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Interview: Emanuel Steward Discusses U.S. Amateur Boxing Problems

“I don’t even like boxing anymore like I used to because the fighters, most of the time, have no style. I’m so tired of the little body shots and the hands like this (high in front of face, like a machine). And throw one punch – boop. I mean, it’s no style, the rhythm, the flow – you don’t hardly see that anymore. The favorite style is, hands up here and you can’t really throw punches from the side. Your hands have to be here. And all of them (throw) one or two punches. There’s no rhythm or flow or moves. Amateur boxing, computer points. You don’t worry about body punching, you don’t even worry about jabs any more.”

It’s become popular to laud the Cuban amateur system for producing such outstanding amateur success as well as technically excellent boxers like Gamboa, Rigondeaux, Solis and Casamayor. But Steward has an interesting viewpoint…

“I don’t think we should be going overboard on what the Cubans are doing just yet. Because when they were fighting our kids, they were professional fighters. Cubans boxing in the Olympics then going back to preparing for another of a million tournaments. And we have amateur kids, like a 14 yr old kid just fighting for one Olympics. And these Cubans have been in two Olympics and then are preparing for another.”

“The last Olympics, when it was like on an even board, so to say, they (Cuba) didn’t do good. And they (Cuban coaches) said my kids don’t have much experience, they have to go through one or two Olympics till I build my team back up. So in other words, you’ve been winning gold medals – you came in with first time Olympians like the rest of the world, you don’t do too well.  Those are professional fighters. You look at (Felix) Savon, (Teofilo) Stevenson, ’72, ’76, into ’80. Now that they’re over here fighting with other professional guys, not having that exclusive government funded training camp, they’re not gonna hold up as well as they go down the stretch.”

“The one guy Joel Casamayor was very good. I’m not that high on them. Once they start living here (in the U.S.), eating ice cream and cake and all that stuff, they’re different. I got to know the Cubans in 1984. Just prior to the Olympics, my Ricky Womack knocked out Pablo Romero which was the next big thing. I had Frank Tate beat their champion, it was in California, The Sports Arena. I had Teofilio Stevenson, who knocked out Tyrell Biggs – I was training Biggs then (after the KO loss), barely won a decision (over Biggs). I had Pernell Whitaker, he beat the Cubans. Mark Breland beat the Cuban. When I would meet with the Cuban coach he would say I’m the only coach he had respect for.  Because my guys were boxing against professional men. And when they boxed the Cubans, they were used to that, instead of some kid coming from high school, some local gym. And so they didn’t hold up as well. They didn’t fight in the Olympics in Sept (1984) but we would have done well regardless.”

“The Cubans have some techniques, some programs, and what happened with Rigondeaux, when he started running (in a recent fight in the U.S.) I said on the air, not to be disrespectful, I said, That’s what they’re used to doing in the amateurs. You come back after the first round, you’re up 7-2. That’s two rounds, if you don’t do anything and there’s no real action, the next two rounds, you win. So run. And you know how to take off the clock and that’s what they do. So he actually went back to that program, just run. That’s what they do.”

“The Cubans go to 12-13 national tournaments. Our kids said, this is the first time I ever went to an international fight, with the gongs, the sounds.”

“I know going into the ’84 Olympics, I had them in 83, 84, we had about seven international events as preparation. Breland, Whitaker, Womack at the time. These guys who had lost to some of the Cubans earlier got  a chance to re-fight them in ’84  – they beat the same guys. If you look at the history, Ray Leonard is the same way. I had the guys working with them in 74, 75 and a lot of them lost. And then they got the chance in the Olympics and they destroyed. They got the international experience, whereas the kids today don’t have that anymore. We don’t have an amateur program at all virtually. And if you don’t have an amateur program, you’re not going to have any professional fighters, unless you improve the system.”

“Now the fighters are coming from Europe or Cuba because they do have some program that they’re coming from. But after they get here they don’t hold up as well because they don’t have that controlled government training and financed programs.”




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