Saturday, January 27
Six former U.S Olympians win pro debuts

By David Gonzalez SportsTicker Staff Writer

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- The last time Ricardo Williams Jr. fought in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, he left a tremendous impression as an amateur. Saturday night, Williams and five other members of the 2000 U.S Olympic boxing team made successful professional debuts there.

In 1984, five Olympians -- Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Tyrell Biggs, and Meldrick Taylor -- made their respective debuts in the main arena at Madison Square Garden. Saturday night, Williams led the 2000 squad into the pro ranks in impression fashion.

A decorated amateur, the highly regarded 18-year-old Williams won a silver medal in Sydney in the 139-pound light welterweight division.

He will best be remembered for what was considered one of the most stirring bouts in Olympic boxing history. Williams pulled out a hard-fought decision in an exciting, give-and-take brawl with Diogenes Luna of Cuba in a semifinal fight in Sydney.

Saturday night, Williams displayed the tremendous hand speed and ring generalship that made him an Olympian. He repeatly beat a game and previously unbeaten Anthony Simpkins before recording a fourth-round stoppage.

Williams landed repeatedly with straight lefts to the head in the opening round and had Simpkins in trouble late in the second.

"I was a little anxious coming out in the first round," Williams said. "He took a real good punch, but I had a lot of people from Cincinnati (his hometown) to support me and I had to put on a show for them."

Williams didn't disappoint. He continued to dominate and had Simpkins (5-1-1) out on his feet before the fight was stopped with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth.

Besides winning a silver medal in Sydney, Williams is also a two-time U.S national amateur champ, and in 1998 he captured a gold medal at the Goodwill Games in the very same ring he won his pro debut on Saturday.

Also winning their first pro fights were a pair of bronze medalists, Jermain Taylor and Clarence Vinson.

Taylor looked like a seasoned pro despite fighting a boxer with much more experience. The 21-year-old dropped Chris Walsh (17-5-1) early in the third round and ended matters with a tremendous right hand to the head 16 seconds into the fourth.

"He's a veteran, I take nothing away from him," said Taylor of his opponent. "A lot of people say that all Jermain Taylor got is a right hand. I got a nice left hand too. I think I displayed that well tonight."

Vinson absorbed a cut over his right eye in the second round, but managed to bloody the nose of Adrian Valdez en route to earning a four-round decision.

"I feel OK," Vinson said. "I got head-butted early in the round. I took control of the fight. I boxed him and made him pay. That's why I'm victorious."

He won all three judges' scorecards 40-37, 40-36, and 39-37, which drew a chorus of boos from the 4,387 fans in attendence.

"He took some hard shots and kept just coming," Vinson said. "I told my manager that I didn't want anyone but the best to get me ready for my pro debut."

Vinson, who is from Washington D.C, lost to Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba in the semifinals in Sydney.

Jose Navarro, Michael Bennett and Dante Craig were the other 2000 Olympians to emerge victorious.

In a 115-pound junior bantamweight matchup, Navarro wore down upset-minded Kenny Berrios en route to capturing a four-round unanimous decision.

Navarro, who lost in the quarterfinals in Sydney to eventual bronze medalist Jerome Thomas of France, captured two of the judges' scorecards, 40-35. The third judge scored the fight, 40-36.

"I came here to do my best, I was well prepared," Navarro said. "We had a good crowd here and that was the only thing on my mind, was to do my best and look good. I felt I did my job."

Bennett scored a brutal first-round stoppage of Andrew Hutchinson.

The 30-year-old Bennett spent time in prison for armed robbery before earning a spot on the 2000 team. He stunned Hutchinson (1-2-1) with a right hand along the ropes before delivering a barrage of punches that forced the referee to stop the fight with 14 seconds remaining in the opening round.

"I knew that he would probably try to move on me in the first round and feel me out," said Bennett. "I just tried to jump on top of him and take a little wind out of him. I was ready to do business because he was going to do business."

Craig of Cincinnati needed a little more than two minutes to dispose Darren Fallen (1-1) in the evening's opening bout, a welterweight matchup.

Craig was the first American eliminated from the Olympic games when he was outpointed by Bulent Ulusoy of Turkey in the second round.

A pair of international Olympians also made successful debuts with first-round stoppages.

Paolo Vidroz of Italy posted a first-round knockout of Chris Morris (1-1-1), while Jerson Ravelo of the Dominican Republic dropped Miguel Guittierrez (1-1) three times in the opening round for his first pro win.

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