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Lacy roars to opening victory

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2000


SYDNEY, Australia -- They began chanting "U-S-A" before Jeff Lacy ever came out of his corner. By the way he looked in his

opening-round bout, he could be hearing that chant a few more times before the Olympics are completed.

The St. Petersburg boxer dominated Brazil's Cleiton Conceicao early this morning, with the referee stopping the bout with 1:02 remaining in the third round on an outclassed decision. Lacy was leading 17-2 at the time.

Lacy began quickly, scoring a combination with a straight right that put Conceicao on the ropes early in the first round. He would hurt the Brazilian several more times with the referee stopping the bout for a standing eight count in both the second and third rounds.

"I tried to show a little bit of everything today," Lacy said. "I wanted to strike some fear in these middleweights' minds that, hey, this guy is no pushover."

Lacy is scheduled to fight Poland's Pawel Kakietek in the second round on Friday afternoon, which will be late Thursday night in Tampa Bay.

Lacy may have gotten a break in another preliminary bout Sunday. Utkirbek Haydarov of Uzbekistan, the reigning world champion, was upset 11-10 by Russia's Gaidarbek Gaidarbekov. Lacy could have potentially faced Haydarov in the quarterfinals.

Houston's Ricardo Juarez, a 1999 world champion at 125 pounds, had Sunday's most impressive bout, stopping Iran's Bijan Batmani with 1:08 remaining in the third round while leading 15-0.

The victory was Juarez's 65th straight, dating back to 1998.

"Because of the way he was fighting, I had to change my style. I wasn't as aggressive as I usually am," Juarez said. "A lot people have said they have never seen me box. Today I boxed. I showed I'm not just a puncher."

Lacy and Juarez's victories give the U.S. a perfect record through its first six bouts. Although the team did have a scare earlier Sunday.

Light flyweight Brian Viloria, a 1999 world champion who is considered one of America's top gold-medal contenders, was cruising in his first-round bout against Russian Cup champion Serguei Kazakov.

Viloria jumped to a 6-1 lead and appeared to have the match easily won when he slipped and fell early in the fourth round. Kazakov suddenly mounted a comeback and got within two points, but Viloria held him off for an 8-6 victory.

Clarence Vinson (119 pounds), David Jackson (132 pounds) and Donte Craig (147) also won their first-round matches for the United States. Craig figures to have the toughest match in the second round, facing three-time European champion Bulent Ulusoy of Turkey on Thursday.

Jackson, who got a trip to Sydney because another boxer quit the team, became more than just a replacement after his victory.

"It's a great feeling, nothing like it," Jackson said after beating Naoufel Ben Rabah of Tunisia 19-7 at 132 pounds. "It's great to be an Olympian right now. I'm looking for the gold."

Jackson replaced Marshall Martinez of Fontana, Calif., who turned pro.

Next up for Jackson is Selim Palyani of Turkey.

The U.S. team has not yet run across a Cuban boxer, but several showdowns appear inevitable. Cuba, considered the strongest team in the field, also has advanced all of its boxers in the early going.

Cuban coach Alcides Sagarra created a stir before the Games by reportedly claiming his team was capable of winning 12 gold medals.

U.S. coach Tom Mustin has been low key on the topic, although he appears to have made his own team aware of the sentiment from Cuba.

"They're going to say what they have to say to boost their boxers," Mustin said. "But we're kind of glad they said it because it has helped elevate and motivate this team even more. The way we look at it, in order for them to win 12 gold medals, they've got to come through the U.S. team first."

The Cubans and Americans will not meet until at least Sept. 26 when there could be quarterfinal match-ups in three weight classes. That is the day when Cuban heavyweight Felix Savon is expected to fight American Michael Bennett in what could be the highlight event of the boxing schedule.

- Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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