Winter run gets Rucker his shot

June 01, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

All winter long, a solitary figure could be sighted at dawn running along Lake Superior on the Michigan peninsula.

Wearing three pairs of longjohns to fight off the bitter cold, Dana Rucker kept his legs churning like pistons, pausing only momentarily to fire off combinations against an imaginary foe.

Returning to the Northern Michigan University campus in Marquette, the Baltimore native napped briefly before breakfast and attending freshman classes. The afternoon would be divided between more classwork, the weight room and aquatic exercise. After dinner, Rucker would spend two hours sparring and training in the school's gym before heading for study hall.

But the arduous regimen has reaped its rewards for Rucker, 22, a promising middleweight who will represent the United States at the World Cup Boxing Tournament in Bangkok, Thailand, beginning Friday.

It is an improbable journey that began at Gold's Gym on Harford Road, where Rucker developed into an outstanding kick boxer, once requiring only four seconds to subdue a South African rival in a Florida event.

But he always had been intrigued by boxing, particularly the skills Sugar Ray Leonard exhibited in tormenting Roberto Duran into the "No mas" surrender of his welterweight title in 1980.

"I figured that learning to box would improve my coordination for kick boxing," said Rucker, who became a student of former world contender Alvin Anderson at Champ's Gym off North Avenue.

Rucker had an awkward, but effective boxing style, often lifting his back foot in the air in karate style. But his unusual strength and endurance soon caught the eye of Naval Academy coach Jim McNally, an Olympic adviser.

"I saw him fight in a couple of area tourneys," McNally recalled. "He did a lot of things wrong, but he never gave up."

On McNally's recommendation, Rucker received an invitation to attend an all-comers boxing tournament at Northern Michigan last June.

"He did so well, the tournament officials thought he was a con man," McNally said. "They couldn't believe he'd had only a handful of fights."

So Rucker was invited back for a second look two months later. When he again destroyed all his competition, he won a full scholarship to Northern Michigan.

"We had to break him down piece by piece because of his martial arts background," said Rucker's current coach, Al Mitchell, a former Philadelphia fighter. "He's still real awkward and has a long way to go, but he's improved tremendously in less than a year. He's developing his right hand and learning how to box and move instead of just attacking.

"He has tremendous discipline and a burning desire to absorb all he can about boxing. He doesn't act like a kid, but sucks up knowledge like a wise, old man. "

Only a few months ago, Rucker was ranked No. 5 by USA Boxing in the middleweight division, having been stopped in the quarterfinals of the U.S. championships by top-rated Shane Swartz.

But Rucker bounced back to win the National Golden Gloves in April, and when Swartz was knocked out by Stephen Beets of Mississippi in the Coca-Cola Box-Off in Birmingham, Ala., last month, it left a vacancy on the World Cup team, with Beets opting for the Goodwill Games in Russia next month.

"Shane's misfortune became my good fortune," said Rucker. "Everything seems to be falling into place for me. Being in the World Cup will tell me if I'm ready to fight the best amateurs in the world. It's a great opportunity to prove myself."

"His future is wide-open," said McNally. "He'll definitely be in the pre-Olympic trials in 1995. And right now, I'd be willing to bet Dana Rucker will be fighting in Atlanta in 1996."

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