Cuban Professionals are Thriving Worldwide!
By Ken Hissner (Oct 4, 2008)  
Prior to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro outlawing professional sports per 1962 Resolution 83-A, there were only 3 Cuban professional world champions on the island. Since then there have been 7 more to follow, all forced to leave the island to gain their world titles.

In spite of Castro’s no tolerance for professional boxing in Cuba, those who were able to get out are doing well! I’d like to start with those who are active today. Joel Casayamor would be the easiest to identify
the fans with. The other is former WBC cruiser champ Juan Carlos Gomez, no campaigning as a heavyweight.

In 1996 due to Cuba’s worsening economic problems and its political isolation the 1992 Olympic Gold medal winner, Casamayor, along with Ramon Garbey, a two-time world champion disappeared in Guadalajara, Mexico where their team was training. From there they were able to get into the US and start their pro careers. Garbey, 18-4 (13) was a major disappointment, fighting the scales as much as his opponents. While debuting at 183 he would go as high as 226. After winning his first 13 bouts including a win over former WBO light heavyweight champion Leeonzer Barber, Garbey failed in fights with James Toney and Fres Oquendo over a 10 year period ending in 2006.

Casamayor won his first 26 bouts before losing in his first title attempt to Acelino Freitas in 2002 for the WBO/WBA super featherweight titles. In 2003 he stopped Diego Corrales for a lesser title but lost the rematch in 2004 for the vacant WBO title. He also lost that same year to Jose Luis Castillo for his WBC lightweight title. Both fights were by split decisions. Finally in 2006 he won the WBC title over Corrales, again by split decision. In his last match on September 13, 2008 he was stopped for the first time in his 12 year career by Juan Manuel Marques in the 11th round. At 37, with a 36-4-1 (22) record he may have fought his last title bout.

The “Black Panther”, Gomez, had all his fights in Germany starting in 1995 before winning the WBC cruiserweight title in February of 1998 in Argentina from Marcelo Dominguez (22-1-1). He would return to Germany and make 10 successful defenses through November of 2002 scoring all knockouts except another decision over Dominguez. His only non-title bout was in his US debut just before his last defense stopping the former IBF cruiser champ Al Cole (31-8-2) in Las Vegas in August of 2001.

After Gomez had his final defense he moved up to the heavyweight ranks winning several fights in Germany before venturing back to the US again. He would defeat the European champion Sinan Samil Sam (18-0) of Turkey in Buffalo, New York in 2003 after being inactive for a year. Choosing to stay in the US, Gomez would go another year before taking on fellow Cuban Yanqui Diaz (10-1) on a small show in Laredo, Texas. To the shock of the boxing world Gomez was stopped in the 1st round, suffering his first defeat after winning 37 straight.

He would return to Germany and win 7 straight over average opponents except in his 2 bouts with former WBC heavyweight champ Oliver McCall. In May of 2005 he would win a decision but failed his drug testing afterwards which resulted in turning it into a No Contest. It would be over a year of inactivity fighting the charge before he would return to action. In October of 2007 he would win a WBC eliminator match in a return bout with McCall. Nothing materialized from this win. He defeated Vladimir Virchis, 24-1 of the Ukraine in another WBC eliminator match on September 27th of this year in Hamburg, Germany. He hopes to meet the Samuel Peter-Vitali Klitschko winner. It’s been 7 years in the heavyweight ranks for the 35 year old Gomez, with a 44-1 (35) record, who knows time is running out.

The first champion and possibly the greatest of all the Cubans, was Kid Chocolate. He left for the US in 1928, fighting there until 1931 losing in a world title bout with Tony Canzoneri. In returning to Cuba he won the NBA junior lightweight championship in 1932. He made 5 successful title defenses. His career went from 1927-38 compiling a record of 136-10-6 (51) and was inducted into the International Hall of Fame. He died in 1988 at the age of 78.

One of the most famous Cuban’s of modern time was welterweight champion Kid Gavilan. The “Cuban Hawk” whom I had the privilege of meeting in 1978 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was writing his life story at the time. Gavilan won the NBA version of the title in 1951 and the world version in 1952. He would defend his title 5 times and compile a record of 108-30-5 (28). The greatest pound for pound fighter who ever lived, Sugar Ray Robinson, said Gavilan was the toughest opponent he ever fought. In 1948 in a non title bout in Yankee stadium the fans “disagreed violently with the decision in Robinsons favor” Robinson had an 87-1-1 record at the time of this bout compared to 46-5-2 for the Kid. In the rematch for Robinson’s title in 1949 at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium there was a crowd of 27,805. Robinson was cut over the right eye in the 4th round that bled throughout the bout. Gavilan would move to the US in 1947 and be inducted into Hall of Fame in 1990.

The last of the champions prior to Castro’s rule was two time champion Benny “Kid” Paret who won the world welterweight title in May of 1960 while losing it on April Fools Day 1961. He was defeated by Emile Griffith in the first of 3 fights. Paret would regain the title in 1961 from Griffith. Before their last meeting Paret would have a fight for the middleweight title losing to Gene Fullmer by knockout in a brutal bout. He then took a beating in his next fight from Griffith slipping into a coma for 10 days before dying. His overall record was 35-12-3 (10). Paret’s last bout in Cuba was in 1958 losing for the 2nd time to Luis Manuel Rodriguez. He would then move to New York.

On March 21, 1963 it was the night two Cubans would win world title bouts at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles. Sugar Ramos would win the WBA/WBC featherweight titles from Davey Moore, 59-6-1 (30). Unfortunately, Moore would die 2 days later from injuries suffered in this bout. Ramos made 3 defenses and would later fight for the lightweight title. His overall record was 55-7-4 (40). Ramos had fled Cuba coming to Mexico in 1961. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001.

The other Cuban to win a championship that same night was Luis Manuel Rodriguez in taking the WBC/WBA welterweight titles from Emile Griffith in their 2nd of 4 meetings. Even though Griffith won 3 of them, Rodriguez won more rounds on the judge’s scorecards. In 1969 while ahead, Rodriguez was stopped in the 11th round by Nino Benvenuti in Italy fighting for the WBA/WBC middleweight title. Rodriguez was unbeaten in 21 fights in Cuba before moving to the US while competing from 1956-72. His overall record was 107-13 (49). He was also a stable mate of Muhammad Ali in Florida. He would be inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 1997. He died in 1996 at 59.

Two time champion Jose Legra would win the WBC featherweight title in 1968 stopping Howard Winstone, 61-5 (27) in Wales, putting the champion into retirement. It was not an easy start in Cuba for Legra posting only a 6-3-1 record before moving to Mexico in 1961 until 1963 posting a 21-2-1 record, losing his 1st and last matches there. Moving to Spain Legra was unbeaten in 30 bouts (28-0-2) before going to the UK and losing to Winstone in 1965. He would win 48 straight bouts capturing the European title in 1967. It would be 6 fights later when he would defeat Winstone for the title. In 1972 he would return to Mexico after 9 years and win the WBC featherweight title from Clemente Sanchez. In his first title defense he would lose to legendary Brazilian Eder Jofre, 61-2-4 (45) in Brazil by majority decision. In 1975 Legra would make his only US bout a winning one and then retiring after the bout. His overall record was 134-12-4 (49). Legra known as the “Pocket Cassius Clay” was born in 1943.

Two time world champion Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles would post an 18-1 record before leaving Cuba in 1961 for Mexico. He would win 33 of 36 bouts there, reversing the 3 losses before debuting in the US in 1968. In April of 1969 Napoles would win the WBC/WBA welterweight titles stopping Curtis Cokes, 55-9-3 (27) at the Inglewood Forum. Just 2 months later he would return to Mexico and again stop Cokes. After making 5 title defenses he would travel to Syracuse, New York and lose his title to Billy Backus 29-10-4 (16) getting stopped on cuts over both eyes. The rumors always were Napoles did not take a cut man into the corner in order to save money and it cost him the title. He would regain the title 6 months later in Inglewood stopping Backus. Napoles would hold the title from 1971 through 1975 with a total of 13 defenses before losing to John Stracey, 42-3-1 on a severe cut in Mexico in December of 1975 ending his career. In 1974 Napoles had lost in attempt to win Carlos Monzon’s, 81-3-9, WBC/WBA middleweight titles. Napoles amateur record was 113-1 with an overall pro record of 79-7 (55). Napoles was inducted in both the World and International Hall of Fame. Today, at 68, he serves as a trainer in Mexico.

The final Cuban world champion was Diosbelys Hurtado who was born in Cuba in 1972. He competed at the Cuban Nationals defeating Joel Casamayor in 1994. That same year he escaped to Florida and made his debut winning his first 20 bouts before challenging Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, 39-1-1 (16). Early in the fight Hurtado had Whitaker on the canvas and ahead on all scorecards at the time of being stopped in the 11th round for the WBC welterweight title. The following year after winning 8 straight he would be stopped by Kostya Tszyu, 21-1 (17) for the interim WBC light welterweight title. He would go unbeaten in 8 bouts (Draw with Ricardo Mayorga) before winning the WBA light welterweight title from Randall Bailey, 25-1 (25) while behind on 2 of the 3 scorecards he stopped Bailey in the 7th round, in Puerto Rico. In making his first defense in 2002 he was stopped by Vivian Harris, 21-1 (15). After taking a year off Hurtado would have just 5 fights, winning them all with the last 2 being in Spain. His overall record is 40-3-1 (25) since his last fight in March of 2008. At 36 he seems content to keep active while not contending at the championship level.

Among some of the more outstanding Cuban boxers were Black Bill, who posted a 121-25-9 (19) record from 1920-30. One of the busiest was Angel Robinson Garcia, 133-81-21 (53) who fought in Cuba from 1955-61 before moving onto Mexico, France and Spain before coming to the US from 1972-78. Though never fighting for a title after leaving Cuba, among his opponents were Wilfredo Benitez, Eddie Perkins, Sugar Ray Seales, Saul Mamby, Ken Buchanan, Carmelo Bossi, Bruno Acari and Jose Napoles, all world champions.

Jose Stable was 12-1-1 in Cuba splitting 2 bouts with Angel Robinson Garcia. He would go to Madison Square Garden in 1960 winning a 6 rounder, followed up with a win over unbeaten (9-0) boxer named Kenny Lane. In 1963 he defeated Curtis Cokes and followed up with a win over Philly’s Charley Scott at MSG. He then ventured to Philly beating Stanley “Kitten” Hayward (16-1-1) and Dick Turner (19-0-1). In 1965 he lost a decision to Emile Griffith in a title bout at MSG. Upon returning to Philly he lost to Percy Manning (15-3) and “Gypsy” Joe Harris (15-0). The UK, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Hawaii before it became a state were other bouts. His overall record was 27-12-2 (10).

Frankie Otero was born in Cuba in 1948 and debuted in the US when he jumped out to a 38-1-1 (26) record before losing in 1972 for the NABF title. He fought Ken Buchanan twice and Alfredo Escalara, who both later became world champions. After winning his last 6 fights he retired in 1985 with a 49-9-2 (31) record, with most fights in Florida.

Florentino Fernandez, 50-16-1 (43) came within a split decision of winning the NBA middleweight title from Gene Fullmer in 1961, after moving in the US in 1960. He was 21-0 (18) before leaving Cuba. Doug Vaillant, 32-8-4 (16) also had a world title bout losing to Carlos Ortiz in 1963. He was 16-0-1 in Cuba before coming to the US in 1959.

Nino Valdez, 48-19-3 (36) came to the US in 1948 and had a win over Ezzard Charles and in his final bout beat Brian London in 1959. Isaac Logart, 69-32-10 (25) came to the US in 1954 fighting many top welterweights. Orlando Zulueta, 67-45-14 (7) also came to the US in 1949 and had wins over Paddy DeMarco (twice), Wallace “Bud” Smith, Jimmy Carter, Don Jordan and drew with Joe Brown, all champions at one time in their careers.

Considered a true great was Kid Tunero, 97-33-16 (37) fighting from 1929-48. In 1931 he moved to Spain and then to France in 1932-38 before going to Argentina. In 1941 he returned to Cuba and went to the US the same year until returning to Cuba in 1943.

Defecting in 1991 during a Cuban team event in Finland, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, 31-8 (27) had defeated Teofilo Stevenson and Tyrell Biggs in the amateurs. He won Gold medals in the 1983 and 1987 Pan Am Games. At the 87’ games he defeated Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis. He compiled a 220-13 amateur record. Turning pro in Miami in 1991 he won his first 23 bouts, 22 by knockout before losing to WBO champion Bowe. He beat Greg Page while losing to Tim Witherspoon. He boxed from 1991 to 2002.

Today there are Cuban fighters in Germany like 2004 Gold Medalist Odlanier Solis, 11-0 (7) who had a 227-14 amateur record including 2-1 against Cuban legend Felix Savon. He was also the Gold Medalist at the 1999 and 2003 Pan Am Games. Another is IBF cruiser contender Yoan Hernandez, 16-1 (10). Heavyweight Pedro Carrion, 6-1 (4) boxed just 2 years there. In Italy, Brunet Zamora is their #140 champ at 16-0 (7). In Mexico is Jose A. Izquireodo, 17-3-1 (14) who is trained by Napoles. Damian Norris (Espinosa) and Yanqui Diaz both went to Mexico before landing in the US. Norris, 12-5 (7) is a cruiser and Diaz, 13-5 (8) retired in 2006. Damon Frias, 15-1 (7) came to US in 2003. Elieser Castillo, 30-6-2 (17) is a cruiser contender trained by 1976 Gold Medalist Howard Davis of the US. Davis won the gold medal at the World Games in Cuba in 1974.

Yan Barthelemy, 6-1 and Erislandy Lara, 2-0 (1), two star Cuban boxers defected and were signed by Golden Boy Promotions. Lara had had left the Pan Am Games with two-time Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and ended up in Brazil before being deported back to Cuba. Lara defected a second time, to the US. “It takes a special talent to excel for so many years in the Cuban amateur system,” said Oscar DeLaHoya. The top prospect now in the US is 2004 Gold Medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa, 11-0 (9) who won the NABF super featherweight title in his 9th fight. Gamboa is scheduled to fight on HBO this Saturday against Marcos Ramirez, 25-0 in Temecula, California.

At the 2007 World Games in Chicago, Castro refused to let the Cuban team participate in fear that more members would defect. In all, 5 of the original 9 members of the Cuban Olympic team defected. It was the first time since 1968 when they won their first medal, that they didn’t win a gold medal. They had 8 of their 9 fighters in the medal rounds winning 4 silver and 4 bronze. In 1984 and 1988 they didn’t participate. Their Olympic history over the past 30 years is legendary. That is another story for another time. Keep posted.

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