COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) Karl Dargan believes he's the one to beat in the 141-pound weight class at the U.S Boxing Championships. A lot of other people think so, too.
``This is the biggest tournament of the year, and everyone's looking at me,'' Dargan, of Philadelphia, said after stopping Adam Fusinato of Orange Park, Fla., at 1:00 of the third round Sunday in preliminary action.
``Since I won it the last two years, everyone's looking at me. They're not looking at No. 2 or No. 3. Everyone's looking at the No. 1 spot, which I have right now. That keeps me motivated and keeps me at the top of my form.''
Dargan was one three returning national champions to advance Sunday. Jonte Willis of Tacoma, Wash., won in the super heavyweight division, and Danny Garcia of Philadelphia, last year's 132-pound champion, won at 141.
In the upset of the day, Shemuel Pagan defeated defending national champion Mark Davis, of Cleveland, Ohio, in a 125-pound contest.
``He's a well-known and very gifted boxer,'' Pagan, of New York, said following the 22-20 decision. ``I knew I had to go out there and box him. He's a slick boxer and I had to out-slick him.
``It's very tough,'' he said of being the underdog. ``It has a lot of negativity, but it motivates me. The pressure is what I need. I'm best under pressure.''
For Willis, the 2007 U.S. Boxing Championships are both a chance at redemption and an opportunity to prove he truly is the defending super heavyweight national champion.
``Last year I won on a DQ,'' Willis, of Tacoma, Wash., said. ``That makes me try even harder. I don't want to win on any DQ this year.''
Willis lost in last year's semifinals to two-time champion Mike Wilson, but was awarded the title when Wilson failed a drug test. He took the first step toward winning the championship outright in the Sunday afternoon session of the tournament's preliminary round, posting a 21-7 win over Andre Carthon of Northridge, Calif.
His win sets up a potential rematch with Wilson in the semifinals. Wilson, of Central Point, Ore., posted a 16-6 win over Felix Steward of Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday.
If Willis needs further motivation, he can look to a semifinal loss in the recent National Golden Gloves tournament. He was stopped by Tyler Turner late in their bout.
``I was winning that one all the way,'' Willis said. ``Then he caught me with a good shot I didn't see and stopped me. I made one mistake and he capitalized on it. I won't make that kind of mistake here.''
In an upset, Aleem Whitfield, a 17-year-old high school student from Geneva, N.Y., defeated 2005 national champion William Rosinsky of Richmond Hills, N.Y., on a 2-1 decision. A computer-scoring glitch forced a return to paper scoring by the judges.
``I was worried,'' Whitfield said of what seemed an endless wait for the decision to be announced. ``He was one of the highly regarded and more experienced fighters here. I was afraid they might give it to him, and I'm happy I won.
``I just did what my coaches told me. If they said jab, I jabbed; if they said uppercut, I threw uppercuts. I did what they told me and it paid off.''
The 2007 tournament has a special meaning this year. It serves as the sole direct qualifier for the 2008 Olympic Trials, to be contested in August, with dates and location to be determined. The top eight finishers in each of the 11 weight classes will qualify for the Trials.
``That's part of the plan,'' Willis said. ``I'm here to win a title and move on to the Olympics.''
(Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)