Making his long overdue ring return, 2008 Olympian and elite featherweight contender Gary Russell Jr. scored a spectacular third round knockout over Roberto Castaneda. Fighting for only the second time in 2012, Russell will certainly be looking to move quickly after ending a frustrating spell of inactivity with this emphatic win.
Russell (21-0, 13 KO) was all business from the outset as he refused to touch gloves when Castaneda (20-3-1, 15 KO) extended his fist after the opening bell. Fighting with his feet firmly planted, Russell's speed and counter-punching ability were evident early.
A Russell left hook knocked Castaneda off-balance in Round 1, and Russell punctuated his efforts with a four-punch combination to close the stanza. Round 2 produced a workman-like effort from Russell as he landed his southpaw jab at will, following the shot with well-placed straight left hands.
The sickening end came in Round 3 when Russell stalled Castaneda's advance with a left hand to the body. In the ensuing exchange, Russell landed an absolutely devastating right hook between Castaneda's wide shots.
Russell's punch separated Castaneda from his senses, and he fell backwards and remained on the canvas for an extended period. The way Castaneda's head snapped back was grotesque, and given the punch's spectacular nature, the KO will likely get Russell some honorable mention love for Knockout of the Year.
Possessing sublime talent, Russell's next fight, which will presumably be in early 2013, will surely involve a significant jump in class. Russell is on the cusp of challenging for a world title, and he appears ready for current featherweight champions Orlando Salido (WBO), Billy Dib (IBF), Chris John (WBA) and Daniel Ponce De Leon (WBC).
This is not to say that Russell would necessarily dominate or even win all of these fights (John and Salido would be the toughest tests). Perhaps he will opt to fight a top contender or two before securing a title shot, but it is abundantly clear that Russell is ready for the big stage.
On the undercard, five members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team made their pro debuts. Despite not winning a medal in the men's competition at the London Games, Showtime analyst Steve Farhood made it clear why following the professional progress of America's top amateur fighters is worthwhile: since 1976, 41% of U.S. Olympic boxers have become world champions.
Rau'shee Warren (1-0), who in 2012 became the first ever three-time U.S. Olympian, won a unanimous decision over Luis Rivera (1-3) in his quasi-professional debut (Warren had eight bouts in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing). Warren won via scores of 40-36, and 38-37 (twice).
Had it not been for an erroneously ruled knockdown against Warren in the final round, all the scores could have been shout-outs. Naturally, Warren was extremely poised, and he scored well with his southpaw right hook to both the head and body. In fact, Warren was able to land combinations at will, and he dictated the fight's tempo with genuine class.
Warren impressively worked Rivera's body in Round 3 and later hurt him with a series of unanswered, guard-splitting uppercuts. As a tremendously confident counter-puncher who possesses a fundamentally sound, professional style, Warren should progress quickly.
Dominic Breazeale (1-0, 1 KO), who represented the U.S. at super heavyweight, successfully continued his transition from college football quarterback to professional prizefighter. Breazeale scored a thudding first round knockout over Curtis Tate (4-4, 4 KO).
Breazeale scored early with a right to the body, and he was able to pressure the retreating Tate with an effective left jab. Measuring distance with his jab, Breazeale connected with a straight right hand that floored Tate. Complaining that he couldn't see, Tate seemingly prompted referee Pat Russell to stop the fight.
Ultimately, the contest did continue, but it only took another brief exchange for Breazeale to end the fight with another right hand. Expect Breazeale to be brought along slowly due to his inexperience; he remains an interesting heavyweight project.
New York-native Marcus Browne (1-0, 1 KO), who was America's Olympic entrant at light heavyweight, scored a third round TKO over Codale Ford (2-1). In a somewhat scrappy fight, Browne overcame Ford's awkward style, which included tackling Browne to the canvas in Round 2.
Overall, Browne is excellent looking prospect. At nearly 6'3", he has tremendous height for a light heavyweight, and he displayed solid fundamentals by working behind his southpaw jab and straight left hand. Browne consistently had Ford on his back foot and against the ropes.
Body punching ended up being the deciding factor as Browne scored well with both left and right hooks. A left to the body dropped Ford for the first time, though he rose after a count of eight. Browne immediately smothered Ford, crippling him with more body work as the referee intervened. Browne is an exciting prospect to follow.
Errol Spence Jr. (1-0, 1 KO), who by making it to the third round of the Olympic boxing tournament had the deepest run of any American, steadily gathered momentum during his debut and eventually scored a third round TKO over Jonathan Garcia (3-4, 1 KO).
Garcia expended a ton of energy early in Round 1 and had some success hitting Spence with right hands. That said, Spence was still getting the better of almost all the exchanges, opening up with combinations and body punching.
The night's theme to this point was body punching, and Spence consistently scored with brutal hooks to Garcia's midsection. Having hurt Garcia in Round 2, Spence continued to work well as the third stanza began. After backing up an exhausted Garcia, Spence connected with three consecutive uppercuts before scoring a knockdown with his right hand.
Spence, who is also a southpaw, followed up with another assault that had Garcia stumbling to the ropes where he covered up. As Spence unleashed another barrage, the referee promptly stopped the encounter. Spence is polished, keeps a tight guard and appears to have quality power; keep tabs on him.
Terrell Gausha (1-0, 1 KO), who also competed in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing and represented the U.S. at middleweight during the Olympics, scored a dominant second round TKO over Dustin Caplinger (2-4, 1 KO). Fighting over the middleweight limit, Gausha figures to carry his power down to 160 pounds for the first act of his professional career.
Caplinger seemed in survival mode from the outset and attempted to maul and wrestle Gausha throughout the fight. Gausha was eventually able to find his range, and, in keeping with the night's trend, scored heavy body shots.
Gausha dropped Caplinger in Round 1 with his right hand, which he followed up in Round 2 by scoring two additional knockdowns. The first one came via short right hand after leveling Caplinger with a brutal body assault, and the third knockdown—which prompted the ring-side doctor to stop the fight—came from a barrage of punches. Expect Gausha to be extremely explosive at middleweight.
Overall, all five Olympians made successful professional debuts, and their careers appear worth following with interest and excitement. To find out more about Warren, Breazeale, Browne, Spence and Gausha, check out this series of interviews by Lem Satterfield on RingTV.com.