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ROBERT SHANNON : Because He's the Only Member of the 1984 U.S. Boxing Team Who Didn't Win an Olympic Medal, He's Had to Start His Pro Career the Hard Way

April 08, 1985|EARL GUSTKEY | Times Staff Writer

NAPA, Calif. — In the Olympic Games boxing tournament last summer, there were 345 bouts. Six months have passed, but the best of them all is still a vivid memory for those who were there.

It wasn't Dempsey-Firpo. It wasn't Louis-Schmeling. It wasn't Robinson-Basilio, or any of the other memorable pro fights. But it might have been the most exciting Olympic bout ever.

It was a matchup of a couple of powerful, fearless little guys--South Korea's Moon Sung Kil and Robert Shannon of the United States. The two bantamweights were toe to toe for almost the entire fight, about 7 1/2 minutes, and had the crowd of 9,814 standing throughout.

When it ended, with 1 minute 46 seconds left in the third round, Moon Sung Kil was the exhausted winner, sitting on a stool in his corner. Shannon was in tears, his head on U.S. coach Pat Nappi's shoulder. It was the first American defeat in 17 Olympic bouts.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 9, 1985 Home Edition Sports Part 3 Page 9 Column 2 Sports Desk 2 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
A photograph of golfer Denise Strebig was incorrectly identified as Lauri Peterson in Monday's editions of The Times, and a photo of a boxer identified as Olympian Virgil Hill was not Hill.
In the Monday Morning story on announcer Vin Scully, it was erroneously written that the George Washington Bridge is located in Brooklyn. The George Washington Bridge spans the Hudson River, connecting Manhattan and the Bronx with New Jersey.

Both boxers had ignored caution and fear. Both landed savage punches. Neither backed up a step. Moon put Shannon on the deck twice, in the second and third. But after each knockdown, Shannon got up and rocked the muscular South Korean, thereby turning up the volume of the standing, roaring crowd.

It was 7 1/2 minutes of sustained excitement. In the middle of the battle, an usher remarked: "My God, can you believe these two guys?"

Afterward, Col. Don Hull, the International Amateur Boxing Assn. president who had seen every Olympic tournament since 1932, said: "This was one of the great Olympic bouts."

As days went by after his defeat, Shannon's pain grew. His teammates went on to win 36 more bouts, 9 gold medals, a silver and a bronze. When it was over, Shannon was left as the answer to an Olympic trivia question: "Name the only member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team not to win a medal."

It is seven months later. Some of Shannon's teammates--Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker--have multimillion-dollar contracts. They box in big-time arenas, such as Madison Square Garden, sleep in the best hotels and travel by jet.

Then there is Shannon, who says he learned to fight before any of them, because he had to.

Shannon, of Everett, Wash., sat in a motel coffee shop here recently and talked about the Olympics and his young pro career. The next night, he earned $600 for boxing a little-known opponent at the Solano County fairgrounds in Vallejo.

"I don't dwell on it (the loss to Moon) much," he said. "What's done is done.

"I look at it as a learning experience. I'd always considered myself a slugger in the amateurs. I was always a little bit stronger than my opponents.

"But I learned in that bout you just can't go out there and slug with everyone. Eventually, you'll meet someone who hits as hard as you do. I learned a lot about patience that day."

Lack of patience might have cost Shannon a medal. Before the referee stopped the bout, Shannon was ahead on four of the five scorecards.

In the end, though, he was beaten by his rage. When Moon hurt him, he lashed out furiously, instead of employing sensible retreat, and wore himself out. It was vintage Shannon. His heart was in full flame, but his legs were gone.

Said Loring Baker, president of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation: "Shannon had the fight won, if he'd stayed away from the guy. But he went ape."

Troy Summers, who has trained Shannon since Shannon was 15, partly blames Nappi for Shannon's defeat, claiming that the Olympic coach should have been concentrating on reviving Shannon between the second and third rounds.

"Look at the videotape of the fight," Summers said. "Nappi's talking to him about what to do in the third, but Robert is still hurt and Nappi can't see that. Look at Robert's eyes, they're still glazed over. Robert was still stunned afterward, after he was out of the ring."

That Shannon was even in the Olympics was something of a surprise. Six months before the Games, he wasn't regarded as one of the top two or three U.S. bantamweights. But he came on with a rush during the team selection process, capping it in Las Vegas with a stunning knockout of Floyd Favors, a world champion.

Shannon, a natural left-hander, converted to a right-hander when he turned pro. Before his recent bout in Vallejo, he'd won three straight pro bouts by knockout, in the first, second and third rounds.

Said Summers: "It hasn't been a difficult switch for Robert. In fact, he's almost ambidextrous. I think his balance is better right-handed. And I think because of his strength, he'll be a successful pro."

Shannon, 22, was a championship-level high school, wrestler and occasionally trains with weights, unusual among boxers. In Las Vegas last July, after he'd made the Olympic team, he proudly boasted: "I'm the strongest bantamweight in the world, amateur or pro."

Summers said: "There are so many rules in the amateurs, some of the bouts look like a referee's clinic. But in the pros, you can be a lot more physical, particularly inside.

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