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The Cuban heavyweight mission

Image: The Cuban heavyweight mission

By Gav Duthie: Different paths, same goal. The veteran, the contender, and the prospect. 3 Cuban heavyweights entertained us all on the first day of 2022 with victories that kept them on the road to becoming the first-ever world heavyweight champion from Cuba.

(Photo credit: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Luis Ortiz, the veteran, survived a scare to stop former IBF world champion Charles Martin, Frank Sanchez easily outpointed Christian Hammer, and Lenier Pero defeated compatriot Geovany Bruzon.

It has been confirmed today that the latter of Pero and Bruzon will both now be guided by Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) in addition to the others giving everyone the best chance to achieve what nobody else ever has. Who, if anyone, will be the one to do it, though?

Cuban’s defecting

It is quite ironic that Cuba has never had a heavyweight world champion when two of their greatest fighters of all time, Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon (3 Olympic golds each), were both in that weight category. Unfortunately, neither ever turned professional. Today there are much more Cuban amateurs defecting to turn professional than ever before. Nino Valdes was well rated in the 50s, and Jose Ribalta beat the likes of Leon Spinks and fought Mike Tyson in the 80s. Latterly Odlandier Solis gave a feeble attempt against Vitaly Klitschko (WBC) 10 years ago, and Juan Carlos Gomez was a cruiserweight champion before a failed top weight bid, but in general Cuban heavyweights have been few and far between.

Image: The Cuban heavyweight mission

Perhaps the death of Fidel Castro or just a changing of the times means much more Cuban’s, in general, are turning their backs on Communist boxing and turning professional. Yordenis Ugas is leading the way, but there are many and also more heavyweights than ever. The veteran, the contender, and the prospects.

The amateur scene

Sometimes not being the top Cuban amateur can work in your favor. It means a lot of them turn professional early. Probably the most exciting Cuban prospect/contender at the moment is David Morrell Jr. He is only 23 and already a world champion as he had little chance of representing Cuba at the Olympics as he was behind Julio Cesar La Cruz. The Olympics is the pinnacle of boxing in Cuba, so if you can’t do that, many are turning professional.

This situation was the same for Frank Sanchez. Frank is 20-0 (13), Lenier Pero is 6-0 (3) despite both being 29. Sanchez and Pero fought six times in the amateurs, with Pero winning 5. Being that Frank was behind him and the likes of Erislandy Savon, he turned professional and is reaping the rewards.

This also applied to Luis Ortiz. Being that he is 42 (or perhaps older, as some would say), he actually lost to the great Felix Savon in 1999 and several times to Odlandier Solis, who won gold in the 2004 Olympics; he wasn’t really pushed in the amateur game.

This can also help as they are not engrained in the amateur style. Luis Ortiz is popular because although he is technical, he doesn’t box like a Cuban. He has a killer instinct with his King Kong persona alongside his technical skills, so does Frank Sanchez.

The best chance?

Luis Ortiz 33-2 (28) – The Veteran

At 42, he definitely showed signs of aging against Charles Martin. Getting knocked down as a heavyweight is fine, but the way he was knocked down was worrying. He was put down with a jab despite not being unbalanced coming in. Even the straight left glanced at the top of his head that put him down in round 1 didn’t look right. Power is always the last thing to leave, and he showed plenty of that in stopping Martin, but his bogeyman image was definitely tarnished. The win keeps him in the mix; he will get another title shot or, at the very least, a final eliminator. He won’t be avoided now, though. The likes of Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, Andy Ruiz, Joe Joyce, and Joseph Parker will be happy to face him to steer a title path.

The main options for PBC are to match him up with Frank Sanchez in a changing of the guard fight or a final stand if he wins. Filip Hrgovic is an option for an IBF final eliminator, and they always honor their mandatories. In all honesty, from what I saw on January 1st, I don’t think he beats another top-flight fighter, but I love to watch him and can’t wait to see him try to prove people wrong.

Frank Sanchez 20-0 (13) – The Contender

Sanchez is ranked #6 with the WBC and #5 with the WBO. I have seen amazing improvements with Sanchez in every fight. As aforementioned, not being too involved in Olympic Cuban boxing, he had quite an aggressive style early as a professional. Eddie Reynoso mixed his power with Cuban skills background to perfection to beat Efe Ajagba on the Fury-Wilder undercard. His defensive slickness also meant that Christian Hammer landed the joint least amount of punches in history for a 10 round fight against him.

It will be interesting to see how they guide him. In house, they have Andy Ruiz Jr, which he may not be ready for, Robert Helenius, who is on a high, and Luis Ortiz, which is a great fight for the fans. I think it could be Ortiz next, and he has every chance to best him and progress to a title shot.

Lenier Pero 6-0 (3) – The Prospect

Fortunately for Frank, who has lost to Pero 5 times, he is not a big enough draw to fight Sanchez yet. It was a great fight against Bruzon, who impressed enough to also gain favor with PBC. Pero boxed at the 2016 Olympics losing to Filip Hrgovic in the Quarter Final, so he failed to medal. His brother Dainier Pero suffered the same fate at the 2020/21 Olympics losing to Richard Torrez Jr. The Pero’s are much more refined, accomplished amateur-style fighters. In order to promote Lenier, they will need to add to his style. Even for popularity, he will need to have more killer instinct like Ortiz, but he is only 29, and as long as he is kept busy by the PBC, he will have time to do this.

Next up for him could be a range of fighters from Sunday’s card. I sense that Gerald Washington might retire, but he still has a few questions that he can ask. Probably more likely are Iago Kiladze, who can take you out if you are not careful, or Jonathon Rice, who feels he can dedicate himself to boxing after his two wins over Michael Coffie. Christian Hammer is always a test, and some other names that spring to mind include Lucas Browne, Robert Alfonso (Cuban), Kevin Johnson, Carlos Negron, and Bogdan Dinu.

Pero is definitely one to watch, but there is a long way to go.

And the new?

Unfortunately, in this era, I would suspect that all of these guys might just fall short in their pursuit of heavyweight glory but based on what I have seen, Frank Sanchez has the biggest chance in the near future.

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