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

Andy Cruz Cuban boxers
YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images
For the first time in 60 years some Cuban boxers will be allowed to compete in professional events

CUBA, the powerhouse of Olympic boxing, is paving the way so its boxers can compete professionally, the first time the regime will have relaxed its ban on pro boxing in 60 years.

It’s reported that the Cuban Boxing Federation has come to an agreement with Mexican promoter Golden Ring. It’s expected that several Cubans will make their pro debuts on a show in Mexican in May.

“Three and a half years ago, a serious analysis began that has resulted in the approved agreement [between] the country’s sport and the FCB [Cuban Boxing Federation] with Golden Ring Promotions, for the representation of Cuba in its entry into professional boxing,” the Cuban Boxing Federation’s Alberto Puig stated. “Competitive preparation of Cuban boxers to continue representing and raising the name of Cuban boxing in all competitions and the economic benefits it represents for boxers, coaching and medical staff are the main objectives.”

The boxers will train in Havana and travel to take part in professional bouts. Inside the Games report that it’s thought that the boxers will receive 80 per cent of the purse for each fight with trainers expected to pick up 15 per cent and medical staff to receive five per cent.

That would be a breakthrough for the boxers themselves. But it will also have a significant impact on the wider sport. Cuba is home to some of the world’s best amateur boxers. This decision opens the exciting proposition of some of their brilliant gold medallists from the Tokyo Olympics competing as professionals. It would be fascinating to see a boxer like Andy Cruz take on 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 a near peerless skillset he beat American prospect Keyshawn Davis in the Tokyo Olympic final. It would be highly appealing to see how he might transition into pro boxing. Arlen Lopez too, he became a two-weight Olympic gold medallist last year when he beat Ben Whittaker in the light-heavyweight Olympic final. More aggressive in style than many of his team mates, Lopez would look to be an ideal fit for the pro sport. Those are just two elite prospects from an Olympic team that also included marvellous two-time gold medallists like Roniel Iglesias and Julio La Cruz.

With rule changes that came in for Rio 2016, boxers are now allowed to move between professional boxing and the Olympic sport. It didn’t result in professional superstars deciding to try their hand at the Olympic sport. But federations have managed it by letting some of their boxers gain some professional experience before bringing them back to qualify for and then compete in the Olympics. Uzbekistan for instance did this 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 with this move into the pro sport, it’s likely they could adopt a similar model.

Cuba did have a team in the pro-style World Series of Boxing format in recent years. The league, administered by AIBA and part of the Olympic qualification process, pitted top class international boxers against one another in five-round bouts without vests. If that’s any indication, the Cubans will do well as pros. Their “Domadores” team was often a dominant force in the WSB, winning three of the five seasons they participated in.

Previously Cubans who wanted to box professionally had to defect from the country. Robeisy Ramirez, a strong Olympic gold medallist in 2012 and 2016, for instance is the one of the more high profile examples. Defections having been continuing. As recently as 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 reported by Marca, the Cuban Boxing Federation accused Ruiz of turning “his back on the commitment assumed for this competition and the plans that involved him”.

The new vehicle for Cuban professional boxing might also prove a step towards addressing some of that demand to go pro from their athletes.

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