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Cuba: The New Boxing Superpower



"Every instinct I had as a fan told me that this was how sports should be, because here was how sports was once-upon-a-time. No luxury boxes, no exclusive parking, no agents, no teams moving, no tickets selling for the price of a car."

"Cuba is one of the last places where athletes play for little more than love of the game."

- S.L. Price, Pitching Around Fidel

It's said that up to 25% of the Cuban population regularly participates in sports of one form or another, and this may turn out to be a conservative estimate. In the past 40 years, Cuba has emerged as a surprisingly competitive nation in international sports such as skating, athletics and women's volleyball (the women's volleyball team has won 2 of the last 3 Olympic Gold medals). Cubans have also won gold medals in baseball, boxing, wrestling, judo, taekwondo and various track and field events.

There's no surprise in the fact that Cuba has exceeded in baseball, as it is the island's "official" national sport (the first baseball championship game played in Cuba dates back to 1878, and the island's first amateur baseball championship was held in Havana in 1905). What surprises many is how well Cuban boxers have done in international competition since the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich

Cuba's Boxing Gold

Boxing, a sport in which two individuals face each other in a square "ring" to do battle with their gloved fists, is said to be a "team sport" in Cuba, and it is the sport in which the island has taken home the most medals. It's not an exaggeration to say that Cubans have dominated international amateur boxing, winning more gold medals in men's competition than anyone else.

Teofilo Stevenson, Cuban boxer

In the heavyweight division, Cubans have won 7 of the last 9 gold medals issued at the Olympic Games. The other two medals went to the U.S. in 1984 and 1988 (Cuba did not attend the those Games in support of the Soviet bloc boycott). Still, of the 104 total gold medals issued in men's boxing at Olympic tournaments since 1972 (including 1984 & 1988 Games) Cubans have taken home 32 of them (51 total medals).

In World Amateur Boxing competitions, Cubans have won 64 of the 152 gold medals issued between 1974 and 2005.

What makes Cubans such good boxers? And will they dominate the professional circuit if and when relations with the island normalize?

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On Teofilo Stevenson, An excerpt from
In The Red Corner: A Journey into Cuban Boxing
By John Duncan Yellow Jersey Press, London

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