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Was 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Teofilo Stevenson the Best of the Cuban Heavyweights?

By Ken Hissner: There have been many great Cuban boxers prior to the country being turned to become a Communist country and since. This article will focus on the heavyweights before and since, especially on 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Teofilo Stevenson.

Stevenson was not the only 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist from Cuba, but Felix Savon would later become one. There were other Cubans who turned professionals that I recall we will look at.

Nino Valdez, 48-18-3 with 36 knockouts, fought from 1941 to 1959. He was 13-3-1 when he made his USA debut. He was 21-4-3, (8-1-2 including his USA debut up to this fight) when he took on future light heavyweight champion Harold Johnson losing a lopsided decision in Brooklyn, New York, in November of 1952.

The same Johnson would fight Cuban Julio Mederos, 15-5-2, in their first meeting in December of 1954 and 17-8-2, in their second meeting in May of 1955 when Johnson was suddenly stopped collapsing in the second round for no apparent reason.

In talking to Johnson after his retirement, he told me, “a kid handed me an orange on the day of the fights weigh-in, and it must have been injected with something that caused me to collapse.” In February 1961 Johnson would win the NBA light heavyweight title, ending up at 76-11 with 31 stoppages.

Stevenson would win Olympic Gold Medals in 1972, 1976, and 1980. In 1984 and 1988, Cuba would not participate in the Olympic games depriving Stevenson of winning more than 3 Olympic Gold Medals.

Former world heavyweight champion “Big” George Foreman had the following to say about Stevenson: Stevenson is a champion in various ways. He has it all. Stevenson is about a better fighter as I’ve ever seen, professional or amateur.

I haven’t seen this much class and skill in the professional in a long time nor in the amateur. Stevenson would undoubtedly become a champion of the world professionally if he decided to. He has the skill and qualifications anytime he wants to become a world champion.

During his prime in the 1970s, he coincided with Muhammad Ali’s reign as heavyweight champion in professional boxing. He was offered a shot in his professional debut, as did Olympic Gold Medalist Pete Rademacher did against world champion Floyd Patterson.

Ali eventually spent a week in Cuba with Stevenson, but their matchup would never come. Stevenson suggested a three or four-round bout. Ali refused, saying it would have to be a 15-round bout for his title.

In 1971 at the Pan American Games, Stevenson lost to American Duane Bobick 5-0 in Havana, Cuba. In the 1972 Olympics, he defeated Bobick, knocking him down twice in the third round, stopping him in the Munich Olympics in Germany.

In 1974 at the World Games, Stevenson defeated American Marvin Stinson, who would later be known as world champion Larry Holmes’ chief sparring partner while in the professional ranks. At the Pan Am Games in 1975, I defeated future world champion Michael Dokes in the finals. In 1976 at the Olympics in Montreal, he defeated future world champion John Tate of the USA. At the World Games in 1978, I have defeated future world champion Tony Tubbs.

At the 1980 Olympics, Stevenson defeated Mircea Simon of Romania for the Gold Medal. In 1984 he defeated future Olympic Gold Medalist Tyrell Biggs in a Cuba vs. USA match, but Cuba did not compete in the Olympics, and Biggs won the Gold Medal later that year. In his last year of boxing in 1986, Stevenson defeated Alex Garcia of the USA at the World Championships in Reno, Nevada.

In 1981 Stevenson defeated fellow Cuban Jorge Luis Gonzalez but lost to him in 1982. Gonzalez would later turn professional when he defected from Cuba in 1991. He finished at 302-22-8.

Gonzalez, in the amateurs, defeated future world champions Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis in the 1987 Pan Am Games. He would defeat Stevenson in a rematch and 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist Tyrell Biggs of the USA in addition to the amateurs. In the professional ranks, he was 31-8 with 27 knockouts.

Gonzalez was 23-0 as a pro when he lost to WBO world champion Bowe by knockout in June of 1995. Two fights later he lost to former world champion “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon by stoppage. In April of 1997 in Puerto Rico, he won the vacant Latino title stopping Argentina’s Daniel Eduardo Neto, 25-9-1, over 12 rounds.

Gonzalez would suffer back-to-back losses next to Michael Grant, 25-0, and 1996 Olympic Silver Medalist Paea Wolfgramm, 15-1 of Tonga (who lost in the finals of the Olympics to future world champ Wladimir Klitschko). Five fights later, Gonzalez defeated former world champion Greg Page. He won his next fight and lost his last three fights ending his career.

Another Cuban who was 96-4 in the amateurs was Odlanier Solis, who was 22-3 with 14 knockouts in the pro ranks fighting out of Germany and later the USA. He was 17-0 when he challenged WBC World champ Vitali Klitschko, 41-2, being stopped in the first round. Back-to-back losses to Tony Thompson, 38-4, in China, he would then win his last two fights and retire. He was 227-14 in the amateurs.

The 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Felix Savon competed from 1980 to 2000. In 1987 at the Pan Am Games he defeated future WBO World champ Michael Bentt. In 1988 in Atlantic City he defeated future WBO champion Ray Mercer in a USA-Cuba dual match. In 1991 he defeated future WBO world champion Shannon Briggs in the Pan Am Games.

In the 1992 Olympics in Spain, he won the Gold Medal defeating Nigeria’s David Izon. In 1995 he defeated future WBO world champion Lamont Brewster at the Pan Am Games. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta he defeated David Defiagbon of Canada for his second Gold Medal.

In January of 1999, he defeated fellow Cuban Luis “King Kong” Ortiz only to lose to Solis in the finals at the Cuban Nationals. In March of 2000, I have defeated future WBO world champ Sultan Ibragimov. In July in Cuba, he finally defeated Solis after having lost twice to him. In the Olympics, in September, he again beat Bennett and Ibragimov in the finals for his third Gold Medal in Sydney. He would retire at the age of 33 after the Olympics. He was 362-21.

Ortiz was 23-14 in the amateurs, finally defeating Solis after three losses to him. He has had a much better year as a pro at 33-2 with 28 knockouts.

In his last fight, he stopped former IBF world champion Prince Charles Martin in January. He was 28-0 when he lost to WBC world champ Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder, 39-0, in March of 2018 in 10 rounds. In their rematch, in November of 2019, he was stopped in 7 rounds. In October 2015, he won the WBA interim title, stopping Argentina’s Matias Ariel Vidondo, 20-1-1, at Madison Square Garden, in New York. Now at 43, he is near the end of his pro career.

That wraps it up, readers, and yes, Stevenson was probably the best of the best of the Cuban heavyweights.

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