Few international locations boast as proud an newbie boxing custom as Cuba. The island nation has gained 73 Olympic medals in its historical past, together with 37 gold, regardless of having boycotted the Video games in 1984 and 1988. A lot of Cuba’s most profitable newbie boxers selected to stay of their nation, the place skilled boxing has been banned since 1961, as a substitute of leaving to show skilled. They selected to remain loyal to the Revolution that enabled them to turn out to be elite athletes and stars. However there are at all times exceptions to any rule, and a few proficient Cuban fighters took an infinite danger to defect within the hopes of attaining the kind of monetary success that will by no means be potential in Cuba.
The Cuban type of boxing closely emphasizes counter-punching. It’s about letting your opponent lead so you possibly can capitalize on their errors. “The Cuban boxing type facilities round a selection within the calculus of combating; that it’s a far more clever place when it comes to your longevity and your possibilities of victory to be a counter-puncher,” explains Brin-Jonathan Butler, who’s an authoritative voice on Cuban boxing, having spent eleven years residing and coaching there, a lot of it underneath the tutelage of former two-time Olympic champion, Hector Vinent.
Butler makes an apt comparability to the world of chess in that no one desires to steer the dance. “In Cuban boxing, you need to restrict your danger in any respect prices and make the opposite particular person screw up as a result of that’s essentially the most environment friendly, strategic technique to victory.”
Though that type doesn’t at all times result in thrilling fights, Butler is fast to level out that portray all Cuban fighters with the identical brush shouldn’t be solely unfair however inaccurate, on condition that a number of the nation’s best fighters have been explosive and able to producing electrifying knockouts.
“There’s this notion concerning the Cuban type that I don’t assume matches up with a variety of the nice Cuban champions,” asserts Butler. “Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon have been devastating knockout punchers. Have a look at Felix Savon annihilating David Tua in 90 seconds, destroying Michael Bentt, and knocking Shannon Briggs via the ropes. Hector Vinent had a very skilled type had he gone that route. He was dominant within the amateurs, defeating Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley. There’s a trope that Cuban fighters are boring, robotic, and technical; That they’re not human and don’t have coronary heart. However evaluate that with the nice Cuban fighters and their precise information,” Butler defined.
Whereas it’s true that these aforementioned Cuban boxers have been extra offensive-minded, there are a number of fashionable Cuban defectors whose type mirrored the “typical” risk-averse Cuban strategy. That features Joel Casamayor, Erislandy Lara, and Guillermo Rigondeaux, who all grew to become world champions however by no means cultivated a fervid fan base of supporters.
I’m not going to say that fighters ought to take extra dangers to please the followers as a result of the followers aren’t those who must cope with the repercussions of mind trauma. Nevertheless, there’s something to be stated for being entertaining within the ring as a result of that’s what places more cash in fighters’ pockets. As David Greisman explains in his Combating Phrases column about Demetrius Andrade, “If folks take pleasure in watching you, then they’ll sit up for seeing you. They’ll purchase tickets. They’ll tune in to your reveals. That can make you extra of a star.”
Though Casamayor, Lara, and Rigondeaux by no means grew to become bonafide stars, largely due to their unappealing kinds, there have been a couple of events once they fought out of character and produced thrilling brawls. It’s these fights that delivered ample motion and leisure worth which might be value highlighting.
After successful gold on the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Casamayor grew to become a two-weight world champion as a professional, together with the lineal light-weight title. It was in protection of his light-weight supremacy in 2008 towards the undefeated Australian banger, Michael Katsidis (23-0), that Casamayor placed on arguably his most enjoyable efficiency. The champion received off to a rousing begin when he dropped Katsidis twice within the opening spherical courtesy of his southpaw straight left. However Katsidis roared again to buzz Casamayor within the 4th, knocked him via the ropes within the sixth, and got here near stopping the cagey Cuban veteran. Casamayor was in a position to resort to his ingrained boxing expertise and motion to regain momentum, which enabled him to attain a decisive end. Within the tenth, Casamayor nailed the overzealous Aussie with a looping counter left that badly damage the challenger and Casamayor’s follow-up flurry pressured the ref to step in. At 36, it could be the final huge win of Casamayor’s profession.
In 2018, Erislandy Lara, 34, took on Jarrett “Swift” Hurd in a junior-middleweight unification battle that was a fight-of-the-year contender. Hurd introduced the stress and compelled Lara to battle within the trenches for lengthy stretches as he seemed to impose his will and physicality on the slick Cuban. However Lara was efficient when he used his legs to maneuver and countered Hurd on his method in. Even when the 2 exchanged brutal photographs on the within, Lara dished out his fair proportion of punishment. Nevertheless, Hurd was relentless in pursuit and he made certain Lara felt his higher dimension and power because the battle progressed. It was a detailed battle that hung within the steadiness till the final spherical, when Hurd scored a late knockdown from a left hook. That knockdown was the distinction because it gave Hurd a split-decision win, each judges having him up by a single level.
After the battle, Lara stated that, “It was a fantastic battle for the followers. I stood and fought quite a bit and it was enjoyable. I assumed I clearly gained the battle.” Upon listening to these phrases, it seems that Lara was selecting to battle in a extra entertaining method to appease the followers. However that simply doesn’t look like a viable rationalization.
Rigondeaux chanted an analogous tune after he engaged Julio Ceja in a grueling phone-booth struggle in 2019. The 2 traded vicious energy photographs from in-close for the whole lot of the battle, with barely any respite within the motion. It was a howitzer of a counter left from Rigondeaux that ended issues within the closing seconds of the eighth spherical and earned him the spectacular win. However within the course of he absorbed by far essentially the most punches he had ever taken in a professional battle. After the competition, Rigondeaux acknowledged that “Individuals have been saying that I get on the bicycle and run quite a bit. Effectively, that’s not true, so I needed to point out them I might battle at a brief distance and I needed to get a pair rounds in.”
Why would Lara and Rigondeaux care concerning the followers once they didn’t previously? What’s extra probably is that they needed to guard their ego by refusing to provide their opponents credit score for making them battle a special type.
“Rigondeaux was quoted as saying that he was at all times criticized for not combating in an thrilling method and so I’ll present them I can. I don’t imagine that for a second,” says Butler. I don’t imagine that he would select to battle that method towards a fighter that’s not well-known with not a lot tv publicity when he was not prepared to try this in his larger fights with larger audiences. That Ceja battle confirmed nothing of the Cuban type so why has he deserted it at 38 years previous? Now he desires to battle in a cellphone sales space when there’s actually no upside in doing it. I don’t see how that’s a calculated option to show the critics fallacious as a result of what’s the purpose of proving the critics fallacious at this stage within the sport?”
A extra possible rationalization for why the trio of Cuban stylists fought out of character in these situations is due to their age and magnificence of opponent. Casamayor, Lara, and Rigondeaux have been 36, 34, and 38 respectively and within the twilight of their careers. Not solely have been they older, however in addition they had loads of put on and tear on their our bodies attributable to in depth newbie careers. With heavier legs, they’d no selection however to face within the pocket and battle hearth with hearth.
It wasn’t simply their superior age and diminished mobility, they needed to have the suitable opponent in entrance of them. And that’s precisely what they’d in Michael Katsidis, Jarret Hurd, and Julio Ceja. All three have been aggressive, stress fighters with sturdy chins that have been prepared to take two to land one. They knew their identification as fighters and that the one likelihood they’d of successful was imposing their sport plans and making the battle ugly. And whereas Katsidis and Ceja in the end misplaced, each of them had their moments, which is what made the fights dramatic.
It will not have been a sensible selection for that Cuban trio to fully abandon their newbie type once they turned skilled. Had they completed so, they probably would have by no means scaled the heights they reached in successful a number of world titles and racking up quite a few championship defenses. Given the thrilling scraps that they helped create in later levels of their profession, one can’t assist however marvel what extra enjoyable fights they might have been concerned in had they chosen to take extra dangers. Nonetheless, the followers are fortunate there are a couple of gems involving fashionable Cuban fighters. If you happen to’re ever searching for a mix of pugilistic Cuban ability and motion, look no additional than Casamayor-Katsidis, Lara-Hurd, and Rigondeaux-Ceja. Belief me, you gained’t be upset.
(Picture by way of)