Sunday, February 23, 2003

Tonya Harding loses in pro debut

By Barry Wilner
The Associated Press

Tonya Harding is hit by Samantha Browning.
(AP photo)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Banned from the rink, Tonya Harding didn't fare any better in the ring.

In a wild bout Saturday night that was more wrestling than boxing but had fans howling from the start, the former figure skating champion was beaten by another novice, Samantha Browning, in her pro debut.

At the end of four rounds that featured more stumbling than punching, Browning won a split decision. Her face crimson and soaked with sweat, Harding still wore a smile as she posed for photos after the fight with Browning, who landed the few true punches in the bout.

"It's not like I expected at all," Harding said. "This was much, much harder than I ever figured. But it only makes me want to work that much harder."

An outcast from figure skating because of her role in the 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, Harding has survived on the periphery of the sports spotlight ever since. The 1991 national skating champion, she made most of her headlines for run-ins with boyfriends until she beat Paula Jones in a celebrity fight last year.

Harding and Browning strike a pose after their fight.
(AP photo)
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That set her on a course to become a pro boxer, and she has a four-year contract with a Nashville promoter. She intends to continue boxing, even though she looked befuddled and inept throughout most of the eight minutes with Browning.

"I didn't know who won," Harding said. "I just know it was a really hard fight. She never hurt me, I just had problems getting to her with my punches.

"But it was my first fight and it was very exciting. I look forward to fighting again."

There were no sequins or gold blades for Harding as she entered the ring at the Pyramid. Just a black sports bra and black trunks. Instead of a panel of nine judges dissecting her every jump and spin, she had to impress three judges focusing only on her ability to punch and avoid being hit.

She couldn't.

Browning won by 39-38 and 39-37 on two judges' cards, while Harding won 39-37 on the third card.

"I only trained a month, but I felt great," Browning said. "She was a lot stronger than I thought, but she got weaker as the fight progressed. I knew I had to pour it on to get the decision and I did."

At 32, Harding hardly is a petite athlete anymore. She has bulked up to 123 pounds, much of it in her arms, shoulders and upper body. Of course, now she is concentrating on landing right crosses, not triple axels.

Her hair in a ponytail, her face as white as, well, ice, Harding drew a mixture of cheers and boos when introduced. Browning, 21, and also weighing 123, is from nearby Mantachie, Miss., and got a huge ovation.

The cheers grew for both women as they slugged it out - sort of - for the entire fight.

"All I and anyone can ask for is that we give our best and that's what I gave," Harding said. "I feel the fans got their money's worth tonight."

Jeff Lacy, a 2000 Olympian, ran his pro record to 13-0 by stopping James Crawford with 3 seconds left in the second round. Lacy has 11 wins by knockout.

The hard-hitting super middleweight from St. Petersburg, Fla., landed a low left at the outset of the second round, and Crawford was given more than four minutes to recuperate. When the fight continued, Lacy freely landed combinations, then knocked down Crawford with a left hook to the face with 25 seconds to go in the round.

Lacy ended it with a sharp right cross 3 seconds before the bell.

Crawford, a 33-year-old veteran of 43 fights, is 37-4-2.

"The low blow is what really messed me up," Crawford said. "He really hurt me."

In a junior lightweight fight, former IBF lightweight champion Diego Corrales stopped Colombia's Roque Cassiani after one round. Cassiani could not come out for the second round after he dislocated his right elbow in the opening three minutes.

Just 30 seconds into the bout, Corrales tagged Cassiani with a low right and Cassiani went down. He was given several minutes to recover, but couldn't recover from the elbow injury.

Corrales scored a fifth-round knockout of Michael Davis just three weeks ago, his first fight after serving one year in prison for beating his pregnant wife.

"I am really upset," Corrales said. "I wanted to put on a good show. I knew I would finish him in the second round. I think he knew it, too."

Corrales is 35-1, with the only loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr., who stopped him in 10 rounds two years ago after Corrales relinquished his IBF crown.

Cassiani is 21-11-1.

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