In Cuba, the boxers are heroes. Beyond the borders of this small island nation, boxing is probably one of the most popular sports in the world as evidenced by the world’s admiration for the late champion Muhammad Ali. When Ali was world champ in the boxing world, Cuba’s amateur boxer Teófilo Stevenson Lawrence was winning gold medals at the Olympics.
Boxing pits two athletes in a competition to match strength, strategy and endurance. And sweat. Cuba is a leader in the boxing world, most recently seen with the gold performances of its star boxing champs at the Rio Olympics. There’s something raw, gritty and esthetic in the way they train, they dance about the ring in performance. Why do boxers from this country achieve such unparalleled success? Cuba must be doing something correct in the training of boxers which produces such stellar results. Cuban boxers lead in the sport of boxing for a combination of reasons.
Cubans have been known as supreme boxers since 1920’s when Eligio “Kid Chocolate” Sardiñas, became world champion of professional boxing and won world titles in the lightweight and welterweight divisions. From the early 1960s, Cuba began claiming medals at the Olympics and in boxing, they were bringing in multiple gold medals.
Why are Cuban boxers exceptional in the ring?
In the 1960s, the Cuban School of Boxing (the Escuela de Boxeo) was founded by Alcides Sagarra and Andrei Chervorenko (a boxing coach from Russia), whereby recruitment and Russian style of training were established. Government support of athletes begins with an educational system which enables athletic endeavors. Access to the system is not determined by family income. Cuban children are often encouraged to join some kind of sport while in school. When these youngster grow older, they have the option to engage in any sport they show talent for. The talented ones are identified at the age of 12 and sent to the specialized training schools for athletes where they receive the best in training and education. Their athletic background makes it possible for them to succeed in boxing and become successful competitors. Each of the 15 provinces in Cuba have schools specializing in athletic training.
Government support for the sport, like its support of the arts, gives boxing the boost it needs to excel. Well established training centers such as the LA Finca Gym and Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym, the oldest boxing gym in Havana, have well equipped facilities that allow boxers to train in the most productive environment. The LA Finca Gym is arguably one of the most successful and has a track record of producing exceptional athletes such as Felix Savon, Erislandy Lara, Mike Perez and a number of participants in the Rio 2016 Olympics. The government also supports the sport by honoring athletes who win in international competitions. The boxers of Cuba, although remaining amateurs, become sports heroes.
Most of the people who choose boxing as a career end up making a lot of money if they are successful. This is not yet the case in Cuba, but it’s an idea which provides inspiration. Cuban boxers remain in the amateur class, but there’s nothing amateur about their performance. Young people in the country are aware of the lucrative nature of the sport, making it one of the most popular in the country. This compels many people across the nation to join the sport. From the large array of participants, it is easy to pick some of the most promising to feature in international competitions such as the Olympics.
On the hero worship of boxers in Cuba, Alberto Puig de la Barca, president of Cuba Boxing Federation, told CNN in an interview: “Our boxers may not have a million dollars, but they have 11 million Cubans who support them.”
Besides the access to some of the best training and coaches in the world, Cubans excel for perhaps another reason. Most boxing experts agree that one of the basic principles of the sport is being able to move fast. It comes from dancing which is a prominent feature in Cuban culture. Agility and fluid movement is cultivated. Have you ever seen a poor dancer in Cuba? It’s not likely. Cubans master dancing at a young age. Incorporating and translating the movement of dance and the body into boxing skills gives Cuban boxers the edge over their competitors in the ring.
Recent boxing success
Cuba continues to show its boxing supremacy at the Olympic Games. During the recent Rio 2016 Olympics, 23 year old Cuban boxer Arlen López triumphed over Bektemir Melikuziev in a final middleweight bout that saw the champion win a gold for his country. The López win saw the country sweep up its third gold medal in these Olympics. López reigns as the boxing world champion and was also winner at the 2015 Pan American games. Other Cuban boxers who won at the Rio Olympics include Robeisy Ramirez who won gold in the men’s bantamweight and Julio César La Cruz who bagged gold in the men’s light heavyweight match.
Boxing at Rio 2016 saw the country garner a total of three gold medals for boxing – more than any other sport the country participated in. The stellar performances by the Cuban boxers has drawn the world’s attention to the Island. Cuban boxers continue to carry on the tradition of boxing supremacy through their training system and their dedication to perfection in the ring.