Steve Bunce on Boxing: Pro-am series poised to revolutionise Cuban game

 

Cuban boxing made a comeback at the Olympics in London last year and now there is a chance that a form of professional boxing could return to the giant halls in Havana after a 50-year gap.

In 1962 Fidel Castro was instrumental in banning the sport of professional boxing. It was considered "vicious, exploitative and corrupt" and Resolution 83-A outlawed it and made redundant the few remaining active professionals. Most of the quality professionals, men such as Jose Napoles, had moved to America the year before.

At about the same time, a Russian adviser, Andrei Chernevenko, in the country to help Castro's young nation stay safe from a Yankee invasion, helped launch the amateur programme.

It took less than decade for the Cubans to become the greatest amateur boxing nation, rulers of the Olympic ring and arguably sport's most dominant squad.

During the last 20 years a lot of the best Cuban amateurs have come in from the cold, often absconding from training camps dressed as women or climbing over walls and dashing to waiting helicopters. Guillermo Rigondeaux, Joel Casamayor and Yuriorkis Gamboa, all exceptional Olympic champions, absconded to glory, taking a lot of young fighters with them.

The defections sucked the heart and soul out of the Cuban system and at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 the mighty nation failed to win a gold in the boxing ring. In Athens, four years earlier, they had won five, but three of their gold medal heroes had defected. In London last year, with security improved during the previous Olympic cycle, there was a gold medal haul of two and a few controversial losers. The Cubans were back.

It now seems likely that a Cuban team will take part in next year's World Series of Boxing tournament and that Cuban boxers are expected to join the unique APB league when it is launched later this year.

The WSB allows amateur boxers to compete over five rounds of three minutes each round, without vests or headgear. The boxers receive money for each fight, there is a bonus for a win and to all intents and purposes the men are full-time professionals. However, the boxers retain their amateur status and can compete in their domestic championships and, crucially, the Olympic Games.

The APB will extend the pro-am concept with boxers taking part in eight- and 10-round contests and still being eligible for the Rio Olympics in 2016. It is, make no mistake, professional boxing and the potential global franchise owners are desperate to have Cubans in their teams.

The slick and suited men who run the amateur sport − it is no longer officially called amateur boxing –have been in Cuba during the last week and it looks like a deal or two has been done to return professional boxing to the country. In the Seventies various American promoters offered the recently deceased three-time Olympic champion Teofilo Stevenson millions of dollars to fight Muhammad Ali. Stevenson famously replied: "What is a million dollars compared to the love of the Cuban people?" Big Teo was Castro's right-hand man.

A few years before professional boxing was outlawed, Castro actually had the great heavyweight champion Joe Louis as his guest at the New Year celebrations at the end of 1959. Louis became a paid "tourism" ambassador for the Cuban Government. Louis, who was revered in black America, worked with a firm that tried to turn Cuba into a holiday destination. As Louis said about Cuba: "A Negro can go in the wintertime without discrimination." The idea never worked and Louis resigned his role after Castro posed this question: "What would happen if the Negroes in the Southern US, so often lynched, were each given a rifle?" It is said that Louis was reminded of his tax debt just before leaving his job in 1960.

A lot has changed in Cuba since Castro's early years and the return of one form of professional boxing could stop the draining defections.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions