Why Cuba’s Olympic champ boxers can't turn pro with fighters disguising themselves as GIRLS to flee and sign contracts

Why Cuba’s Olympic champ boxers can't turn pro with fighters disguising themselves as GIRLS to flee and sign contracts

CUBANS are kings of amateur boxing – but BANNED from turning professional.

It has left some of the great champions of the past needing to flee the country, often on speed boats and even disguising themselves to do so.

Turning pro in Cuba has been prohibited since 1962 because their late leader Fidel Castro regarded it as corrupt.

Ever since, Cubans have been convinced to fight for country, not cash.

So much so that heavyweight legend Felix Savon – a three-time Olympic gold medalist – turned down the chance to face Mike Tyson.

Legendary promoter Don King offered Savon numerous multimillion-dollar offers to defect and fight superstar Tyson.

But his response? "Why would I box for a $1m when I can fight for 10 million Cuban people?"

Despite Savon's loyalty to the amateur code, not all of his countrymen had the same ethos.

Many of Cuba's 2004 Olympic standouts in Athens took the plunge to leave and chase their world title dreams in America.

Odlanier Solis, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yan Barthelemy all sold their medals won in Greece for as little as £1,000 to buy food for their families.

Then, while travelling to a team training camp in Venezuela in December 2006, they made a run for it, heading to Colombia.

From there, they went to Germany and signed professional contracts while awaiting US visas.

It inspired Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara both to do the same – but their efforts in 2007 were initially foiled.

The pair disappeared while representing Cuba in the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and were sent back to Cuba.

According to The Independent, they were dressed up as women to slip through Brazilian security, but were captured in a BROTHEL.

Both were then banned from ever representing Cuba again, which oly encouraged them to try to escape once more.

And by 2009 they had each successfully defected to America, with Rigondeaux and Lara later going on to win world titles as pros.

With five of their former Olympians tempted over to the paid ranks, Cuba suffered somewhat of a crisis at Beijing in 2008.

For the first time since 1988, they left the Games without a single gold medal in boxing.

But it did not last long, because in London four years later they twice won gold and another two bronzes.

Perhaps what was even more appreciated, no one from the team immediately turned over.

However, by the time the next Olympics finished in Rio, Lenier Pero, Robeisy Ramirez and Joahnys Argilagos all defected.

Cuban authorities then had a fight on their hands to convince their latest stable to remain put after the 2020 Games in Tokyo was delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

And they successfully did so and Cuba topped the medal charts with four golds and one bronze.

Julio Cesar La Cruz, Arlen Lopez, Roniel Iglesias and Andy Cruz took gold while Lazaro Alvarez left with bronze.

La Cruz, Lopez and Iglesias are all multi-medal winners, in a sign they are committed to the amateur code.

But with Cuba back on top in Olympic-style boxing, it remains to be seen if future champs will be tempted into prizefighting careers away from home.


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