LAS VEGAS -- Verquan Kimbrough gained a lot of confidence by sparring and training with IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora. A quick knockout Tuesday in the first round of the U.S. national boxing championships gave him even more.
Kimbrough needed only 38 seconds and one big right hand to begin his bid for the amateur lightweight title as the boxing championships opened with three rings in action at Caesars Palace.
The quick knockout of Chris Rudd was even more impressive because knockouts at smaller weights are a rarity in amateur boxing, where fighters wear padded gloves and headgear.
"It's not necessarily how hard you punch, but it's the one they can't see," Kimbrough said. "His chin was kind of up so I took advantage of it."
Kimbrough, a 19-year-old from Aliquippa, Pa., is one of about 250 boxers trying to win one of 12 national titles at stake in the championships, which are normally a good training ground for future members of the U.S. Olympic team.
He's one of only a few who routinely train with pros, though, under a relationship that began several years ago with Spadafora.
"I've been around Paul a long time," Kimbrough said. "He's helped me grow from a child to an adult at a young age."
Kimbrough is one of the more experienced boxers at the championships, having fought at the 2001 World Championships last year, where he won his first bout before being eliminated in his second. He finished fourth in the 132-pound class in the national championships last year, losing a close semifinal match.
If he hopes to get a step up on qualifying for the 2004 Olympic team, Kimbrough needs to show he can win a national amateur title to boost his credentials.
"My chances of going to the Olympics are as good as anyone else's. I just have to keep working hard," Kimbrough said. "I always knew I was good enough. It was just a question of whether I had the dedication to do it."
Kimbrough used an overhead right hand to put Rudd, of Covington, Tenn., on the canvas. The referee moved in quickly to stop the fight.
"You just go in there intending to do your best," he said. "This time I did it quickly."
The competition, which was moved from Colorado Springs, Colo., to give boxers more exposure, is being held in three rings at Caesars Palace, where some of boxing's biggest names have performed.
At ringside watching was Emanuel Steward, who trains heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and who earlier this year was named the national coach for the team.
Steward's appointment was part of a plan by USA Boxing to reverse a series of dismal performances in recent Olympic games by American boxers. U.S. fighters have won only two gold medals in the last three Olympics, and were shut out in Sydney.
"There's probably only one or two of these fighters who will be on the Olympic team," Steward said. "A lot of the team may come from the junior team we have now, which is pretty strong."