Sunday, September 17, 2000

Craig wins for Dante Jr.

Cincinnati boxer carries heartache of infant son's death

AP Sports Writer

        SYDNEY, Australia — Dante Craig knows heartache, and he knows pain. He had to fight through both just to make the U.S. boxing team.

        By those standards, Craig's Olympic debut Saturday couldn't have been much easier. The only obstacle was an Egyptian who brought a tricky name but not much else into the ring at the Sydney Exhibition Center.

        Even a little ring rust didn't bother Craig as he dominated Fadel Showban Showban before the 147-pound fight was finally stopped midway through the final round.

        The thrill of his win, though, was tempered by thoughts of his infant son, who died Jan. 10 of a respiratory problem. Craig was near tears thinking of Dante Jr. as he walked into the arena.

        “I wish he could see his daddy come into the ring,” Craig said. “I still mourn the death of my son. It hurts me every day just to think of it.”

        Craig still struggles to understand the death of his son at the age of one month. And he was still trying to deal with the death of his own mother in 1998.

        On his right bicep is a tattoo of a rose and a cross with an inscription that reads, “In memory of Mary and Dante.”

        “God has a reason for everything,” the 22-year-old said. “I have to look at it his way.”

        Craig quit boxing altogether after his mother died and is among the most unlikely of candidates to even be in Sydney.

        It took a dream from his brother, Dion, to get him boxing again. He was pressing pants in a Cincinnati laundry when his brother told him of a vivid dream of their mother asking him to get his brother back in the sport.

        “It hit me in the heart,” Craig said. “I just instantly believed it.”

        Dion Craig, a factory worker who came with his brother to Sydney, offered him $50 a week out of his own pocket to begin fighting again. Craig took the money and moved in with his father to save expenses. He then began the long road back.

        Craig had to go to an Olympic qualifier in Tijuana to make the U.S. team, winning despite a damaged right hand and root canal surgery the morning of his final fight.

        Assistant U.S. coach Candy Lopez reminded him of his struggles as the two sat in a dressing room before his first Olympic fight.

        “He told me I had big shoulders to carry a lot of weight on,” Craig said. “That's what I did tonight.”

        It was the first fight for Craig since making the team. Since that time he had surgery on his right hand to repair ligament damage and remove bone chips.

        The layoff showed early against Showban Showban, who stood right in front of Craig but did not become an easy target until the second round.

        Craig forced the Egyptian to take a standing 8-count after a flurry of six punches in the second round, and landed big punches in the third. A final right hand midway through the fourth round made it 17-2, and the fight was called because of the competition's 15-point rule.

        “I gave it my all just like I've given it my all for one last go,” said Craig, who faces Turkey's Bulent Ulusoy in his next fight. “I told myself I would when I came back and I haven't slacked off since.”


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