Cuban boxers hold a staggering 80 World and 41 Olympic titles. Yet for the past six decades participation in professional sport was barred by the late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. This is now about to change.
For the first time since 1962, Cuban boxers will be allowed to fight professionally from May, according to the Cuban Boxing Federation.
The first bouts will be under a deal with a Mexican promoter, Golden Ring Promotions, that operates primarily in Aguascalientes, a city of nearly 900,000 people in north-central Mexico.
Cuba has long been a powerhouse in amateur boxing, winning four gold medals at Tokyo 2020.
But for decades, Cuban sporting officials shunned the professional sport and lauded champions such as Teófilo Stevenson and Félix Savón never turned pro.
“The moment has come. We have spent years studying this possibility,” said Ariel Sainz, vice president of the official Institute of Sport, appearing on Cuban state television Monday night.
“In professional boxing, now there are opportunities for our athletes that we can perfectly well utilize,” he noted.
Sainz emphasised that this would allow athletes to improve their incomes. Many Cuban athletes from other sports have left the island in recent decades to seek a lucrative professional career not available at home under Cuba’s socialist system.
Under the deal, Cuban officials said the boxers would get 80% of the earnings while trainers, doctors and the federation would split the remaining 20%.
Alberto Puig, president of the Cuban Federation of Boxing, said that professional boxing had “humanized” itself in recent years and argued there are now few differences in the rules.
At Cuba’s La Finca national boxing school, members of ‘Los Domadores’ national team are training to fight their first professional bouts in Mexico next month.
“It is what we have been waiting for,” team captain Julio Cesar La Cruz, a five-time World and twice Olympic champion, told AFP.
“We have had great generations of boxers, great champions and this possibility could not be given to them,” said the 32-year-old, drenched in sweat after three hours of sparring practice.
“But for the first time, it is going to happen with this generation, with these champions and we are going to do it well for all those who could not do it at the time. We are going to represent them well,” he declared.