It was over a month ago that Teófilo Stevenson, surely of the greatest amateur boxers to ever grace the ring, passed away in his native Cuba.
From 1972 to 1980 Stevenson won three gold medals while fighting in the heavyweight division. Only two other boxers (including his countryman Félix Savón) have won three gold medals in three Olympics.
Stevenson dominated amateur boxing and won over three hundred amateur bouts in a career that lasted over two decades. He could have reached greater heights in the Summer Games yet he was prevented from winning further medals due to Cuba’s boycott of the 1984 and 1988 games. More famously was how The Las Tunas-born pugilist preferred to stick to his own political convictions rater than pursue a career as a professional boxer.
"What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?" Stevenson reportedly said in 1974 when offered a $5 million dollar purse to fight then world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. It was this loyalty, which included earned him the admiration of Cubans on the island including long-time dictator Fidel Castro and the hundreds of Havana residents who followed the funeral procession of Stevenson’s coffin.
After retiring Stevenson became a coach in Cuba's amateur boxing program and guided a generation of fighters including Savón. In an interview with BBC News, Savón explained why he emulated Stevenson and refused to turn professional:
"We fought for an ideal, to defend our country," Savon explained proudly, recalling the years when professional boxing promoters were buzzing round him.Stevenson’s political views can be debated but when he was in the ring he dominated like few others before or after him. Symbolic of his domination is the following bout – his first-round knockout victory in the 1976 Olympics:
But then he added: "I'm not my own master. I'd have had to abandon my country and my family to fight Tyson and you can't be happy like that, not for all the money in the world."
Video Source – YouTube via sweetfights
Online Sources – BBC News, The Guardian