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  • Writer's pictureAndy Scaysbrook

Boxing Clever In Old Havana

Cuban boxers are the most successful in the history of amateur boxing, with each generation producing a host of world-class fighters. Cuba has won 32 Olympic boxing gold medals since 1972, more than any other country, which is all the more remarkable given that they boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. 

Cuban boxers are genetically predisposed to boxing. Their genetic make-up aligned with the volatile Latino temperament, world-class trainers and iron discipline make for an explosive combination.

The Cubans all look bigger than everyone else in their division. They train at the highest level with world-class coaches. They have the perfect fighting physique: tall and lean with broad shoulders.

A female boxer takes a breather during a hectic training schedule

In 1962, professional boxing in Cuba was banned by Fidel Castro so amateur boxing reigns supreme in the country. Successful amateur boxers are regarded as superstars. In a country where resources are limited, promising boxers are brought into a camp, trained and educated and their families well looked after. Boxers are schooled in an almost military style environment where discipline is paramount.

Juan Hernández Sierra is a retired boxer from Cuba, who competed in the welterweight (< 67 kg) division during the 1990s. He represented his native country at three consecutive Summer Olympics, starting in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain. After having won silver at his Olympic debut he repeated that feat in Atlanta, United States

As a consequence of Castro's ban, if fighters want to pursue their dream of becoming world champion they have to make the heartbreaking decision to defect from the country and It can be very tough for them because they are excommunicated and separated from their families. Many flee to Miami in search of professional contracts with American promoters but it doesn’t alway turn out for the best. There is a long list of failed Cuban fighters who have been ripped off by unscrupulous promoters. Many have been offered tiny percentages of the purse they are fighting for with the promoters making large sums from fighters.

A break form the heat of battle.

The two main boxing gymnasiums in Havana are the Kid Chocolate Gym which is named after the famous Cuban boxer of the 1930’s, Eligio Sardinas Montalvo who was nicknamed "Kid Chocolate" and also known as "The Cuban Bon Bon” who fought 156 fights claiming 136 victories winning 51 by knockout and only losing 6 bouts and drawing 10 fights in his entire career. The gym is housed in the basement of a dilapidated sports centre in central Havana. The Gymnasium Rafael Trejo : an outdoor gym found in Old Havana, has an outstanding reputation and only the very best get to be trained there. 

The training facilities are basic but it does not stop the progress of these incredibly tough fighters.

The inside of the Kid Chocolate Gym is a sweat box and no place for the faint hearted.. The boxers exchange blows at a fearful rate. No quarter is asked or given. As I move around the duelling fighters on the floor - there is no ring in the gym - punches are traded and huge hits are taken. Its a rare chance to see what it takes to be a champion. Guts, determination and an unbeatable will are just the starting points if you want to succeed in this brutal regime.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

The heat inside of the gym is stifling. Outside the temperatures are nestling in the 90's the sweat pours from the foreheads of the fighters as the coach, Jose Nevez, sits watching and barking orders at the sparring fighters.

Coach Jose Nevez watches a young boxer go through his paces.

“We have no time for losers” one of the trainers tells me “We have in front of you, 3 Olympians and two national champions.” As I watch the fighters workout it's plain to see the world class attributes of the both the boxers and the trainers. The heat is searing and the fighters workout at a fearful pace. I ask one of the trainers, Juan Guerez, the secret of his training and he tells me “If you want to be the best, you have to take the pain, if you can’t take the pain, you can’t take the titles” and with that he smiles and proceeds to bark orders at the fighters in front of him as they bid to continue Cuba's incredible boxing legacy.

A fighters awaits his sparring partner.

A young fighter gulps down water as the searing temperatures take their toll

Old boxing gloves hang on the wall of the Kid Chocolate gym.

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