Wilder vs Ortiz II: The History Behind Cuba's Beautiful Boxing

The island nation has produced some of the greatest pugilists of all time
07:05, 23 Nov 2019

"Cuban boxers are genetically predisposed to boxing.” 

Those are the words of former world boxing champion Barry McGuigan.

From 1972 onwards, Cuban boxers have won more gold medals at the Olympics than any other nation, with the bragging rights of an astonishing 37 in the category.

At the 2015 Pan Am Games, Cuba won six of the 13 boxing gold medals on offer. In 2019, they won eight.

They are the second-most successful nation in Olympic boxing history, behind only the United States of America. In comparison to the US’ 327 million population, Cuba can claim just 11 million.

The island nation has produced a plethora of boxing greats, and this weekend their Camaguey-born Luis Ortiz takes on American heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder in a highly-anticipated rematch in Las Vegas for the latter’s WBC world title.

In March 2018, Wilder defeated Ortiz in New York, although the Bronze Bomber suffered perhaps the scare of his career, with Ortiz moments away from a famous victory after a stunning left hook in the seventh.

Ortiz is now 40 years old, and represents to some extent the last of the wave of Cuban pugilists who had to pursue unorthodox routes to make it onto the world stage. Former leader Fidel Castro imposed a restriction on professional boxing after coming into power in 1962. 

Medals more than titles were the onus. 

Cuban boxers were subsequently forced to fight at amateur level, and did it extremely well. 

Super-featherweight Kid Chocolate was one of the most prominent boxers pre-ban, winning 136 of his 152 bouts, 51 by knock-out. 

But those wishing to pursue endeavours at a professional standard had to emigrate, defecting to other nations to escape the limitations of competing solely in competitions such as the Olympics. 

Kid Galivan and Jose Napoles were just two names in an array of exceptional boxers to come out of Cuba during the prohibition. 

Guillermo Rigondeaux, who recorded an amateur record of 400 fights and won two gold medals in two Olympics, was one of the preeminent figures who eventually defected. His initial attempt imposed a ban on him from competing in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In 2013, the Cuban government finally relented and lifted the ban on allowing boxers to compete professionally, permitting the Caribbean nation to attempt to confirm their exceptional prowess in the field.

“Their genetic make-up aligned with the volatile Latino temperament, world-class trainers and iron discipline make for an explosive combination," said McGuigan in the year the ban was lifted.

 "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."

Ortiz, ranked the sixth-best active heavyweight in the world, will this weekend try to add to the latest chapter of Cuba’s illustrious history in boxing by snatching the heavyweight title from Wilder’s grasp, becoming the first native of the island to do so.

Should Luis Ortiz upset the odds under the bright lights of Vegas on Saturday night, it won’t just send shockwaves through boxing’s marquee division - it’ll be another slice of history. 

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