Savon ready to unleash his savagery on the world

Teofilo Stevenson's successor is a man with a mission. Glyn Leach reports
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The Independent Online
The heavyweight Felix Savon Fabre, also known as Felix Savon, is without doubt the most celebrated amateur boxer in the world. The captain of the powerful Cuban squad for Atlanta has won every possible honour in amateur boxing.

His resume is imposing: five world championships; three Pan-American championships; two Goodwill Games titles; and he enters these Olympics as a defending gold medallist, having outpointed the United States' Dannell Nicholson in the Barcelona final. Savon has lost just 10 times in more than 250 fights.

Of course, any Cuban heavyweight's career must inevitably be compared to that of the great Teofilo Stevenson, who won three consecutive Olympic titles and might have added a fourth but for Cuba's boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Savon could conceivably have been in a position to better Stevenson's record had Cuba not also boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but hopes to equal his achievement by winning gold at Atlanta and then at the Sydney Games in the year 2000.

On Stevenson's retirement in 1986 Savon assumed the mantle of Cuba's boxing superstar. He has also bettered Stevenson on one count: Savon has won 12 consecutive Playa Giron (Cuban championships) titles, whereas Stevenson recorded only 11 victories, non-consecutive. But despite his exalted status, Savon always shows deference to Stevenson when in his predecessor's presence.

Such is Savon's standing that his appearance at international tournaments generally sees AIBA officials queue to be photographed with the great man. Inevitably, this leads to accusations of pro-Savon bias from other nations. It is also claimed that Savon's reputation as the most devastating puncher in the 91-kilo class leads to his contests being stopped too early through exaggerated fear for the safety of his opponents.

His style, typical of the great Cuban heavyweights, is that of an aggressive banger. This approach is not generally rewarded under the computer scoring system introduced at Barcelona, where Savon's decision over Nicholson in the final was closer than might have been expected. Scoring aesthetics aside, Savon's only weakness is a chin that may not be the strongest in the world. His main opposition at these Games is likely to come from the Frenchman Christophe Mendey and the United States' Nate Jones, both of whom Savon has beaten previously.

Savon's last defeat came against his fellow countryman Freddie Rojas at the Cordoba Cardin tournament in 1995. Rojas, incredibly, will drop down to the 81kg category for these Games, following the defection of Ramon Garbey.

Like Stevenson, Savon has received significant professional offers. While Stevenson declined the opportunity to face Mohammed Ali, Savon has turned down a reputed $10m (pounds 6.4m) offer to fight Mike Tyson.

But while two of the Cuban squad have defected on the eve of these Games, the chances of Savon following suit appear to be nil. The father of twins - a boy named Felix Maria and a girl named Maria Felix - is a party man rather than a party animal. Savon is the ultimate ambassador for Cuban boxing.