By John Torenli
Sadam"World Kid" Ali promised he was ready to go eight rounds, but insisted he wouldn't have to.
Thanks to a dominating performance capped with a stunning stoppage at 2:22 of the eighth and final stanza, the 22-year-old Brooklyn native lived up to his word Saturday night at the Aviator Sports Complex, knocking out ring veteran Franklin Gonzalez to remain unbeaten as a professional and capture the WBU America's title.
"It was a great night and I just have to thank my fans," noted the former Olympian, who became the first-ever Arab-American to represent the United States at the 2008 Games in Beijing. "I wanted to get the knockout so bad for them and it was a fitting end to a great night."
Ali, who headlined and promoted his Brooklyn homecoming under the Worldkid Promotions flag, put on a good show for the partisan crowd, which included Bensonhurst native and WBA Welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi as well as 2012 U.S. Olympian Marcus Browne of Staten Island, whom Ali has mentored in the months leading up to this summer's London Games.
An admitted "free agent" whose still looking for the right promotional deal, Ali knew Saturday night's coming-out party was critical to his continued ascension up the international rankings. "I'm good under pressure. This is good pressure," he noted in the days leading up to the fight.
After training four to five months for his first challenge since September, Ali came out cautious before marking his territory with a series of hard right hands to end the opening round. The two-time Golden Gloves champion peppered Gonzalez (15-10) with jabs and a series of impressive combinations during the middle rounds before going for the jugular in the eighth.
He felled his opponent midway through the round, but Gonzalez beat the count, sparking Ali to come back at him with even more fervor as the clock wound down. A flashing left-right combo again dropped Gonzalez, who gamely rose to his feet in an effort to shake off the cobwebs before the referee signaled the end of the fight.
The win improved Ali's pro record to a perfect 15-0 with nine knockouts.
Arguably the most prominent Brooklyn boxing prospect since the 31-year-old Malignaggi began capturing world titles in the previous decade, Ali is now set to become a household name — as soon as oneof the sport's top promoters puts forth an acceptable offer. Oscar De la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, which is currently negotiating a deal to set up Malignaggi's title defense for the debut of Brooklyn boxing at the Barclays Center on Oct. 20, would seem a natural fit since it has a three-year agreement with the "75 percent complete" state-of-the-art arena.
“It’s amazing [to be fighting in Brooklyn for the first time]” Ali gushed. “Because this is where I’m from. To have it here in the heart of Brooklyn is great.”
Though there was no official attendance figure, the stands were packed by the time Ali took center stage. His father and manager, David Ali, who helped create WorldKid Promotions, admitted that he was surprised and inspired by the turnout. In the next few months, Ali figures to field offers from several promoters, but will continue to seek the best possible deal for what he hopes will be a long and lucrative career in the squared circle.
“I’m a free agent at this point,” he admitted during the press conference to promote Saturday's bout. “It’s hard to get fights. In the future, I would sign with the right promoter.”
The future appears to be now for Brooklyn's No. 1 "Kid."
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On the undercard of Saturday's fight card, Brooklyn's Jennifer Santiago made her pro debut by posting a four-round unanimous decision victory over Mikaya Nebal in a Super Bantamweight bout. Also, New York native Steven Gamache improved to 3-0 with a decisive win over Willie Brown in Junior Middleweight action. Queens native Armin Mrkanovic KO'd Daniel Pietch in the fourth round of a cruiserweight fight and Akil Frederick, also of Brooklyn, stopped Jamil Gadsen in his middleweight pro debut.
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Ali was effusive in his praise of Browne, who will be going for the gold as a member of the U.S. boxing team next month.
"I'm very proud of Marcus Browne," said Ali, who was defeated in the semifinals of the 2008 Games in Beijing. "He's a great kid and I always knew he had it in him. He did it and now, hopefully, he gets the gold."