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Howard Davis II, better known to Olympic boxing fans as John-John, came on first. For his pro debut at the swank Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas last Saturday afternoon, the shy 20-year-old gold-medal lightweight from Glen Cove. N.Y. had drawn Jos� Resto, a Puerto Rican street fighter out of New York City, short of skills, surely, but with enough heart and stamina to go the distance against Leonidas' 300 Spartans. Then followed Leon Spinks, the 23-year-old ex-marine, his Olympic gold medal in storage, grown to heavyweight stature at 196 pounds and eager to dip into prizefighting's treasure house. For Spinks' pro debut they had imported Lightning Bob Smith, found in a butcher shop in Brooklyn, unskilled, unimpressed and unafraid.
To make the two six-round fight package more attractive, CBS brought in Sugar Ray Leonard, a third gold-medal Olympian, to do the color commentary. Leonard will make his pro debut against Luis Vega on Feb. 5 at Baltimore.
All three Olympians elected to pursue their pro careers under wholly diverse direction. After sifting countless offers, Davis decided to sign with Dennis Rappaport and Mike Jones, two young Long Island, N.Y. real-estate men whose pro boxing experience was limited to spectators' seats at the Nassau Coliseum. "We're boxing nuts." says Rappaport. "But I did once fight for the University of Miami."
"And I fought a lot in the streets," said Jones last week. "And I used to fight for the heavyweight championship every night when I went to bed. But, you know something. I always fell asleep before I got in the ring."
Davis signed for a bonus close to $85,000, and Rappaport and Jones gave him a lifetime guarantee of a career in real estate, starting at $125 a week until he learned the business. Howard Davis Sr., who guided his son to 120 victories in 125 amateur fights, four straight Golden Gloves titles, one world championship and the Olympic gold medal, remained as his trainer at $250 a week.
"I think the thing that really sold us was that Rappaport and Jones showed us they cared about John-John as a person," said Howard Sr., who as an amateur heavyweight won 27 of 35 fights. As a professional, he said he had a perfect record: 0-3.
"All I was, was strong," Howard Sr. said, "the direct opposite of John-John, who is just naturally gifted. He's speed; I was brute strength. He jabs and moves; I stood and bled."
Howard Sr. had his last pro fight eight years ago at the age of 32. He was running a small gym when he got a call from Philadelphia asking him to send over a heavyweight. The pay was $150. He went himself.
"John-John was 12 and showing a lot of talent for music," he said. "He needed a set of drums, but there was no money. The people in Philly told me the opponent was small and had lost two of his only three pro fights. I figured I could slip around for six rounds. Heck, I did it in the gym with the kids all the time. When I got there, the fellow was 6'5", weighed 245 and had just knocked out 11 straight guys. He cut open my eye, and they stopped it after five rounds. The drums cost $145."
He fingered a blackened right eye his son had given him in a recent sparring session and grinned. "I never did tell John-John where I got the money."