Teofilo Stevenson - Money meant nothing to him

Cuba’s tradition in boxing forms an illuminating chapter in the Olympic Games. Prominent in this list is the Jamaican-born Teofilo Stevenson Lorenzo who died recently at the age of 60.

Acknowledged as the finest amateur pugilist of all time — he won a world championship title at the age of 34 — Teofilo, a close friend of the President, Fidel Castro, dominated the heavyweight division for three successive Olympics, Munich, Montreal and Moscow.

Teofilo Stevenson (right) defeated his opponent Pyotr Zaev to win the heavyweight gold in the Moscow Olympics.-AP

In 1976, he decimated three opponents in a space of seven minutes and 22 seconds, a feat reckoned as incredible.

If the boycott of the LA Games had not been a reality, a fourth medal for this magnificent Cuban could not have been denied.

What distinguished Teofilo from the rest of his clan was his disinterest for minting money. If the Cuban had accepted the offer of $5 million by the renowned promoter of heavy-weight boxing, Don King, he would have joined legendary professionals like Muhammad Ali.

“I don’t believe in professionalism, only in revolution,” Teofilo told an interviewer. “I tell these men from America, these promoters, that money means nothing to me. What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?”

Hailing from a poor family, Teofilo boxed at the age of 14. At every stage, his genius with the gloves, footwork and speed of attack, stood out. His three Olympic gold medal triumphs remained a record until his countryman Felix Savon performed a similar feat.

Though Teofilo missed the Olympics in 1984, he visited the U.S. in 1986 and annexed the amateur world crown in Nevada. He hung up his gloves and gear in 1988 when Cuba stayed away from the Olympics in Seoul.

Teofilo remained active after retirement, as a coach. “I talk to boxers, inspire them and remind them what they are fighting for,” he said on coaching assignments. He was a Vice-President of the Cuban Boxing Federation.

S. Thyagarajan