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U.S. Golden Hopes Rest With Tricky Ricardos


SYDNEY, Australia — With Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield no longer the real deal, and Oscar "Golden Boy" De La Hoya no longer all that golden, the future of American boxing may be named Ricardo.

To be specific, two Ricardos, each of whom won his way into an Olympic gold-medal match at the Exhibition Center on Friday night.

Ricardo Juarez, a 126-pound featherweight from Houston, got through an efficient 21-12 decision over Kamil Dzamalutdinov of Russia and will try to make the gold-medal match Sunday his 69th consecutive victory.

Juarez will face Bekzat Sattarkhanov of Kazakhstan, whose best international showing has been a second in the 1998 world championships in Argentina. Juarez won the world championships in 1999 in Houston.

Ricardo Williams, a 140-pound light welterweight from Cincinnati, won an amazing 42-41 brawl over Diogenes Luna of Cuba that had a packed arena buzzing afterward, and that put him into Sunday's gold-medal match against the reigning world champion, Mahamadkadyz Abdullaev of Uzbekistan. Williams lost to Abdullaev in the second round of the world championships in Houston.

A third U.S. fighter on the card Friday night, Jermain Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., lost to Yermakhan Ibraimov of Kazakhstan in a match stopped by the Olympic 15-point rule. Once Taylor trailed, 29-14, early in the third round, the match was over. That gave Taylor and teammate Clarence Vinson, defeated in a semifinal Thursday night, bronze medals.

The U.S. coach, Tom Mustin, said he was a happy man after his two Ricardos had advanced to a shot at the gold, especially since things had looked so bad early in the tournament with the losses of projected medalists Jose Navarro and Michael Bennett.

"I don't want to be the first Olympic boxing coach since 1948 to come home without a gold medal," Mustin said. "I'm ecstatic to have two in the final."

Juarez may be his safest bet, but Williams will be the more likely to provide the best show, even though it may not be the kind of show Mustin wants or has planned. Against Luna, Williams had been instructed to slip the Cuban's right hand and counter over it.

"When I tried that and he just wasn't there," Williams said, "I knew this was going to be a very long night."

Translation: time to brawl.

The judges hitting keyboards counting points for punches landed probably got calluses in this four-rounder. Luna flailed away and Williams flailed back and the Cuban had a 12-10 lead after the first two minutes. He added a 13-9 second round for 25-19, with two rounds left.

But then, when the referee separated the two in the third round, Luna took a late shot to the jaw of Williams coming out of the break and the adrenaline in the Cincinnati boxer really kicked in.

"Right after that, Williams caught him with a straight right in the corner," Mustin said, "and then there was a flurry and he must have gotten at least three points out of that."

Indeed, at the end of the third round, Williams had a 35-33 lead and the U.S. fans were on their feet, stomping and waving flags.

And it got even better in Round 4.

Williams got ahead as much as 38-33, but 20 seconds later, the score was 39-39 and, with just under a minute left, Luna connected with a jab that put him up, 40-39.

In a flash, Williams lashed back and once he got the score to 41-40 with 40 seconds left, he never let the Cuban back, dancing and darting with a 42-41 lead for the last 15 seconds, which had to seem like hours to U.S. fans.

Williams said he wasn't sure he was ahead at the end, but he thought he probably was, so that's why he had stopped brawling and protected his lead. There is great suspicion, however, that systems of communication are set in place by each team to tell fighters where they are, which is not difficult considering that there are dozens of TV monitors keeping a running score all over the arena.

"My coaches know these things," Williams said, grinning a bit. "They just have instincts. Plus, I heard my dad yelling for me to stick and move, so I decided to put on my track shoes and be Michael Johnson."

Juarez, quiet and determined, saw his gold-medal match as unfinished business.

"I either win the gold," he said, "or all the hard work has been for naught. I'm not happy until I get the victory."

Williams, who said that he is a different fighter and a much-better conditioned one since his loss to Abdullaev, predicted his second consecutive brawl Sunday.

"The only way I'll go out is on my back," he said.

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