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The Cuban boxing crisis

Guillermo Rigondeaux Yuriorkis Gamboa

By Gav Duthie: The sharp decline of the extremely talented Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa has been painful to watch. The former two weight world champion picked up a tight 10 round majority decision win against expected cannon fodder opponent Alexis Reyes on Saturday. Gamboa won the fight but labored to the finish line against someone who shouldn’t be fit to lace his boots.

Gamboa was stopped only 3 months ago to Robinson Castellanos 24-13 (14) who in fairness despite his journeyman looking record holds other notable wins over Celestino Caballero and Rocky Juarez. It should have also been a straight forward night for him. The reality is he is probably finished. Golden Boy is backing him and keeping him active but it seems all too little too late for the 35-year-old 2004 Olympic gold medalist. The damage had already been done between 2012-2015 when signed with rapper Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson’s SMS promotional company. He was extremely inactive missing fights in his possible prime. Although in his case you might blame SMS this is an all too familiar story for Cuban fighters. Some of the most talented boxers in the world are Cuban but nobody seems to be interested.

Will Rigondeaux get a fight with Lomachenko? highly unlikely, why does Rances Barthelemey never get mentioned to fight the likes of Loma and Mikey Garcia. Gamboa was a boxer who only ever asked for fights, nothing more. He was willing to box anywhere from featherweight to lightweight to get a big contest but it never really happened. 5/6 years ago, I would have had Gamboa as a pound-for-pound fighter but he didn’t get the chance to showcase himself. The one big fight he bagged against Terence Crawford was a size mismatch in all honesty. It seems too late for Gamboa, is it the same for Rigondeaux? What are the factors that lead to such dis-satisfactory Cuban careers despite their immense talent?

Communist Cuba

Communist Cuba forbids individuals benefiting financially above any other hence the reason stands out amateurs are not allowed to turn professional. These fighters need to turn their back on everything they know taking a huge risk defecting for a better life if they decide to box in the paid ranks. They rarely get it. Don’t get me wrong many become world champions but no promoter seems to want to back them in the biggest fights for the big bucks. Cuba became a Communist country on 3 October 1965 52 years ago. Up until this point there were several world class legitimate professionals like Benny Kid Paret, Kid Chocolate and Gavilan (created Bolo punch), Jose Legra and the last top boxer to turn professional before communism was Jose Napoles. The Cuban’s have produced plenty of world champions since then but boxing legends, I can’t think of any. Gamboa comfortably defeated the likes of Daniel Ponce De Leon, Orlando Salido and took the unbeaten record of Darleys Perez but if his time is over soon will he get the credit and has he made the money his talent deserved. Not even close.

Best Cuban boxers over the last ten years

Guillermo Rigondeaux

Yoan Pablo Hernandez

Erislandy Lara

Rances Barthelemey

Yuriorkis Gamboa

Luis Ortiz

Joel Casamayor

Odlandier Solis

Mike Perez

Juan Carlos Gomez

Yunier Dorticos

Sullivan Barrera

Of all these fighters, some currently still active I think only Joel Casamayor got what he deserved from boxing. Perhaps being that his style was exciting as well as traditional Cuban counter-punching. He fought all the best fighters in his era Acelino Freitas, Nate Campbell, Diego Corrales x3, Jose Luis Castillo and Michael Katsidis in his prime. All the others either under achieved or didn’t get the opportunity to succeed. Rigondeaux and Luis Ortiz will likely be too old by the time they get their chances.

Popularity

Mike Perez based himself in the Republic of Ireland and Rigondeaux was impressed with the following he had when in the UK so maybe if Cuban’s can base themselves in that region they might get the popularity they crave.

Two chances

Luis Ortiz has fought his way into a mandatory position with WBA champion Anthony Joshua and Guillermo Rigondeaux has been mentioned as 1/2 possible opponents for Vasyl Lomachenko. A win for either would make them a superstar but Ortiz seems too old and Rigodeaux too small. Rigondeaux even if he gets the Lomachenko fight it’s a small victory because it’s unlikely he can win. It is Gamboa v Crawford all over again. Rigo’s career defining fight should be Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares or even the likes of Jesse Magdaleno. He will need to move up 2 weight divisions for his chance at immortality and Luis Ortiz will need to keep lying about his age. Unfortunately, most Cuban boxers will need to keep taking risks like jumping up two weight divisions or possibly going to get what you need.


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