Teófilo Stevenson could have changed the boxing historical landscape. He was that big, that powerful, that good. But he was Cuban and Fidel Castro would not allow him to become rich and famous in America.
As it was, Stevenson was a legend in his homeland, a revered figure of great stature. So, it was difficult news to absorb when news of his death at 60 traveled through Cuba.
Stevenson was one of the greatest amateurs in boxing history, the winner of three Olympic gold medals for Cuba and a national hero who shunned the prospect of turning pro, possibly fighting Muhammad Ali and becoming rich in the United States. He died of a heart attact, the government-run Radio Havana Cuba said.
Stevenson was a formidable heavyweight fighter, standing 6 feet 5 inches, weighing 220 pounds and wielding a powerful right hand. In the 1970s and early ’80s, when Cuba emerged as a power in international boxing, he dominated worldwide amateur boxing in its most prestigious division, winning three world amateur championships.
Stevenson won the heavyweight title at the 1972 Games in Munich, the 1976 Games in Montreal and the 1980 Games in Moscow, which were boycotted by the United States to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He became the first Olympic boxer to capture three gold medals in the same division. He won the last of his three world titles, at Reno, Nev., in 1986, when he was 34.
American boxing promoters could have profited hugely from a cold war-era matchup pitting Stevenson, the product of a Communist sports system, against Ali. There were reports that Stevenson was offered millions to fight in the United States. But the Castro government banned Cuban athletes from competing professionally, so he would have had to defect to take on Ali.
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