HAVANA TIMES — Just a week ago, on June 11, Teofilo Stevenson Lawrence died. A three-time Olympic and a world champion in the heavyweight division, he was one of the greatest boxers in the history of Cuban sports. This past Wednesday, the Cuban television program “La Mesa Redonda” dedicated a broadcast to commemorate the sports hero.
I had really expected a program that would show highlights of the personal and sports life of this person who was unquestionably the amateur boxer who shone brightest, dazzling to the point of becoming an international boxing icon.
I also expected to hear comments from his former colleagues and friends, and even from relatives, evoking the many moments of joy that were given to the fans of the sport by his hammering fists. I expected a program that would pay homage to the man and the athlete – not idolize him.
However, except for an occasional anecdotal comment, the observations focused on how:
“Stevenson was a boxer who was the fruit of the revolution in his unconditional support for the process, and especially in his loyalty to Fidel. On many occasions he rejected financial offers, criticized defections and expressed his eternal gratitude to El Comandante.”
The victim of a heart attack at the age 60, this was the end of the life of a man who was devoted to the ring. Yet, I hardly heard a word about his unsurpassed technique as a slugger and a counter puncher, or his “guardia basica” (basic guard) style that so intimidated his opponents.
I heard nothing of his accurate blows, his jabs, his direct punch, his crosses, his uppercuts, his hook, his swing… nothing about the effectiveness of his blows or his speed. They were all stories used to emphasize his communist militancy.
Many allusions were made as the commentators discussed: “…his humble beginnings in eastern Cuba, from out in Las Tunas, how he owed everything to the revolution, and how grateful he was. He always maintained an irrevocable defense of the most just of social systems.” They even said, “He preferred to be red than a millionaire.”
The journalist and presenter Reinaldo Taladrid excelled in his officialist role, maintaining the cult of personality around Fidel Castro by reading passages about the close relationship between Fidel and Teofilo. I have to confess – at times I wasn’t sure if the program was dedicated to the boxer or to the former president.
Personally I’m not very fond of the sport of fighting. Nevertheless he was an epoch-making figure in my childhood and my adolescence, and I remember the fans cheering his triumphs. I recall that image in the camera of a dark man, tall and well-built, who — amidst the sweat and adrenaline — babbled in an always unintelligible manner that classic line memorized by all Cuban athletes: “This medal is for my people and the commander.”