Sunday, June 04, 2023  |



Let the Cuban fighters fight

Fighters Network

Yuriorkis Gamboa, here pounding Roger Gonzalez on Friday night, leads a new crop of talented young Cuban fighters. We just wish there were more. Photo / Mary Ann

I have a suggestion for President-elect Barack Obama, and if he cares at all about how boxing fans vote four years from now, he'll consider it.

The minute he's inaugurated he should call Fidel Castro and inform him very politely that unless the Cuban leader agrees to a regime change, he'll sign an order to commence carpet bombing of Havana.

OK, I'm kidding. But think about it: How could Castro know for sure Obama wouldn't do it? I mean, the guy's about 200 years old, isn't he?

And maybe a call would be too much. I'd settle for an email from Obama's beloved Blackberry, or a short text message.

I know it sounds nuts. But for how much longer should we be deprived of Cuba's full complement of good fighters?

For several decades now, our communist neighbor to the south has been holding captive its large contingent of very interesting amateur fighters the way politicians in America hold onto, say, Senate seats.

Readers whose knowledge of world affairs and foreign politics extends beyond the customs of whatever exotic locale will be home to the upcoming season of “Survivor” (coming next spring: Survivor Hackensack) know that there are no professional athletes in Cuba. There are, however, many outstanding amateur athletes who are among the very best in the world at what they do.

Many of those athletes are boxers. The bravest or most desperate ones find some way to sneak out of the country with the hope that when they win a big fight some day, they get more out of it than an old wig or a two-slice bread toaster manufactured in 1978.

Not many have the courage to do it. You can't blame them; they have family there. So we get them in drips and drabs. Joel Casamayor and Diosbelys Hurtado and Jorge Luis Gonzalez, for example. Then a long drought.

On Friday night on ESPN2, we saw a few from the latest wave: Yuriorkis Gamboa, Odlanier Solis, and Erislandy Lara. They weren't perfect (well, Lara was, but more on that later). They weren't world-changing. But they were good and very interesting. And we want more.

We've missed out on enough already. We missed out on seeing how Teofilio Stevenson would have done as a pro, and after him, Felix Savon. How many more have we missed? And how many more will we?

It's not fair. It's not right. And we want a change. The threat of a nice carpet-bombing is always conducive to change in policy, and what's a little more mayhem in the world if it gets us a few more good fights on HBO or Showtime?

All we hear about from our president-elect anymore is recession this and bailout that, economy this and terrorism that. Healthcare schmealthcare, I want to watch young Cuban featherweights on Boxing After Dark.

Plus, I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little tired of watching Eastern Europeans take over the game. And those Brits! You'd think they invented the sport or something. We need an influx of good Cubans to thin that herd.

A politely worded email or text with the terms “ground attack” and “tactical strikes” sprinkled here and there — for purely cosmetic purposes, of course — should be enough to pave the way for a regime change and a flood of fighters into the pro market.

(A note to you pacifists: Don't tell me to be patient, that Castro is on death's door and to keep my fingers crossed. Waiting for him to die is like waiting for those Amway checks to start rolling in; apparently it just isn't going to happen. Yes, I've given up on that dream, too.)

Cuban pros would be good for business. The latest estimate is that there are about 300 good Cuban amateurs that would flood the pro game tomorrow if the Cuban government let them. That's a lot of good fighters and a lot of good personalities and stories for a sport that always could use them.

And the 2000 census recorded 1,241,685 Cubans, both native and foreign born, living in the United States. Judging by the noise in Primm, Nev. on the “Friday Night Fights” show, a lot of them are fight fans. They happily cheered on Gamboa, Solis and Lara, who again, were collectively not great, but very interesting.

For most of the rounds leading up to his eighth-round stoppage of Kevin Burnett, Solis was doing a pretty fair impression of Jason Estrada, another shortish, chubby, under-active heavyweight (but American) without great power. But when he threw punches you saw how he won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and why he can make noise, especially in this current armpit of a heavyweight division.

The celebrated Gamboa was floored (again) by Roger Gonzalez on the way to recording a 10th-round stoppage, but it wasn't entirely his fault; they're trying to slow the kid down, make him more patient and orthodox. What they're really doing is handcuffing him. Did they try to slow down a young Mike Tyson or Roy Jones? Hell no! I say cut the kid loose.

Lara was in easy against your typical tattooed busboy type, whom he stopped in the first round. But you can see it: The kid can fight. Fast, strong, and a southpaw, no less. In my book he stole the show.

There's no telling how many more of these kids are over there in Cuba right now, just waiting for the day when they can escape and make their marks on the world. But most of them never will. Not unless we act and act now. So pick up the phone and make the call, Mr. President-Elect. We can make a difference.

Yes we can.

Some miscellaneous observations from last week:

Welcome back, “Friday Night Fights.” My goodness, where would we all be without you? ÔǪ

I would never presume to know more than Teddy Atlas or Pat Burns, a pair of smart, hard-nosed veteran fight guys. But Burnett wouldn't throw the right uppercut because every time he tried Solis banged him with a left hook. 

First “Friday Night Fights” show of the year and already Atlas is on a losing streak: He predicted Gamboa would stop Gonzalez in the third. ÔǪ

Bernard Hopkins as ESPN boxing analyst. Interesting. Let's see how this plays out. 

Who else thinks they should let a Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye fight simmer a little while? Haye could use the extra time to fight a Top-10 guy, and what's the rush? We've waited this long for an interesting heavyweight fight. What's another six or eight months? 

Reportedly, Ruslan Chagaev has a fight coming up in February against some stiff or another — on pay-per-view, no less — which can mean only one thing: The next big snap you hear will be some tendon of his unattaching itself from the accompanying bone or muscle. ÔǪ

The only sports I watch on television anymore are boxing and competitive female bikini car-washing, so I don't know Gus Johnson and thus don't know what to make of Showtime's decision to hire him and dump Steve Albert. I'll say this: I'd gotten so used to Albert's booming, strained hyperbole and feigned excitement over the years that I barely noticed it anymore. I'd learned to tune him out. I hope I don't have to do the same with Johnson.

William Dettloff can be reached at [email protected]

Homepage photo by Mary Ann Owen/