By Gav Duthie: Will Cuba ever be a boxing superpower ever again? It is probably the one country in the world where boxing is the premier sport and not subservient to football, basketball, baseball, soccer or hockey etc. this is all despite the fact that it has been banned as a professional sport since 1961 after Fidel Castro and his revolutionary government came to power.
Castro is now 88 years old and there may be a slim chance that this ban is lifted in the future but how much has this embargo affected Cuban boxing in the pro ranks today.
Where there is a will there is a way. Of around 90,000 Cuban athletes 19,000 of them are boxers this is despite the only goal being to make an Olympic team every 4 years as part of a squad of 12. If you are one of the best 12 it is understandable that you would want to turn professional. In order to achieve this you have to defect from the country you love. Most boxers like Yuriorkis Gamboa and Guillermo Rigondeaux have used training camps abroad to sneak away to gain asylum and nationality elsewhere. Nobody can blame them for wanting to be professional but many like the great amateur Mario Kindelan (who beat Andriy Kotelnik and Amir Khan for consecutive Olympic Golds) show no desire to turn professional and others are too frightened to leave.
The problem is that 2014 showed me that pro boxing isn’t the gravy train money making machine that it should be for Cuban boxers.
If one of the top p4p fighters Guillermo Rigondeaux can’t keep his contract with HBO then what does that say about the fan base of these fighters. People say he isn’t exciting but he scored a 1st round ko 2 fights ago and got up off the floor twice in his last to win. He probably isn’t making anywhere near as much cash as his talent suggests he should. Furthermore because he doesn’t bring lots of income to the table the other top 122lb fighters like Santa Cruz, Frampton and Quigg won’t go near him. Then you have Yuriorkis Gamboa who gave everything to become a professional for what? To fight once every 18 months? He is unfortunate to be signed with boxing novice Curtis ’50 cent’ Jackson and failed in taking a huge risk fighting Terrence Crawford arguably two divisions above his natural weight.
Furthermore the Cuban amateur style doesn’t always lend itself to successful pro careers as it is considered boring to watch. These fighters are bred to win amateur tournaments. There is focus on precision punching, the jab, defensive stances and no body shots. Many then struggle to adapt to the pro game as a result. Erislandy Lara despite possessing almost perfect boxing form lost to Canelo due to being overly defensive and a lack of punch output. Mike Perez who was paid only $60,000 in his WBC eliminator defeat to Jennings. This was a fight he looked perfectly capable of winning but was just far too inactive. At the back end of 2013 Yoandris Salinas faded down the stretch to only draw with Scott Quigg and was knocked out in 5 rounds by a journeyman last summer. Odlandier Solis coasted to a 12 round unanimous defeat against Tony Thompson to blow any world title shots.
In 1959 Cuba boasted 6 world champions at a time when there was only one title per division and despite over 50 years of only legally boxing at amateur
level the sport is still huge. If Guillermo Rigondeaux was to fight in Cuba next week it would probably sell 100,000 tickets but at the moment these fighters cannot make that kind of money overseas and their amateur styles are hurting them significantly.