After 60 years, Cuba returns to the professional arena

Havana (AFP) – Intensive training at the Cuban boxing school, and for good reason: In a month, the island will be returning to professional boxing after 60 years. “It’s something we’ve been waiting for a long time,” captain Julio Cesar La Cruz said.

Last week, authorities announced that Cuban boxers could compete professionally for the first time since 1962.

The news boosted the momentum of the national team “Beast Trainers”, which train at Finca, the national boxing school on the outskirts of Havana.

In Cuba, 64-year-old Rolando Acebal told AFP that after 12 years in Cuba, “it makes our whole boxing family happy”. The country has long been a dominant force for amateurs and has a solid record: 80 world champions and 41 Olympics.

For Julio César La Cruz, 32, a star of the discipline, the announcement was “just in time”. The transition to professional competition “will be a beautiful, special and historic thing,” confided the Olympic double and five-time world champion. Sweaty, he had only been training for nearly three hours.

Not far from him, Andy Cruz, 26, nicknamed “The Dancer,” was also “happy.” The first Olympic champion at Tokyo 2020 told himself that from now on he will be able to face “the best boxers in the world” in the lightweight category.

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Other good news: Boxers will be able to receive 80% of the prize money paid for each fight, with the remaining 20% ​​going to the federation.

Olympic champion Andy Cruz during a training session in Havana on April 7, 2022 Yamir Ragh AFP

“This economic dividend will be very useful because many of us have families,” said Arlen Lopez, a 29-year-old two-time Olympic champion and father of two, as Cuba is going through nearly 30 The worst economic crisis in years due to the pandemic and the tightening of the U.S. embargo.

After the socialist revolution led by Fidel Castro, Cuba abolished professional sports in 1962, before making a timid return in 2013 in certain disciplines such as baseball, volleyball and basketball in search of new funds.

Boxing started as a semi-professional match at the World Series of Boxing (WSB) in 2014. Success: The “Dompteurs” won three of the five editions they entered, the last one being in 2018.

If professional boxing is characterized by more aggressiveness, more pronounced blows and more rounds, Rolando Acebal is not worried: “We are already preparing for this, these are the things we are ahead of.” .

Arlen Lopez, who said he trains “twice as fast” as usual.

He is one of five fighters (along with La Cruz, Andy, Yoenlis Feliciano and Lazaro Alvarez) to make their debut at the Mexican circuit in May, under a contract with Mexican company Golden Ring Promotions.

“Champion Factory!”

During training, Felipe Martinez, president of the Spanish Boxing Federation, welcomed “good news for professional boxing” because “Cuba is a championship factory!”, he recalled.

He was joined by a group of Spanish boxers, who are here preparing for the 2024 Paris Olympics, and French boxers.

Boxers from the Olympic teams of France, Spain and Cuba train in Havana on April 7, 2022.
Boxers from the Olympic teams of France, Spain and Cuba train in Havana on April 7, 2022. Yamir Ragh AFP

France’s Cuban coach, Luis Mariano Gonzalez, added that going professional “is a step to further improve Cuban boxing.”

The World Boxing Association (WBA), one of four major organizations in professional boxing, has hoped to “open the door” to Cubans.

“I think this is a new opportunity for Cuban boxers who make a living in their country,” said its president, Gilberto Jesus Mendoza, according to the AMB website. Gamboa, Guillermo Rigondo and Luis Ortiz.

Acebal believes that this new phase could slow that outflow. The final episode took place in March, when Kevin Brown and Herrich Ruiz dropped out of the delegation at the Pan American Championships in Ecuador.

“Whoever is a little smarter doesn’t need to leave,” he believes.

But one question remains unanswered, namely whether it is known whether the U.S. embargo, which has been in place since 1962, would allow Cuban boxing teams to compete in major tournaments on professional tours usually organized in the United States.

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