Boxing: `The American Dream' prepares to prove himself something more substantial

America's Olympic boxing programme may well have unearthed a future world champion in the 24-year-old David Reid, who has been compared to Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones Jnr. Glyn Leach reports.

When searching for a boxing prospect who might deliver on his promise in 1998, there can be no better place to start than the American amateur international system.

While a batch of British hopefuls, including Robin Reid, Ryan Rhodes and Adrian Dodson, had their bubbles burst in the weeks before Christmas, the United States' Atlanta Olympic squad continued to ease effortlessly into the pro ranks and the only American fighter to win a gold medal at the 1996 Games, light-middleweight David Reid, is expected to challenge for a professional world title this summer.

Olympic triumph has been the springboard to stardom for a succession of fighters; Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Oscar De La Hoya to name but a few.

The solid grounding by the US boxing programme, the intensive training regimes and exposure to plenty of top class international competition give an undeniable edge to those who seek professional success. And Reid, a 24-year-old from Philadelphia, is the latest to capitalise on it.

Before the Atlanta tournament, Reid was already viewed as the American fighter most likely to succeed as a pro. But it was thought that his style, which features a heavy reliance on body punching and unorthodox moves, might count against him in the weird world of amateur boxing scoring.

And so it seemed as Reid entered the third and final round of his light- middleweight gold medal bout against Cuba's Alfredo Duvergel, the reigning world champion. Reid was 10 points behind before he landed a right-hand bomb that floored the Cuban and, as one New York journalist had it, "was felt around the world."

In truth, the effects of Reid's right-hander were far more localised. While the world saw an apparently out-classed fighter pull out a surprising win with a desperation punch, America discovered a dogged hero who, against all odds, found a way to win. Real John Wayne stuff. Hardly surprising then that, as a professional, plain old David Reid was launched as David "The American Dream" Reid, and promoted by a company called America Presents.

For the second Olympics in succession, only one American fighter had won gold. But Reid will take heart from the experiences of his Barcelona predecessor, De La Hoya, who last year alone earned an incredible $38m (pounds 24m). Reid is still some way from the "Golden Boy" in terms of earnings capacity, but the contract he signed on turning professional guaranteed Reid a record $1.5m signing bonus none the less and he is the first American Olympian to have his professional debut televised live and nationwide by Home Box Office.

Mat Tinley, the former television executive who heads America Presents, described his signing as the greatest talent ever to emerge from America's Olympic boxing programme. "He's a charismatic kid with red hot power," Tinley says. "And he'll be one of the five biggest punchers in pro boxing."

It all seemed set up for Reid. He had achieved some degree of financial security even before throwing his first professional punch, he had bought properties for himself and his mother, who alone had raised Reid and six siblings. But his debut was delayed by an operation to correct a drooping left eyelid, a less positive result of his amateur career, and Reid has since undergone further surgery on the eye, with more operations likely. But although Reid has been limited to just six professional fights (all wins, five inside the distance) since turning pro in March 1997, his emergence on the world stage is imminent.

Stylistically, Reid has been compared to his illustrious predecessor, the five-weight champion Leonard, and also to Roy Jones Jnr, whose own Olympic dream ended with an outrageous decision against him at the Seoul Games. So far Reid has demonstrated the blistering speed of both, but more pertinently the one-punch knockout power of Jones. And in his last bout, at Atlantic City in November, Reid dismantled Dan Connelly, a fighter Leonard had deemed too dangerous to face in his latest comeback.

But it is contemporary world champions that Reid currently concerns himself with and there seems to be very little out there for him to worry about. The best of the current light-middleweight champions appears to be the World Boxing Organisation's Ronald "Winky" Wright, a tricky southpaw from whom Reid will no doubt be kept protected for the time being.

But by the end of 1998 Reid will no doubt have joined Wright as a champion and established himself as the man to beat at 11 stone. From there, Reid will be able to lobby for a multi-million dollar fight with world welterweight champion De La Hoya that, if Reid continues to develop at his current rate, will be no easy call.