Diplomatic exchanges are not normally associated with boxing but those that have been taking place between the long-estranged governments of the United States and Cuba may have a dramatic effect on the sport's future.  

The indications are that the apparent thawing of relationships between the two countries following talks between Barack Obama and Raul Castro may result in the lifting of travel and work restrictions which have prohibited many great stars of Cuban sport from turning professional, most notably in boxing. 

Cuba has always produced great fighter's since Fidel Castro's Communist government took power in the early 1960s, but it's been impossible for boxers from the Caribbean island nation to punch for pay as professionals without fleeing into exile, and many did. But that may be about to end.

To some degree, it already has. Cuba has relaxed its anti-pro stance sufficiently to enter a team, the Cuba Domadores  (which fittingly translates as ringmasters), in the pro-am World Series Boxing (WSB) where they are the defending champions with a squad containing several of their Olympic prospects who, with boxers from other nations including the US, Russia and  Britain, receive substantial prize money.

Cuban Boxer

In the past Cuba has produced great fighters who have become world champions but have had to defect to do so, sometimes by hopping on a boat or clinging to a raft for the risky crossing of the Florida Straits to Miami.

Now the word is that under Fidel's more sports-friendly brother Raul this bar will gradually be lifted, and I believe eventually we may even see professional tournaments being staged in Havana.

The signs are good. Cuban ??migr??s already abound in boxing, names such as Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Rances Barthelemy featuring either as champions or high in the current world rankings.

Another of them, Richar Abril, will be here on 6 March to defend his WBA World lightweight title against Derry Mathews on a BoxNation-televised show in Liverpool. His story indicates how far Cuba may be softening its stance towards towards professionalism.

A former top-class amateur with over 200 bouts, unlike those compatriots who can't return to Cuba, he is still able to go back regularly from his home in Miami to spend time with friends and family as several years ago the lanky counter-puncher won a lottery system which allows him to freely come and go. 

Cuba, where the sport was prohibited until 1921, has one of the richest boxing histories on the planet. Fighters such as the Kid Chocolate, Kid Gavilan, Jose Napoles, Luis Rodriguez, Benny Paret, Sugar Ramos, Jose Legra  and Florentino Fernandez were major stars of their eras. The legendary Gavilan, aka the Cuban Hawk, had 143 fights and was voted third greatest welterweight of all time by Ring Magazine, behind only Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong. 

While there have been some Cubans who have had to defect to the US and Europe to win world titles the majority have remained loyal to the Castro regime.

The most illustrious was the late triple Olympic heavyweight champion Teofilo Stevenson, as handsome as Muhammad Ali with a more devastating punch. No wonder they called him Castro's right hand man.

He was around when Ali was at his peak in the seventies and what a fight between them that would have been! But instead Stevenson went into politics, rejecting massive offers to turn pro because he knew it would have meant defecting from his beloved homeland, famously declaring: "What is one million dollars to the love of eight million Cubans?"

His successor, another three-times Olympic heavyweight champion, Felix Savon, similarly stayed amateur, as did the silky-skilled southpaw who pipped Amir Khan Khan for the Olympic lightweight gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics, Mario Kindelan. 

I suppose one question worrying the Cuban regime is how much incipient professionalism might affect an Olympic boxing programme in which they have amassed 67 medals (34 gold). But no doubt they will have noted that Russia and its former satellite nations have not suffered too badly in this respect since opening up to professionalism, and now also dominate many divisions in world boxing, from Wladimir Klitschko downwards.

So stand by, Michael Buffer. The Cubans are getting ready to rumble.


Fans are asking me how come Chris Eubank Jnr is getting a world title fight before the man who defeated him when they fought in London last November, the reigning undefeated British and European champion Billy Joe Saunders?

The explanation is that what young Chris is actually fighting for is an Interim world middleweight title, the World Boxing Association (WBA) version held by the Russian Dmitry Chudinov whom he challenges at London's O2 on 28 February.

Some governing bodies, notably the WBA, have a situation where if the current title-holder s injured or inactive for a legitimate reason then rather than sit around  for what in some cases could be up to a year, fighters below him in the rankings can contest an Interim title.

And while the winner of that awaits the pleasure of the recognised champion he can defend the interim title to keep the division active.

This is what is happening with 28-year-old Chudinov who is making his third defence of the belt he holds while Kazakhstan's thunder-punching Gennady Golovkin takes care of of other business after his elevation to  "super champ" by the WBA. Complicated? That's boxbiz for you.

Meantime Saunders remains assured of his own title shot as the official No 1 contender to new Ireland's new World Boxing Organisation champ Andy Lee. We await the result of purse offers for that one.

Should Eubank Jnr. and Saunders both win it sets up a possible scenario where after their great split-decision scrap, they could have the return they both want with two versions of the world title on the line. That would be some showdown!


While I applaud the return of boxing to terrestrial television - for which I have long campaigned - it seems crazy ITV's live screening of the Carl Frampton's world super-bantamweight title fight in Belfast on 28 February to clash with the major show I am promoting at the O2 the same night. 

Carl Frampton

This features Tyson Fury and Eubank Jnr. the same night, a show I announced before Christmas.

It is unfair that fight fans should have to choose between the two attractions and they lose out watching one of the events. How can that benefit boxing?