People

10 Greatest Cuban Boxers

10 Greatest Cuban Boxers

Inhabitants of a small Island in Caribbean, Cubans have a passion for sports. With polished athletes and players of basketball, baseball and cricket, this nation shows record breaking performances in boxing as well. Both pre and post-revolution Cuba has produced a range of Boxing Champions that became the pride of their small but talented homeland. Since its participation in the Olympics, Cuba has won 32 gold medals in Boxing. Though defections and brain drain leave the country’s sports somewhat weaker but the nation doesn’t stop producing champs. Have a look at some of the astounding Cuban boxers whose punches and blows left the crowd in cheers:

1. Kid Chocolate

Even before Castro’s revolution and government’s special sports programs, sports maniac Cubans had some of the most dreaded fighters. Eligio Saldana was the real name of this legendary boxer who grew selling newspapers and polishing shoes but dreaming about boxing. He was also nick named as “Cuban Bon Bon”. Starting as a successful amateur in Havana in 1922, he won his way to professional boxing in 1927. He won two titles, both of Featherweight and Lightweight Championships. His Junior Light Weight Championship in 1931 made him the first Cuban World Champion. Kid Chocolate has a professional record of 136 wins out of 153 bouts, 51 by KOs. His training was from the films of legendary boxers from where he learnt skills such as the left jab of Joe Gans. He had an unmatched speed in the rings resulting in exciting fights. Even his non title bouts were crowded with spectators. He was also known for his style and was voted Best Dressed Man in 1929. He was inducted to International Boxing Hall of Fame and has a sports hall named after him in Cuba.

2. Kid Gavilan

Another pre-revolution boxing superstar Kid Gavilan was a renowned Cuban boxer winning a number of fights in Cuba and later moved to America. His real name was Gerardo González. He had 108 wins from 143 fights, 28 by KOs. He was the inventor of the famous right hand, half upper cut-half hook “bolo punch” and was famous for his career having absolutely no defeat by KO. Though he got defeated in his first professional match with Sugar Ray Robinson but managed to win the World WalterWeight Championship title after Robinson moved to the middle weight category. He then retained the title for quite a few years. Throughout his career Kid Gavilan amazed the audience by his tenacity and excellent boxing skills.

3. Jose Napoles

This glorious Cuban/Mexican sportsman started his career in Cuba in 1958 at the age of 18. Napoles then moved to Mexico as Cuban President Fidel Castro banned Professional Boxing in Cuba. Despite being a foreigner, he earned fame through his exceptionally good boxing skills in Mexico and later in America. His boxing record includes 81 wins out of 88 fights. He is one of the very few reputed boxers having a record of 55 Knock Out Wins. He held both WBC welterweight title and WBA World welterweight title and was nicknamed as “Mantequilla”, butter as his fights were smooth and consistent. He retained his welterweight title for about 8 years finally losing it in a fight with John Stracey after which he announced his retirement. He was later inducted in International Boxing Hall of Fame.

4. Luis Rodriguez

Luis Rodriguez commonly known as “El Feo” started his career in Havana. He won the title of Welterweight Champion of Cuba at a very young age. Rodriguez was also one of those talented Cuban boxers who fled Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power. He settled in America and it was in Miami where he became the World Welterweight champion after beating Emile Griffith. However he retained that title for a very small period till Griffith won the title back. He won 107 fights out of 121 among which 49 wins were by KOs. Rodriguez later moved to middle weight category and then retired at the age of 35 in 1972.

5. Sugar Ramos

Starting when he was 15, Ultiminio Ramos known as Sugar Ramos was the Cuban featherweight champion at the age of 19. He fled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s rule. He then settled in Mexico and later won the World Featherweight Championship title. His small but impressive boxing record shows that from a total of 66 fights he won 55 among which 40 were by KOs. His hard hits and punches thrilled the crowd but he was criticized after two of his opponents namely Jose Balnco and later Davey Moore died after having fights with him. Though widely publicized, Davey Moore’s death, according to doctors, was not because of any punch or jab but due to Moore’s falling and hitting the steel ring rope during the fight. The death however, left the boxing world widely criticized.

6. Jose Legra

Starting in 1960 at the age of 17 Jose Legra was a remarkable Cuban boxer who initially had bouts in Cuba as well as Mexico. After 34 fights and 27 wins in his portfolio he moved to triumph his battles in Spain. The relocation proved really lucky for him as he won more than 60 fights with just one defeat in the initial years. He later won the titles of European Featherweight Championship and World Featherweight Championship in 1967 and 1968 respectively. In total he won 134 fights from 150 had an astonishing 50 KO wins. A boxer with immense speed and skilled tricks he retired at the age of 32 leaving behind a splendid boxing career.

7. Teofilo Stevenson

No list of Cuban Boxing greats would be complete without this legend. Among the three boxers who won the Olympic gold medal three times Teofilo Stevenson was one. Three gold medals in one go he was the boxing hero of the Olympics of 1972, 1976 and 1980. He may have had earned even the fourth gold medal had Cuba not boycotted the 1984 Olympics backing Soviet Union. Stevenson is one of the prominent names among the athletes produced from Fidel Castro’s socialist sports program. With a height of about 6’3 his speed and accuracy were unmatched in the ring. It is believed that the amateur boxer had highly priced defection offers from around the world to play professional but this patriot always turned them down and fought representing his own homeland. He also won Pan American gold medals in 1975 and 1979 and has been the World Amateur Champion three times. He later served as Coach of Amateur Cuban Boxing Team and the Vice President of the Cuban Boxing Federation.

8. Felix Savon

Another Cuban to win three Olympic gold medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000, Felix Savon followed Teofilo Stevenson resulting in continued Cuban glory in the Boxing World. After winning his first titles of Cuban Heavyweight Champion and Junior World Champion in 1985 he started his period of a successful boxing career winning six gold and one silver medal in World Amateur Championships, three gold medals in the Pan American Games and four gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Games. Always an amateur boxer only he felt the amateur boxing to be “clean” compared to the professional boxing which is a “dirty sport” where the “interest is earning money.” He retired at the age of 33, one year after winning his third Olympic gold and started coaching the young Cuban fighters.

9. Mario Kindelán

Cousin of the famous baseball player Orestes Kindelán it would be no exaggeration to say that sports run in Kindélan’s family. Mario Kindelán is a two times Olympic gold medalist in the lightweight category in 2000 and 2004. Yet another boxer who became Cuba’s pride he rejected many defection offers and retired as an amateur. His profile includes three gold medals at World Amateur Championship, two gold medals at Pan American Games and two gold medals at the Central American and Caribbean Games. He was famous for his skill and techniques during boxing and was named Best Boxer in Cuba in 1999. A year after winning his second Olympic gold he retired in 2005 at the age of 34.

10. Joel Casamayor

Cuban native Joel Casamayor is the 1992 Olympic gold medalist. He boasts a good amateur career and then in 1996 unlike his predecessors couldn’t resist the temptation and committed defection from Cuba. He started professional and now resides in United States. During his amateur career, apart from the Olympic gold medal he also earned the title of Junior World Champion and a featherweight bronze medal at the World Cup in Thailand. He further won two silver medals in Bantamweight and Featherweight category at World Amateur Boxing Championship and Goodwill Games respectively. Later, after moving to the professional category he won the titles of NABF Super Featherweight and WBA Super Featherweight in 1999. Brushing off punches in the ring he is nicked as “El Cepillo" meaning "the brush”. Having great aims and still fighting the Cuban boxer says “I have a great will to win. I hate to lose, and I feel that I never have really lost … My ultimate goal is most certainly the Boxing Hall of Fame.”

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