- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia You ever wonder why there is more film and literature created about boxing than any other sport? Because there is often more drama in the little pinky of a fighter than there is in a pool full of Ian Thorpes.

Go on, celebrate the swimmers if you want chlorinated beach boys. Praise the runners who race for the United States of Nike.

Give me a fighter with a story of pain any time, because the battle of a fighter's pain is always far more compelling, and the triumph over it is far more glorious.

Dante Craig has a story about a battle with pain, and the fact that he is here in Sydney, boxing for the United States, means he has already triumphed over it.

If he wins a medal, hire a screenwriter.

Dante, 22, who fights tomorrow in the second round of the boxing competition in the 67 kilograms (147 pound) weight class, shouldn't even be here in Sydney. He knows it, because he has been told it enough by other people. "I read in a magazine that I was the least likely Olympic boxer," he said. "So there's no pressure on me if I go out there and lose a fight." He thought he belonged in Atlanta, on the 1996 Olympic boxing team. There was pressure then too much for him, and he failed to make the squad. So he quit, and looked for a job in Cincinnati. He fought sporadically after that as an amateur, three times in 1997 and once in 1998, but for all intents and purposes, Dante was finished with boxing. He was going to be the best pants presser in Cincinnati. "I was good," he said. "I could press more pants in an hour than anyone."

Then his mother, Mary, died from breast cancer in 1998. It devastated Dante. "She was my light," he said. "She showed me the way to be a man."

Not long after, Dante's younger brother Dion, told Dante about a dream he had a dream where their mother came to him.

"She told him that she wanted me to get back into the gym and try to reach my goals," Craig said. "I know it sounds crazy, but the way he described her and the dream, it seemed real."

When you get a call from the great beyond from your mother, you listen to it. Dion believed it so much so that he offered to help pay Dante's expenses if he quit pressing pants. Now, his brother wasn't exactly rolling in dough. He worked at the TV Guide distribution plant, and the only people involved with TV Guide who make money are those who publish it and those who are listed in it.

So Dante quit pressing pants and started pressing leather again. He returned to amateur boxing in 1999, and was progressing back up the ladder when he was struck with another tragedy in January of this year. His 3-week-old son Dante Jr. died suddenly from a respiratory ailment.

He kept fighting, though, and shocked everyone when he upset the favored Larry Mosley he of the famous Shane Mosley boxing family at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Dante hurt his powerful right hand in the process, but in order to qualify for the Olympics, he still had to fight in a tournament in Mexico in April, and won, despite having a root canal the morning of the fight.

After the tournament, Dante had his right hand operated on. He didn't fight again competitively until his first fight in Sydney on Saturday. He fought like a fighter with more heart than skill, looking rusty, but willing to throw punches often and hard, and dominated his opponent, even though his hand still hurts. He forced the referee to stop the fight in the fourth round, with the score 17-2, kicking in the competition's 15-point slaughter rule.

It was an emotional day for Dante. "I had tears in my eyes going up into the ring," he said. "I was thinking of my son. I wished he could have seen his daddy up in the ring. God has a plan for everything, but I'm still trying to deal with it. It still hurts."

Dante Jr. was in the ring with his father along with Dante's mother, Mary. On Dante's right biceps is a tattoo of a rose and a cross with an inscription that reads, "In memory of Mary and Dante."

It is a story of pain, but it is not the only story. It is not the only tattoo. Washington's Clarence Vinson, who also fights tomorrow in the second round of bouts (at 54 kilograms 119 pounds), has the names of his brother and cousin, both killed while being robbed, on his right arm as well. In boxing, tattoos often mean something. They are not boardwalk impulse body art.

There is no shortage of pain on this American boxing team. Heavyweight Michael Bennett, who learned how to box while serving time in prison for armed robbery, and David Jackson, who fights at 60 kilograms (132 pounds) is another one who quit shortly after just missing the 1996 Olympic squad (he was an alternate on the team) and didn't really fight again because of the proverbial "personal reasons" until this year. His nickname is "Nine Lives," because of all he went through to get to the Olympics.

If NBC is having Olympic ratings problems, it is in part because they chose to highlight the chlorinated beach boys and the shoe company shills. They have the boxing hidden away on CNBC, of which the C might as well stand for clueless.

When you are selling tape delay, you are selling stories. The best ones are in the ring at Sydney Exhibition Centre. Call it "Survivors."

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