Ryan Songalia

Olympians go 5 for 5, Russell scores scary KO of Castaneda

So the journey begins.

Five members of the 2012 United States Olympic boxing squad made their pro debuts (or in some cases, return to the pros) at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif., on ShoBox: The New Generation‘s “Night of the Olympians” special on Friday.

The quintet went 5 for 5 in the win column. The 2012 squad – which was the first in U.S. history to not return with a single medal – have now taken their first steps towards putting that ignominy behind them.

Rau’shee Warren, who is the first American to represent in the Olympics three times and a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, was the first to walk up the steps, facing Luis Rivera (1-3) in a bantamweight fight. Warren, as well as teammate Terrell Gausha, were not making their official professional debuts, as the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) that governs boxing in the United States, recognized their contests in the World Series of Boxing as pro bouts.

The WSB, which is a venture developed by the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), is a boxing tournament where amateurs fight without headgear, using smaller gloves in five-round bouts for pay. All amateurs who competed in the tournament may have been risking their unblemished records, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

Warren, utilizing his superior class and one of the most versatile right hooks you’ll see from a southpaw, dominated his opponent from bell to bell to win a unanimous decision by the scores of 40-36 on one card, and 38-37 on the other two to move his record to either 1-0 or 9-0, depending on which way you look at it. In the fourth round, the referee erroneously credited Rivera with a knockdown as Warren wound up with a right hook that missed, slipping to the canvas as Rivera missed twice with punches of his own.

Unlike in the previous bout, heavyweight Dominic Breazeale didn’t waste much time in getting back to the dressing room. Breazale, a former quarterback for the University of Northern Colorado who came to boxing just three and a half years ago, dropped his opponent Curtis Tate (4-4, 4 KOs) less than a minute into the fight with a one-two combination. Tate rose, complaining to referee Pat Russell that he couldn’t see from his left eye. Russell stopped the fight, but Tate protested that he was OK to continue.

Russell reversed his initial call, but Tate was dropped once Breazeale reached him again, ending the fight at the 1:06 point.

Staten Island, N.Y. native Marcus Browne also made it an early night, though not before we got a chance to see the rangy light heavyweight southpaw make adjustments to dispatch previously unbeaten Codale Ford (2-1) at 1:04 of the third round. Browne, a 21-year-old three-time New York Daily News Golden Gloves winner, used his sizable height and reach advantage over the diminutive Ford, landing jabs and left crosses from range.

Ford, who was in survival mode from the opening bell, was able to avoid much of the heavy artillery upstairs, so Browne began targeting the body in round two. In round three, as Ford covered up against the ropes, Browne snuck in a left hook to the body that dropped Ford for the first time in the bout. Ford rose up but was met by Browne’s heavy body shots once again, prompting the referee to wave the bout off.

Welterweight Errol Spence, Jr., who made it the furthest of any of his teammates when he lost in the quarterfinals to his Russian counterpart, would be fourth of his teammates to show his merit as a professional. Spence, 22, of Dallas, Tex., is a three-time U.S. National Amateur champion, had a live opponent in Jonathan Garcia (3-4-1, 1 KOs) before him. Garcia found early success landing on Spence, though Spence was by far more effective with his southpaw body attack.

Spence was able to drop Garcia in the third by landing four straight uppercuts in round three. Garcia rose up but was battered once more, ending the bout at the 2:41 mark.

If Warren’s pro record benefited from his involvement with WSB, middleweight Terrell Gausha suffered. The 24-year-old Gausha from Cleveland, Ohio garnered a record of 5-2 in the WSB, but was announced as 1-0 after finishing Dustin Caplinger (2-4) at 1:55 of the second. Gausha fought with a calm poise, dropping Caplinger once in the first and twice in the second.

While much of the attention focused on the Olympians turning pro, it was an Olympian from 2008 who will be talked about throughout the weekend. Gary Russell, Jr. filed a late entry for Knockout of the Year by starching Roberto Castaneda with a picture perfect southpaw right hook, prompting referee Pat Russell (no relation) to wave off the bout just as Castaneda hit the canvas.

Russell (21-0, 13 KOs), a featherweight from Capitol Heights, Md., may be the most talented prospect in boxing. Displays like this one against Castaneda (20-3-1, 15 KOs), of Mexicali, Mexico, show that he is bursting out of his current level of competition.

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