Cuban heavyweight boxing legend Teófilo Stevenson passed away at the age of 60 yesterday from a heart attack. He is survived by his two children, as well as an amateur career that will go down as one of the greatest of all time.
Born on March 29, 1952, and raised in Havana, Stevenson became a rising star in the sport while training under the guidance of Cuba’s National Boxing Commission. Stevenson first became a legend in the 1972 Munich Olympics, where he put on his most memorable performance against the heavily favored American Duane Bobick in the quarterfinals en route to his first gold medal. This gold medal was one of three for the Cuban boxing team in that year’s games, and the Munich Olympics signified the start of a Cuban dominance in the sport that would last decades.
Stevenson’s run of amateur supremacy continued in the 1974 World Championships, where he captured gold in front of his countrymen in Havana. Gold medals continued to roll in for Stevenson at the 1976 Montreal Olympics as well as the 1980 summer games in Moscow. During this run of dominance, Stevenson was offered $5 million by American promoters to challenge Muhammad Ali, but he turned the fight down by asking, “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?”
Stevenson is one of three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals, joining his countryman Félix Savón and the Hungarian great László Papp. Stevenson could have had a chance at a record fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, but the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and Cuba followed the decision of the Soviets. Tyrell Biggs, the American fighter who won gold at the 1984 Olympics, had already lost to Stevenson in February of that year.
Would Stevenson have defeated Ali in his prime had he taken the offer from the American promoters? Would he have become the only fighter to ever win four Olympic gold medals if Cuban athletes had participated in the 1984 summer games? Stevenson certainly looked unbeatable, as he went over 11 years without a loss from 1971 to 1982. He also won the super heavyweight gold at the 1986 World Amateur Boxing Championships.
Stevenson retired in 1988 after Cuba boycotted a second straight summer Olympics. Politics robbed the world of seeing just how great Teófilo Stevenson could have been, but an amateur record of 302 wins and only 22 losses shows how dominant of a heavyweight this man was. His career ended with eight total gold medals: three in the Olympics, three from the 1974, 1978, and 1986 World Amateur Championships, and two from the 1975 and 1979 Pan American Games.
A fight between Muhammad Ali and Teófilo Stevenson would have been one of the most hyped heavyweight fights of all time. Perhaps it is better that this bout never happened, as Ali became the greatest heavyweight professional ever and Stevenson has a claim to being the greatest heavyweight amateur that boxing has ever seen. The Cuban state media released a statement after Stevenson’s passing, saying that “the Cuban sporting family was moved today by the passing of one of the greatest of all time.” He will always be remembered in Cuba as a champion, as well as a legend in his sport that represented his country until the day that he died.