As we prepare to welcome Erislandy Lara back to BoxNation screens this weekend, Glynn Evans selects seven Samba slammers who’ve ignited the sport.
7) Luis Rodrigiuez
Sly ‘El Feo’ shared floor space with the young Cassius Clay at Angelo Dundee’s Fifth St Gym in Miami and is attributed with incorporating some smarts and darker arts into ‘The Greatest’s’ skill set.
A slick, impossibly awkward counter puncher with a spidery reach, the herky-jerky native of Camaguey duelled against all of the iron in the 147 and 160lb divisions throughout the 1960s.
In 1963, he collected the world welterweight title with his only win in four against Emile Griffiths but conceded to the same man just 79 days later.
Nevertheless, competing in one of the middleweight classes toughest eras, Rodriguez outpointed monsters Rubin Carter and Bennie Briscoe twice each and stopped Philadelphia cutie Georgie Benton.
6) Felix Savon
Formidable Felix was an amateur heavyweight with dynamite in his gloves.
An able heir to Teofilo Stevenson, he replicated his idol by striking gold at three successive Summer Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000). His CV also enlists six world championship titles, four World Cup gold medals and copious decoration at the Pan American and Caribbean Games.
Savon avenged all of the 21 defeats on his 383 bout slate and scalped fourmen – Michael Bentt, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov and Shannon Briggs – who advanced to professional heavyweight glory.
Nevertheless, he rejected a seven figure offer for a shootout with a prime Mike Tyson to remain a pillar of the Revolution.
5) Guillermo Rigondeaux
Two Olympic gold medals plus a brace of world amateur titles distinguish ‘Rigo’ as a very special talent but we might never know the full extent of his brilliance.
Now 35, the slick and savvy southpaw last conceded between the ropes to an Azerbaijani at the 2003 World Seniors. Defecting the motherland in 2007, then again in 2009, ‘El Chacal’ was an interim world titlist in his seventh start, bonafide champ in his ninth, prior to crashing the pound-for-pound listings when delivering a fistic clinic against ‘Filipino Flash’ Nonito Donaire, in gig number 12.
But for the past three years, pleas to Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg to accommodate him in a division elevating superfight have fallen on deaf ears.
When fully motivated, capable of dispensing humiliation and annihilation in equal measure.
4) Kid Chocolate
‘The Cuban Bon Bon’ loved a rum as much as a rumble but his love of the high life didn’t prevent him from bagging world titles in both the feather and junior lightweight categories in the 1930s.
Born in Havana, the 5ft 6in fun lover is reputed to have won 100 straight as an amateur - 86 by stoppage – then gone undefeated in his first 53 paid gigs before succumbing to East End Jew Jack ‘Kid’ Berg.
Lightening quick and smooth as silk, it is believed he served as a huge source of inspiration for the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson.
His classical skills, blurring speed and beautiful balance made him a huge favourite at New York’s Madison Square Garden but his career was harnessed in its prime when he contracted syphilis!
3) Kid Gavilan
This spray puncher from Camaguey is credited with developing the ‘bolo punch’ – an extravagant, scything hook-cum-uppercut developed cutting sugar cane with a machete in the plantations.
‘The Cuban Hawk’ couldn’t bruise a grape but his smile, swagger and showboating made him a huge TV favourite in the US and he featured 34 times coast-to-coast during the 1950s.
After slashing and staggering Sugar Ray Robinson during an abortive 1949 world welter tilt, ‘The Keed’ finally nailed the title by breaking champion Johnny Bratton’s jaw en route to a 15 round decision two years later.
Gavilan successfully retained seven times and pushed Carl ‘Bobo’ Olson mighty close in a frenetic fight for the middleweight title. Despite operating in exhalted company, Gavilan was never stopped in 143 fights.
2) Jose Napoles
Barring a swiftly avenged cuts loss, this native of Santiago de Cuba reigned on the world welter throne for six years – retaining 13 times – in the early 70s.
Dubbed ‘Mantequilla (Butter)’, Naploes lost just once in 115 amateur spats in his homeland before fleeing to Mexico City to swerve Castro’s embargo on paid prizefighting.
The big hooking Cuban crusher was already 29 when able champion Curtis Cokes finally put his world title at risk. He tumbled in round 13 and well over half of Napoles subsequent challengers failed to finish; plenty of spite to supplement the silk, then.
Aged 35, the Butterman finally melted when Bethnal Green’s John H. Stracey overwhelmed him in a Mexico City bullring in 1975.
1) Teofilo Stevenson
This 6ft5in giant from Puerto Padre was quite possibly the hardest punching amateur boxer of all-time.
His anaesthetising right cross took him to successive Olympic titles in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980) and he wasted all the prime US talent en route.
The man with the English grandpa might have added fourth and fifth golds had the Cubans not boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Games.
A contemporary of Ali, Frazier, Foreman and Holmes, Big Teo was offered seven figure sums to challenge the former for the professional heavyweight title but remained true to Castro’s communism stating: ‘What is a million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?!’