¡Dale! Cuba Lifts Sixty Year Castro Era Ban On Professional Boxing

Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Ruszniewski / Getty Images Contributor

For the last 60 years, professional boxing has been off-limits for Cuba’s elite boxers, based on Fidel Castro’s belief that the industry practices were corrupt.

The Caribbean island has now decided to lift the ban and allow its boxers to pursue professional careers. Formerly, fighters had to leave the country to pursue their livelihood past the amateur level, with many immigrating to Miami.

Cuba is known for the fiercest fighters forged like steel into sporting warriors replete with an indomitable will to win.

A New Day In Cuba

According to reports, the Federacion Cubano de Boxeo (FCB), or Cuban Boxing Federation, agreed to provide opportunities for its pugilists to pursue careers and train outside of the country.

“Three and a half years ago a serious analysis began that has resulted in the approved agreement and well seen by the direction of the country’s sport and the Cuban Boxing Federation with Golden Ring Promotions, for the representation of Cuba in its entry into professional boxing,” Alberto Puig, president of the FCB said in a statement to Boxing Scene.

“The continuous sports and competitive preparation of Cuban boxers to continue representing and raising the name of Cuban boxing in all competitions where it forms part and the economic benefit it represents for boxers, coaching staff and medical triad that work with the team, are one of the main objectives.”

A Unique Pugilitic History

According to the International Olympic Committee, American soldiers on the island introduced the sport to Cubans during the Spanish-American War of 1898. However, reports are that the sport took off after the first Black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, faced Jess Willard in 1915.

Johnson lost the bout, and Willard knocked out Johnson in the 26th round of a scheduled 45 rounds.

However, the country gained a new athletic pastime next to baseball.

A Legacy Of Greatness

Cuba has produced some of the greatest boxers of the last few generations. Fighters like Eligio “Kid Chocolate” Sardinas, Gerardo “Kid Gavilan” Gonzalez, and more made waves on the global boxing scene before Fidel Castro’s regime took power.

However, during the Castro era, fighters who were bound for success on the world stage were limited to finding it only on the Olympic stage when professional boxing was banned in 1962.

Most famously, Teofilo Stevenson is Cuba’s most decorated amateur boxer. Stevenson first tasted Olympic gold at the 1972 Munich games at heavyweight. He is also one of only three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals, alongside Hungarian László Papp and fellow Cuban Félix Savón.

The Curious Case Of Teofilo Stevenson

Stevenson could have become a five-time Olympic champion; however, Cuba boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics. Cubans are proud and loyal, and Stevenson is the shining example of why only a government-mandated ability to go pro matters for many boxers on the island.

“I will not leave my country for one million dollars or for much more than that,” Stevenson said in 1974, according to The Washington Post. “What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?”

Now the next crop of aspiring boxers won’t have to sacrifice the love for their country for global glory inside the squared circle.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.