Former Cuban boxing legend Teofilo Stevenson died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 60.
Stevenson won three Olympic Gold medals (1972 in Munich, 1976 in Montreal and 1980 in Moscow). There was a good chance Stevenson could have won a fourth Gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles but Cuba was part of the Soviet boycott. Tyrell Biggs won the Gold for the U.S. Interestingly, Biggs lost twice to Stevenson in amateur competition. I remember seeing Stevenson knock out Biggs in the first of their two fights on ABC’s Wide World of Sports with the late Don Chevrier on color commentary. At the time, Stevenson was in his early 30s and was considered by some to be over the hill. He certainly wasn’t over the hill in his fights with Biggs and his right hand could knock out the best of them.
However, Stevenson was a controversial figure. In the early 1970’s, Stevenson turned down a million dollars to fight Muhammad Ali. Stevenson said:
I don’t believe in professionalism, only in revolution. I tell these men from America, these promoters, that money means nothing to me. What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?
More like what is one million dollars compared to the love of Fidel? Stevenson was an ardent apologist for the Castro regime. Indeed, in November 1999, Stevenson got into altercation with a man at the Miami International Airport who criticized Fidel. Stevenson was subsequently arrested for headbutting a United Airlines employee who was apparently not involved in the argument. Stevenson said at the time, “I don’t let anyone insult my Revolution, nor my people, nor, above all, the ‘commandante’.” Stevenson went back to Cuba and did not attend the court proceedings against him.
Nevertheless, Stevenson was one of the greatest practitioners of his sport.