Teófilo Stevenson

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Teófilo Stevenson
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1985-1004-023, Teofilo Stevenson cropped.jpg
Stevenson, 4 October 1985
Statistics
Real nameTeófilo Stevenson Lawrence
Weight(s)Heavyweight
Height6 ft 5 in (196 cm)[1]
NationalityCuban
Born(1952-03-29)29 March 1952
Puerto Padre, Las Tunas Province, Cuba
Died11 June 2012(2012-06-11) (aged 60)
Havana, Cuba
StanceOrthodox
Boxing record
Total fights332
Wins302
Losses22
Draws8

Teófilo Stevenson Lawrence (29 March 1952 – 11 June 2012) was a Cuban amateur boxer, who competed from 1966 to 1986. He won the Val Barker Trophy (1972) and was honoured with the Olympic Order (1987). Stevenson is one of only three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals, alongside Hungarian László Papp and fellow Cuban Félix Savón. He might have become a five-time olympic champion had the Cuban authorities allow Cuban boxing team to participate in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, which they boycotted.[2]>

The BBC described Stevenson as "Cuba's greatest boxer, once its most famous figure after Fidel Castro".[3]

Early years[edit]

Stevenson was born in Puerto Padre, Cuba.[4] His father, Teófilo Stevenson Patterson, was an immigrant from Saint Vincent. His mother Dolores Lawrence was a native Cuban, but her parents were immigrants from the Anglophone island of Saint Kitts. Teófilo senior arrived in Cuba in 1923, finding work wherever he could, before settling in Camagüey with Dolores, where he gave English lessons to top up his meagre earnings. Due to his large size, Teófilo senior was encouraged into boxing by local trainers, fighting seven times before becoming disillusioned by the corrupt payment structure on offer to young fighters.[5]

Teófilo junior was a shiftless but bright child who at nine years old soon found himself sparring at the makeshift open-air gym his father had frequented.[5] Under the tutelage of former national light heavyweight champion John Herrera, Teófilo junior began his career fighting far more experienced boxers, but according to Herrera, "had what it took". Despite his growing involvement in the sport, Stevenson had yet to tell his mother about his activities. Eventually Teófilo senior broke the news to his wife, who was furious; but she agreed to acquiesce on the provision that the boy was accompanied by his father.[5]

Boxing career[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

The young Stevenson continued to improve under Herrera in the mid 1960s, winning a junior title and gaining additional training in Havana. His victories drew the attention of Andrei Chervonenko, a head coach in Cuba's newly implemented state sports system. Professional sports throughout the island had been outlawed since 1962 by government resolution 83-A, and all boxing activity had come under the guidance of the government sponsored National Boxing Commission.[6] Chervonenko, a retired boxer himself, sent by the Soviet Union, who had created Cuba's Escuela de Boxeo (Boxing school) in a derelict old gym in Havana, began to champion Stevenson's progress.[7]

Stevenson's senior boxing career began at age seventeen with a defeat in the national championships against the experienced heavyweight Gabriel Garcia. Despite the setback, Stevenson went on to register convincing victories over Nancio Carrillo and Juan Perez, two of Cuba's finest boxers in the weight division, securing a place in the national team for the 1970 Central American and Caribbean Boxing Championships. Defeat in the final after three victories was considered no shame, and Stevenson firmly established himself as Cuba's premier heavyweight. Back in the gym Chervonenko and leading Cuban boxing coach Alcides Sagarra worked on Stevenson's jab, which became his ultimate weapon, and paid dividends when the Cuban easily defeated East Germany's Bernd Anders in front of a surprised Berlin crowd. The victory made the entire amateur boxing world take notice of Stevenson as a serious heavyweight contender.[8]

Munich Olympics 1972[edit]

Stevenson, now twenty, joined the Cuban boxing team for the Munich Olympics of 1972. His opening bout against experienced Polish fighter Ludwik Denderys began dramatically when Stevenson knocked the other man down within thirty seconds of the opening bell. The fight was stopped moments later due to a large cut next to the Pole's eye.

Proceeding to the quarter finals, Stevenson met American boxer Duane Bobick. Bobick, a gold medalist at the 1971 Pan American Games, had beaten Stevenson previously. After a close first round, Stevenson lost the second, but a ferocious display in the third round knocked Bobick to the canvas three times and the contest was stopped. The victory was viewed on television throughout Cuba, and is still considered Stevenson's most memorable performance.

Stevenson easily defeated German Peter Hussing in the semifinal by TKO in the 2nd round, and received his gold medal after Romanian Ion Alexe failed to appear in the final due to injury. The Cuban boxing team won three gold medals, their first in Olympic boxing history, as well as one silver and one bronze. The Munich games established Cuba's dominance over the amateur sport that was to last decades. It also established Stevenson as the world's premier amateur heavyweight boxer.

Less than two years after his successful performance at the Munich Olympics, Stevenson, then 22-year-old, was rewarded with a house for himself in Havana and another for himself and his family in Delicias[disambiguation needed]. Stevenson later recalled: "I had no idea the house in Delicias was going to be so big. When I was shown the plans, I said, ‘What is this? A bunker?’" AIBA President Anwar Chowdhry, when asked did the Cuban authorities acted properly in giving Stevenson two houses and two cars, said: "These things should not be allowed. If gifts are to be given it should be for everybody—not for a few." Over tea in his office in Havana's Sports City Coliseum, INDER President Conrado Martínez Corona defended the local practice of giving cars and apartments to top athletes. "Our country has the obligation of solving the problems of all citizens—the problems of their nourishment, housing, education and health," he said. "It's a pity we can't solve this problem in the way we need to for everybody."[9]

Prime years[edit]

Stevenson did the same at the inaugural 1974 World Championships in Havana, Cuba, and then in the 1976 Summer Olympics, held in Montreal, Stevenson repeated the feat once again. By then, he had become a national hero in Cuba. This was the point where he was the closest to signing a professional contract, as American fight promoters offered him US $5 million to challenge world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.[10] If he had accepted, it would have made Stevenson the second boxer to go straight from the Olympics into a professional debut with the world's Heavyweight crown on the line, after Pete Rademacher. Stevenson refused the offer, however, asking "What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?"[11] Stevenson went to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and became the second boxer ever, after Papp, to win three Olympic boxing gold medals.

Stevenson participated at the 1982 World Amateur Boxing Championships in Munich, but lost to the eventual silver medalist and future professional world champion Francesco Damiani from Italy. This fight ended an eleven-year unbeaten run by Stevenson and was the only occasion that he did not win the gold medal at the World Championships when he entered the competition.

Stevenson might have won a fourth gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics, but the Soviet Union boycotted the games, which were hosted by Los Angeles, in retaliation for the American boycott of the 1980 Moscow competition. Cuba followed the Soviet lead, and Stevenson did not compete.[10] For consolation, he beat future Olympic champion Tyrell Biggs in February 1984 (broking him three ribs in a process) and won the super heavyweight gold at the 1984 Friendship Games, defeating Ulli Kaden of East Germany and, in the final, Valeriy Abadzhyan of the Soviet Union.[12] At the 1986 World Amateur Boxing Championships, he won the super heavyweight gold, defeating Alex Garcia from the United States in the final. Stevenson retired from boxing shortly after the 1988 Summer Olympics, which Cuba also boycotted.[10]

Rivalry with Vysotsky[edit]

Teófilo Stevenson was known for two fights with Soviet boxer Igor Vysotsky, who defeated Stevenson twice. Vysotsky later revealed in his interview to East Side Boxing:[13]

I fought Teofilo twice. We first met at the “Córdova Cardín” tournament in 1973 in Cuba. I took the first two opponents, both being Cuban, out early. In the third, I beat Stevenson on points. Although the score was 3:2, the pace of the fight forced Teófilo to take two necessary breaks to retie his gloves. We had a saying in the USSR, “It’s easier to win the World championships than it is to win ‘Córdova Cardín’.” The second time was at a class A International tournament in Minsk, in March 1976. In each stanza, Stevenson took a count, while in the final three minutes, I knocked him out.

— Igor Vysotsky, Interview with East Side Boxing, 2006

Vysotsky was the only boxer out of hundreds of Stevenson's opponents to ever stop him, let alone by knockout, and to defeat him twice, both times in his prime, without being avenged. And on top of it, Vysotsky scored his first victory over Stevenson at the Córdova Cardín, Cubans' home tournament, where they do their best to never let any foreigner get into the finals.

Stevenson's second lost to Vysotsky happened six weeks before his knockout winning streak at the 1978 Olympics in Montreal, which ended up with a victories over John Tate and Mircea Șimon. After losing to Vysotsky for a second time he said, "Nobody is invincible."[14]

Highlights[edit]

He finished his twenty-years-long career having 332 fights under his belt, with a record of 302 wins, 22 losses (only 1 by knockout,) and 8 draws. Various western estimates totaling his record to 500+ fights,[15] including there hundreds of unaccounted tough sparrings with a degree of aliveness outstanding for amateur boxing, which payed off with such an excellent career (his fearsome reputation alone brought him 22 walkover wins, and a number of byes to skip unnecessary encounters with a limited opposition.)

1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics[edit]

Stevenson may have captured more gold medals for his country, but the Cuban government for purely political reasons boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games and refused to attend the 1988 Seoul Games because North Korea was not allowed to cosponsor the event.[2]

External images
Muhammad Ali and Teófilo Stevenson at the ring posing for the press photo
Teófilo gives Muhammad a tour across Havana

At his prime in the 1970s, Stevenson dominance in the amateur heavyweight division coincided with Muhammad Ali's reign as the world's heavyweight champion in the professional boxing. Stevenson was often dubbed by the American media as the Ali's "Communist twin," speculations went back and forth as to their much anticipated fight if Teó would accept offer to turn pro (which in essence meant to defect and to leave Cuba permanently.) Along with Pete Rademacher, he was the only amateur boxer who was offered a shot at the world's heavyweight title in his potential pro debut. Eventually Ali will spend one week in Cuba with Stevenson, but their matchup would never happen.[9] Stevenson, when he finally met Ali, suggested to Ali to arange a three-four rounds fight. Muhammad refused to do it in Teofilo's way, implying he would face him off in a standard 15-rounds championship bout, in which he would have an edge by outlasting his opponent[16] (though in 1971 Ali himself invited the recent Soviet heavyweight champion Kamo Saroyan, who visited the United States, for a two-round bout.[17]) When aging Ali was going to fight Larry Holmes in 1980, and Teofilo was making his way to the third gold medal in Moscow, Stevenson commented to the press that now it's Ali, who should have insisted on a three-four rounds fight.[16]

Stevenson turned down several very much financially backed offers to go pro, which came from various well-known internationally U.S. boxing kingpins, most notably from Don King, Bob Arum, and others.[2] King's top rival, Arum almost suceeded and came the closest to pulling off an Ali-Stevenson matchup when the Cubans accepted his $1 million offer for five three-round exhibition fights. "We plan to use this money for social problems," an INDER official said at the time. But the U.S. Treasury Department did not allow the series, saying that it violated terms of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Apart from that attempt, Arum used a Jamaican promoter, Lucien Chen, as a mediator, to propose a $1 million fight against Leon Spinks. "I envisioned a fight that would be attended by the two presidents, Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter," Chen said.[9]

Nevertheless, Stevenson's professional debut did never happen, because he remained loyal to the Cuban revolutionary ideals never accepting any payday for himself, no matter how big it appeared. After knocking out three opponents at the Munich Olympics in September 1972, including Duane Bobick of the United States, Stevenson was approached by an American promoter, who offered him $1 million to turn pro on the spot. "I will not trade the Cuban people for all the dollars in the world," Stevenson was heard to say. "Stevenson would have been phenomenal as a pro, he could have been in the same class as Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier. But we'll never know," said Don King.[9]

Retirement and later years[edit]

Stevenson finished his sports career in 1988. He started to work as a boxing trainer and sports functionary. He worked at the National Institute for Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER,) also he served as vice president of the Cuban Boxing Federation.

In 1999, Stevenson was arrested for an altercation incident at Miami International Airport where, before boarding a United Airlines chartered jet of the Cuban national boxing team, he allegedly headbutted a 41-year-old United Airlines ticket counter employee, knocking him off several teeth in the process. According to Stevenson, an "agitator" approached him at the airport shouting insults against the Cuban government and other things, which are sensitive to any Cuban. Stevenson failed to attend the subsequent court proceedings, having travelled to Havana after his release from custody while on bail. The Cuban state newspaper Trabajadores blamed what it described as the "Miami mafia" (i.e. Cuban exiles, whose vast diaspora reside in Florida) for provoking the incident, alleging that the Cuban American National Foundation organised a public gathering to abuse Stevenson when he returned to Miami airport after his arrest. The newspaper believed that the motives for the alleged provocation were somehow to cast a shadow upon a Cuban sports star.[18]

Death[edit]

Stevenson died on 11 June 2012 of a heart attack in Havana at the age of 60.[10] It was first reported by Cuban state media,[19] stating that "the Cuban sporting family was moved today by the passing of one of the greatest of all time".

It had been reported earlier by an anonymous sports official that Stevenson had suffered a heart attack.[20] He is survived by his two children.[21]

A forthcoming documentary by Brin-Jonathan Butler, Split Decision, contains the last known interview with Stevenson.

Awards and honours[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill. "Teófilo Stevenson (full name: Teófilo Stevenson Lawrence)". Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC.
  2. ^ a b c Hudson, David L. (2009). Combat Sports: An Encyclopedia of Wrestling, Fighting, and Mixed Martial Arts. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 298–299. ISBN 978-0-313-34383-4.
  3. ^ "Boxer Teofilo Stevenson's loyalty to Cuba's revolution", BBC, 16 June 2012.
  4. ^ "Las Tunas-born Teofilo Stevenson: a Legend that Lives on". Archived from the original on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 22 June 2011.. Periodico.
  5. ^ a b c In the Red Corner. John Duncan. pp. 77–79.
  6. ^ Cubans flex muscles in world of controversy / Independent News – Cuba News / Noticias – CubaNet News Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Duncan, p.79
  8. ^ Duncan, p-80-81
  9. ^ a b c d Brubaker, Bill (21 February 1986). "A Boxer to Whom Money Didn't Talk". The Washington Post: A1.
  10. ^ a b c d "Cuban boxing champion Teofilo Stevenson dies". BBC News. BBC. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  11. ^ "Sport in Cuba: The Diamond in the Rough". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  12. ^ "Friendhips Tournament - Havana, Cuba - August 18-24 1984". amateur-boxing.strefa.pl. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  13. ^ Komarnitzky, Gennadiy; Koza, Izyaslav (24 December 2006). "SOVIET LEGENDS: Igor Vysotsky – The man who had Teofilo Stevenson's number!" ESB EXCLUSIVE Interview!". East Side Boxing.
  14. ^ Olympic Heavyweight Boxing Champion Teofilo Stevenson Seriously Burned, Florence Morning News, September 1, 1977, p. 22.
  15. ^ Stevenson KOs Tate by Martin Lader (MONTREAL UPI), Berkshire Eagle Newspaper, July 30, 1976, p. 20.
  16. ^ a b Cuban Heavyweight Looks For 3rd Gold by Will Grimsley (AP Special Correspondent), Hanover Evening Sun, July 25, 1980, p. 10.
  17. ^ [https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/68708470/ Ali Invites Russian To Go 2 Rounds (UPI,) Kingsport News, January 7, 1971, 7-C.
  18. ^ Accused Cuban boxer provoked by insults to Castro Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Reuters News
  19. ^ Patrick Oppmann (12 June 2012). "Cuban boxing legend Teofilo Stevenson dead at 60". CNN. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  20. ^ "Teofilo Stevenson, Cuban Olympic boxing champion, dies at 60". Sporting News. Associated Press. 12 June 2012. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  21. ^ Staff (12 June 2012). "Teofilo Stevenson". Telegraph. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  22. ^ Panorama of the 1972 Sports Year (in Russian). Moscow: Fizkultura i sport. 1973. pp. 122–124.

External links[edit]

Olympic Games
Preceded by
Héctor Ramírez
Flagbearer for  Cuba
Munich 1972
Montreal 1976
Moscow 1980
Succeeded by
Héctor Milián