Ward, Dirrell, Harrison cruise; Vargas struggles

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward remained unbeaten as a pro boxer, stopping Christopher Holt after three rounds Thursday night in Ward's first fight in his native Bay Area.

Fellow U.S. medalist Andre Dirrell and Olympian Devin Vargas also won their bouts, as did rising British heavyweight Audley Harrison. But Ward, born and raised 25 miles away in Oakland, was the main attraction for the small but enthusiastic crowd of 3,107 at the early-evening fight at HP Pavilion.

Showing off the speed and superb left hand that earned gold in Athens, Ward (5-0) peppered Holt with quick jabs and body shots, opening a cut on Holt's eye in the first round and steadily punishing him. Holt (12-5) slipped several times before Ward finally floored him with a straight left at 1:25 of the third.

"I felt good about a lot of the things I did, but there's always something to work on," said Ward, whose children cheered loudly in the audience. "I'm going to watch the tape and find out what I need to do next. It's a lifestyle for me. I'm always working."

Ward beat the odds as a light heavyweight in Athens, using his quickness and savvy to outfox bigger opponents, including Russian amateur champion Evgeny Makarenko. But Ward is a natural middleweight, and he's acquiring buzz for his exciting style during his gradual climb toward the top of his division.

Ward's next fight is expected to be on the undercard of AntonioTarver's bout with Roy Jones Jr. on Oct. 1. Promoter Dan Goossen plans to bring Ward back to fight in Oakland within his next four fights.

Dirrell (5-0), a super middleweight whose bronze was the only other American medal in Athens, stopped previously unbeaten Juan Camacho with 18 seconds left in the second round, landing a big left hand to Camacho's unguarded head.

Dirrell's last name was misspelled "Dirrel" on his trunks and jacket, but the Flint, Mich., native was otherwise sharp. Though he hasn't acquired the promotional machine driving Ward's career, Dirrell believes he'll soon challenge his division's best.

"This was definitely better than my last performance," Dirrell said. "I knew I could do better. I'm still working on my technique, but I'm getting there."

Vargas (4-0), the U.S. team's heavyweight and captain, struggled through a four-round unanimous decision over David Johnson (3-15-4), whose clutching style frustrated him. Vargas, who trains in his native Toledo, Ohio, knocked out his first three opponents in the first round.

"I kind of went in there bigheaded," Vargas said. "I haven't fought anyone with that (style) since I was maybe 15. I should have
stayed in the middle of the ring and just let him come to me."

Harrison (19-0), who won gold in Sydney in 2000, added another lackluster victory to his pro career when Robert Wiggins couldn't get off his stool after the fourth round.