What kind of impact can Cuban boxers have on professional sport?

For the first time in 60 years, some Cuban boxers will be allowed to participate in professional competitions

CUBA, the powerhouse of Olympic boxing, is paving the way for its boxers to compete professionally, the first time the regime will relax its ban on professional boxing in 60 years.

The Cuban Boxing Federation is reported to have reached an agreement with Mexican promoter Golden Ring. Several Cubans are expected to make their professional debuts on a show in Mexico in May.

“Three and a half years ago, a serious analysis began which resulted in the approved agreement [between] the sport of the country and the FCB [Cuban Boxing Federation] with Golden Ring Promotions, for representing Cuba in its entry into professional boxing,” said Alberto Puig of the Cuban Boxing Federation. “The competitive preparation of Cuban boxers to continue to represent and publicize Cuban boxing in all competitions and the economic benefits it represents for boxers, trainers and medical personnel are the main objectives.”

The boxers will train in Havana and travel to participate in professional fights. Inside the Games reports that it is believed boxers will receive 80% of the purse for each fight, with trainers expected to recoup 15% and medical staff 5%.

It would be a breakthrough for the boxers themselves. But it will also have a significant impact on the sport at large. Cuba is home to some of the best amateur boxers in the world. The move opens up the exciting proposition of some of their brilliant gold medalists from the Tokyo Olympics competing as professionals. It would be fascinating to see a boxer like Andy Cruz take on the top pros. Cruz is widely regarded as the best amateur boxer in the world today. He won Olympic gold and world championship gold medals in 2021. A superb mover with almost unrivaled skill, he beat American prospect Keyshawn Davis in the Olympic final in Tokyo. It would be very interesting to see how he could transition into professional boxing. Arlen Lopez too, he became a two-weight Olympic gold medalist last year when he beat Ben Whittaker in the Olympic lightweight final. More aggressive in style than many of his teammates, Lopez would seem like an ideal candidate for professional sports. These are just two elite hopefuls from an Olympic team that also included wonderful double gold medalists like Roniel Iglesias and Julio La Cruz.

With rule changes made for Rio 2016, boxers are now allowed to move from professional boxing to Olympic sport. It didn’t make professional superstars decide to try their hand at Olympic sport. But the federations have achieved this by letting some of their boxers gain some professional experience before bringing them back to qualify and then compete in the Olympics. Uzbekistan, for example, did it with a number of their boxers. Their super heavyweight Bakhodir Jalolov won Olympic gold when he was already an 8-0 pro. With the Cuban federation so closely involved in this move to professional sport, it is likely that it could adopt a similar model.

Cuba had a team in the professional-style boxing World Series format in recent years. The league, administered by AIBA and part of the Olympic qualification process, pitted top international boxers against each other in five-round no-vest bouts. If that’s any indication, the Cubans will do well as pros. Their “Domadores” team has often been a dominant force in the WSB, winning three of the five seasons they have participated in.

Previously, Cubans who wanted to box professionally had to leave the country. Robeisy Ramirez, a solid Olympic gold medalist in 2012 and 2016, for example, is one of the most prominent examples. The defections continued. Just last month at the Pan American Games in Guayaquil, Ecuador, two Cuban boxers, Herich Ruiz and Kevin Brown, both left their delegation during the competition. As Marca report, the Cuban Boxing Federation accused Ruiz of turning “his back on the commitment made to this competition and the projects that involved it”.

Cuban professional boxing’s new vehicle could also prove to be a step forward in meeting some of that demand to turn professional from their athletes.

Sara R. Cicero