Last Saturday in Istanbul a fat heavyweight called Odlanier Solis added his name to a sad list of great Cuban boxers who have defected, promised so much and miserably failed.
During the last 20 years the top Cuban boxers, enticed by lies and outrageous promises, have been climbing over fences and occasionally dressing as women to abscond from the country and claim political asylum. However, their cries for freedom have mostly been insincere.
Solis is just 33 and was a brilliant Olympic champion, but on Saturday he fought like a man who had fallen out of love with his chosen sport and lost on points to a 42-year-old American called Tony Thompson in Istanbul. Thompson started the fight like he knew he was the designated loser and seemed shocked that he was still standing after six rounds.
If Solis had won and looked good, he would have been an important member of a small group of leading heavyweights poised to replace the ageing Wladimir Klitschko, who will surely follow his brother Vitali into retirement in the next 12 months. The group also stands to make millions in world title fights when the belts fall vacant. Solis has lost out and will struggle to get back into the mix, and his promoter Ahmet Oner’s history of screaming at people will not help the negotiating process.
Solis and two other Cuban Olympic champions went missing at a training camp in Venezuela in 2006, escaped through Colombia and sought temporary sanctuary in Miami. They were not, to tell the truth, three desperate and innocent young men making a break for the border in search of freedom and all that democracy delivers.
The trio were simply following a dozen other top Cuban boxers, most Olympic or world amateur champions, who had been touched up by promoters from Germany, America and Ireland. Solis eventually came under the control of the extrovert Oner and started to box in Germany: in spying terms, he had been turned.
The problem with the very best Cuban amateur boxers is that they have absolutely no idea how to deal with the freedom, the excesses and the levels of greed that their new life contains. Solis has been a classic failure, in a constant battle with the fridge throughout his career. As an amateur he won three consecutive world titles, including his first in Belfast in 2001, when he stopped David Haye in the final.
Solis did have a world title opportunity in 2011 when he met Vitali for the WBC heavyweight belt but, after two minutes and 58 seconds of touching, feeling and feinting, he collapsed in agony when his left knee buckled. The fight was over, his fluctuating weight was blamed and Oner, who had survived an assassin’s bullets in 2009, continued to insult the Klitschko brothers.
The two other Olympic champions who came in from the boxing cold with Solis on that Venezuelan night also turned professional with Oner; Yuriorkis Gamboa did win a world title and is still unbeaten, but Yan Bartelemi has not fought for two years after losing three of his 15 fights. Gamboa is reckoned the bad boy of Cuban boxing, partnering up with Mike Tyson for wild Las Vegas benders.
In total, four of Cuba’s five gold medal winners in Athens 10 years ago went over the wall and turned professional; the fifth, Mario Kindelan, beat a 17-year-old Amir Khan in the final and retired the next year.
Solis, meanwhile, will need a lot more than just one win to get back anywhere near boxing’s big money and the big lad must first decide if he really wants to be a boxer or if it is time finally to break free and live a normal life.