Thursday, September 21, 2000

U.S. heavyweight advances to showdown with Cuban

AP Boxing Writer

        SYDNEY, Australia — Michael Bennett kept U.S. boxers unbeaten and advanced to a quarterfinal showdown with great Cuban heavyweight Felix Savon with a victory in his Olympic debut.

        The 29-year-old Bennett, who got serious about boxing after being released from prison July 28, 1998, after serving seven years for armed robbery, pounded out an 11-2 decsion over Wojciech Bartnik of Poland at 201 pounds Thursday (Wednesday night EDT).

        Savon, trying to join fellow Cuban Teofilo Stevenson and Lazlo Papp of Hungary as the only men to win three Olympic boxing golds, stopped Rasmus Ojemaye of Nigeria on the 15-point rule (18-3) with 35 seconds left in the second round.

        Bennett will box Savon in the quarterfinals Tuesday (Monday night EDT).

        “I'm not intimidated by any man,” Bennett said of his upcoming match against Savon, who has put fear into many opponents. “You're going to see two warriors do battle.”

        Savon would only wave to reporters after his victory.

        Bennett thought he would get a crack at Savon in the world championships last year at Houston. But Savon pulled out in protest over a decision that went against a Cuban in an earlier fight. Bennett won the title on a walkover.

        The 6-foot Bennett, the reigning U.S. champion, chased Bartnik, a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist at 178 pounds, for the first two rounds and built a 5-0 lead. Two of those scoring blows came when Bennett switch to a left-handed style for part of the second round. Bartnik resorted to rough-house tactics to no avail in the final two rounds. Just before the final bell, the 32-year-old Bartnik hit Bennett hard with a shoulder.

        “I got a "W,”' Bennett said. “It was difficult, because he didn't come to box.”

        The 6-6 Savon, a six-time world champion who lists his age as 33, had about an eight-inch height advantange over Ojemaye, who took two standing 8-counts. Savon, landing hard rights and stiff left jabs, led 12-1 after one round.

        All 10 American boxers to see action have won. Yet to box are Olanda Anderson of the Army, who drew a first-round bye at 178 pounds.

        Boxing Thursday night for the second time were Clarence Vinson of Washington, D.C., against Tallalbek Kadiraliev of Kyrgyzstan at 119 pounds and Dante Craig of Cincinnati against Bulent Ulusoy of Turkey at 147 pounds.

        The Cubans' first loss after eight wins came earlier on Thursday's card when Dorel Simion of Romania, a 1997 world and reigning European champion, outpointed Roberto Guerra 11-7.

        Simion, whose brother Marin, the 1996 Olympic 147-pound bronze medalist, is fighting here at 156, wouldn't let the rangy Cuban fight outside. The Romanian outscored Guerra 6-2 in the last two rounds.

        In another 147-pound bout in the afternoon, Oleg Saitov of Russia, a 1996 Olympic champion, boxed circles around Francisco Calderon of Colombia for an 11-7 win.


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