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Grueling national boxing championships reach championship round

The emotions flowed as freely as the punches Friday afternoon at the USA Boxing National Championships.

Light flyweight Leroy Davila pounded out a win over Melik Elliston, then thought about his 1-year-old daughter back in New Jersey. Two bouts later at Northern Quest Resort and Casino, flyweight Shawn Simpson tried to take something positive out of taking down best friend Cristian Williams.

But nothing in this poster-sized card of 20 Elite bouts at Northern Quest Resort and Casino could match the lightweight bout between Chicagoan Kenneth Sims, and tireless Luis Sedano.

With his legs tiring and his mother, Tina, imploring him to hold on, Sims did just that, taking a unanimous but controversial decision – the scores were 28-26, 28-27, 28-27 – before heading to his hotel room for a hot bath.

“I try to tune it out, but she’s extremely loud,” said Sims of his mother, a boxing official herself, who could see that the third and final round wasn’t going well. When it was all over, mother and son shared a poignant hug with trainer and father, Kenneth Sims, Sr.

Sims, an Olympic Trials participant last year, had worked hard to get here – perhaps a little too hard. His father “told me I probably need a little more rest,” said Sims, who said that mental toughness is just as important in the late rounds, especially when the bouts fall on consecutive days.

“My legs just weren’t there,” said Sims, who will fight tonight for the national title against Cresencio Ramos of San Antonio.

All things considered, it was a good day for Chicago boxers. Flyweight Simpson advanced to the finals after winning a 3-0 decision over Williams that included a few body slams. The win advanced Simpson to a title match against Malik Jackson of Washington, D.C., an upset winner over top-ranked Eros Correa.

“He’s my best friend, and that’s our third fight,” Simpson said of Williams, shaking his head. “So I hope I brought out the best in him.”

Daughter Kharma always brings out the best in Davila, even if she’s 2,500 miles away. “She just started walking, and she says my name every time I come home,” said Davila, after a 3-0 decision over Elliston.

Davila, a runner-up at the Olympic Trials last year, will take on Leopoldo Martinez of Laredo, Texas, in tonight’s finals.

Dealing with change

As if the bouts aren’t tough enough, many boxers are making a double adjustment this week in the wake of rules changes enacted last year by the International Boxing Association. Olympic boxers are fighting without head guards in a pro-style scoring system starting this year, both of which could make the sport once known as amateur boxing more appealing to young boxers seeking professional careers.

The head-guard ban affects only male boxers at the top levels of AIBA competition, meaning women boxers and younger fighters will still wear the gear.

The amateur sport also is moving to a pro-style, 10-point scoring system. Each fight is scored by five ringside judges with the traditional 10-9 or 10-8 rounds familiar to fans of professional boxing.

Friday’s bout was Simpson’s first under the new rules, but he shrugged it off like an errant punch. “I fight like a pro anyway, I’m not into throwing a lot if punches,” Simpson said. “And even with headgear, my trainer tells me to keep my hands up.”