gestures that he was all right.
Raheem fell to the canvas in disbelief. With the crowd booing vociferously, the referee tried to put an arm around the Philadelphian, but Raheem brushed him away and refused to shake hands with Mesa.
"They shouldn't have stopped the fight," Mitchell insisted. "The key with an athlete like Zahir is to get him back to the corner."