Castro Cast A Long Shadow Over Boxing
By: Sean Crose
Cuban strong man Fidel Castro died this weekend. Some are undoubtedly saddened, others – many others – joyous. Me? Well, truth be told, I’m no expert on Cuban history. I know that the government Castro overthrew was far from good to its people. Yet I also know Castro was a cruel guy…as in lots of dead bodies cruel. Interesting, sure? Charming? No doubt. But deeply cruel. Yet I find myself thinking a lot about the man’s impact on the sport of boxing here in the immediate days after his death. For Castro, in his own way, cast a long shadow over the sweet science.
To be sure, Cuba has long had an illustrious history in the ring. However, after Castro’s successful overthrow of the Batista regime, professional sports were banned on the island nation. Why get paid in money, the argument went, when you can represent and earn the love of millions of your countrymen? Some might argue that people could do both, but no matter. Cuban athletes became more than just athletes – they became national symbols. This was particularly true in the case of boxers.
For Cuban amateurs were a dominant force in the international boxing scene for decades. Indeed, it was Cuban fighters who were known to be masters of three round, Olympic style boxing. And they had the medals and awards to prove it. Yet there was, of course, a flip side to the coin. What did Cuban pros get for all their hard work besides government approved adulation? Didn’t other top fighters from around the world get adulation, as well…along with lots of money?
Under Castro, Cuba was long-suffering economically. A lack of American business, along with the eventual fall of the Soviet empire, really harmed the nation’s (but perhaps not Castro’s) wallet. And so many Cuban fighters did what fighters have been doing since they started getting paid to fight – they worked to make life better for themselves. These words may come across as hokey, but facts are facts. Notable boxers, including contemporaries like Guillermo Rigondeaux, Erislandy Lara and Yuriorkis Gamboa defected from Cuba…against the will of Castro’s government.
Make no mistake about it, Cuban boxers excelled athletically during the Castro regime. To argue otherwise is to become too partisan for one’s own good. But Castro’s unwillingness to let Cuban fighters reach their potentials in the pro ranks was simply wrong. And it had an overall negative impact on the sport in general. Who knows, after all, what the world of pro boxing lost out on due to an oppressive dictator’s stubbornness?