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Teófilo Stevenson Lawrence (29 March 1952 – 11 June 2012) was a Cuban amateur boxer and engineer. Stevenson is one of only three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals, alongside Hungarian László Papp and fellow Cuban Félix Savón.
Stevenson, 4 October 1985
|Real name||Teófilo Stevenson Lawrence|
|Height||6 ft 5 in (196 cm)|
|Born||29 March 1952|
Puerto Padre, Las Tunas Province, Cuba
|Died||11 June 2012 (aged 60)|
Stevenson was born in Puerto Padre, Cuba. His father, Teófilo Stevenson Patterson, was an immigrant from Saint Vincent. His mother Dolores Lawrence was a native Cuban, but her parents were immigrants from the Anglophone island of Saint Kitts. Teófilo senior arrived in Cuba in 1923, finding work wherever he could, before settling in Camagüey with Dolores, where he gave English lessons to top up his meagre earnings. Due to his large size, Teófilo senior was encouraged into boxing by local trainers, fighting seven times before becoming disillusioned by the corrupt payment structure on offer to young fighters.
Teófilo junior was a shiftless but bright child who at nine years old soon found himself sparring at the makeshift open-air gym his father had frequented. Under the tutelage of former national light heavyweight champion John Herrera, Teófilo junior began his career fighting far more experienced boxers, but according to Herrera, "had what it took". Despite his growing involvement in the sport, Stevenson had yet to tell his mother about his activities. Eventually Teófilo senior broke the news to his wife, who was furious; but she agreed to acquiesce on the provision that the boy was accompanied by his father.
Early boxing careerEdit
The young Stevenson continued to improve under Herrera in the mid 1960s, winning a junior title and gaining additional training in Havana. His victories drew the attention of Andrei Chervonenko, a leading coach in Cuba's newly implemented state sports system. Professional sport throughout the island had been outlawed since 1962 by government resolution 83-A, and all boxing activity had come under the guidance of the government sponsored National Boxing Commission. Chernevenko, a former boxer from Moscow sent by the Soviet Union, who had created Cuba's Escuela de Boxeo (Boxing school) in a derelict old gym in Havana, began to champion Stevenson's progress.
Stevenson's senior boxing career began at age seventeen with a defeat in the national championships against the experienced heavyweight Gabriel Garcia. Despite the setback, Stevenson went on to register convincing victories over Nancio Carillo and Juan Perez, two of Cuba's finest boxers in the weight division, securing a place in the national team for the 1970 Central American Championships. Defeat in the final after three victories was considered no shame, and Stevenson firmly established himself as Cuba's premier heavyweight. Back in the gym Chervonenko and leading Cuban boxing coach Alcides Sagarra worked on Stevenson's jab, which paid dividends when the Cuban easily defeated East Germany's Bernd Anders in front of a surprised Berlin crowd. The victory made the entire amateur boxing world take notice of Stevenson as a serious heavyweight contender.
Munich Olympics 1972Edit
Stevenson, now twenty, joined the Cuban boxing team for the Munich Olympics of 1972. His opening bout against experienced Polish fighter Ludwik Denderys began dramatically when Stevenson knocked the other man down within thirty seconds of the opening bell. The fight was stopped moments later due to a large cut next to the Pole's eye.
Proceeding to the quarter finals, Stevenson met fancied American boxer Duane Bobick. Bobick, a gold medalist at the 1971 Pan American Games, had beaten Stevenson previously, and was considered favorite to continue the U.S. team's dominance of the weight division; previous American gold medalists included George Foreman (1968) and Joe Frazier (1964). After a close first round, Stevenson lost the second, but a ferocious display in the third round knocked Bobick to the canvas three times and the contest was stopped. The victory was viewed on television throughout Cuba, and is still considered Stevenson's most memorable performance.
Stevenson easily defeated German Peter Hussing in the semifinal by TKO in the 2nd round, and received his gold medal after Romanian Ion Alexe failed to appear in the final due to injury. The Cuban boxing team won three gold medals, their first in Olympic boxing history, as well as one silver and one bronze. The Munich games established Cuba's dominance over the amateur sport that was to last decades. It also established Stevenson as the world's premier amateur heavyweight boxer.
Other major gamesEdit
Stevenson did the same at the inaugural 1974 World Championships in Havana, Cuba, and then in the 1976 Summer Olympics, held in Montreal, Stevenson repeated the feat once again. By then, he had become a national hero in Cuba. This was the point where he was the closest to signing a professional contract, as American fight promoters offered him US $5 million to challenge world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. If he had accepted, it would have made Stevenson the second boxer to go straight from the Olympics into a professional debut with the world's Heavyweight crown on the line, after Pete Rademacher. Stevenson refused the offer, however, asking "What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" Stevenson went to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and became the second boxer ever, after Papp, to win three Olympic boxing gold medals.
Stevenson participated at the 1982 World Amateur Boxing Championships in Munich, but lost to the eventual silver medalist and future professional world champion Francesco Damiani from Italy. This fight ended an eleven-year unbeaten run by Stevenson and was the only occasion that he did not win the gold medal at the World Championships when he entered the competition.
Stevenson might have won a fourth gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics, but the Soviet Union boycotted the games, which were hosted by Los Angeles, in retaliation for the American boycott of the 1980 Moscow competition. Cuba followed the Soviet lead, and Stevenson did not compete. For consolation, he beat future Olympic champion Tyrell Biggs in February 1984. At the 1986 World Amateur Boxing Championships, he won the super heavyweight gold, defeating Alex Garcia from the United States in the final. Stevenson retired from boxing shortly after the 1988 Summer Olympics, which Cuba also boycotted.
During his career as a boxer, he won 302 fights and lost 22.
Rivalry with VysotskyEdit
I fought Teofilo twice. We first met at the “Córdova Cardín” tournament in 1973 in Cuba. I took the first two opponents, both being Cuban, out early. In the third, I beat Stevenson on points. Although the score was 3:2, the pace of the fight forced Teófilo to take two necessary breaks to retie his gloves. We had a saying in the USSR, “It’s easier to win the World championships than it is to win ‘Córdova Cardín’.” The second time was at a class A International tournament in Minsk, in March 1976. In each stanza, Stevenson took a count, while in the final three minutes, I knocked him out.— Igor Vysotsky, Interview with East Side Boxing, 2006
Below are the Olympic results of Cuban heavyweight boxer Teofilo Stevenson:
- Round of 16: Defeated Ludwik Denderys (Poland) TKO 1
- Quarterfinal Defeated Duane Bobick (United States) TKO 3
- Semifinal: Defeated Peter Hussing (West Germany) TKO 2
- Final: Defeated Ion Alexe (Romania) walk-over (won gold medal)
- Round of 32: bye
- Round of 16: Defeated Mamadou Drame (Senegal) KO 2
- Quarterfinal: Defeated Pekka Ruokola (Finland) KO 1
- Semifinal: Defeated John Tate (United States) KO 1
- Final: Defeated Mircea Şimon (Romania) TKO 3 (won gold medal)
In 1999, Stevenson was arrested at Miami International Airport when, before boarding a United Airlines chartered jet that would take the Cuban national boxing team home, he allegedly headbutted a 41-year-old United Airlines ticket counter employee, causing him to break his teeth. According to Stevenson, an "agitator" approached him at the airport shouting insults against the Cuban government and other Cuban subjects. Stevenson failed to attend the subsequent court proceedings, having travelled to Havana after his release from custody while on bail. The Cuban state newspaper Trabajadores blamed what it described as the "Miami mafia" for provoking the incident, alleging that the Cuban American National Foundation organised a public gathering to abuse Stevenson when he returned to Miami airport after his arrest. The newspaper believed that the motives for the alleged provocation were "again to ruin a Cuban sports star".
Stevenson died on 11 June 2012 of a heart attack in Havana at the age of 60. It was first reported by Cuban state media, stating that "the Cuban sporting family was moved today by the passing of one of the greatest of all time".
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