Bennett trashed the trash-talker in a prison tournament and became Menard's heavyweight champ. Over the next few years he was transferred to Danville, Shawnee and Galesburg, got a degree in general education and got ring pointers from jailbirds named Pharaoh, Mongoose and Papa-Son. Upon release, Bennett continued his boxing education at a Garfield Park, Ill., gym. Six months later he was fighting in a regional qualifier for the national championships. "At first I didn't see potential in him," says Al Mitchell, coach of the 1996 U.S. Olympic squad. "He was a flat-footed power puncher who didn't keep his guard up. To win in the amateurs, you need defense and sharp, tight punches in bunches."
Bennett was a quick study. "Let's face it, the best guys are the tough guys," Mitchell says. "If you don't make it as a prison boxer, they turn you into a prison gymnast."
In Houston, Bennett won the final without having to throw a punch. He was declared a winner by walkover when his opponent, six-time world champion F�lix S�von of Cuba, refused to enter the ring. Before the bout the Cuban team, incensed over what it considered unfair judging in a welterweight bout in which Russia's Timour Gaidalov scored a 5-3 win over Cuba's Juan Hernandez, withdrew from the tournament in protest. (After the withdrawal a review panel reversed the decision and awarded the gold medal to Hernandez.) "I'm a world champ, but I'm a tainted champ," Bennett said wistfully. "I earned my way to the top of the hill, but I never got to push the legendary king off."
Push may come to shove at the Sept. 24 U.S.- Cuba dual meet in Mashantucket, Conn. "I hope S�von shows up," Bennett says. "It would be nice to have him on my r�sum�."