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It was a rematch of sorts. The two men had met in the ring the year before at the Pan American Games. Cuban boxing became intertwined with communism , and its champions struggled with the decision to defect in hopes of joining professional U. Stevenson was the best of this generation of Cuban fighters.
Natural talent, combined with Soviet-Cuban training, made him a world-class fighter and an Olympic champ. But his decision to support Castro and remain an amateur made him a hero at home. When the boxer began his career as an amateur in , he was the lanky runt of the next litter of Cuban amateur fighters. He was a mere boy, training among men.
Though Stevenson lost, his performance against a much more experienced fighter put him on the map, and his fierce right hook led to one U. Stevenson knocked out Mircea Simon of Romania in the Olympic final to secure his second gold. By then he was a household name in boxing, sought after by the biggest names in the sport for fights against the best of the professional ranks.
At a time when the U. In his career, he went against American boxers in major competitions. One of the biggest boxing matches to never happen was one between Stevenson and Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight world champion title. When Ali was asked about Stevenson and the possibility of the bout, Ali expressed confidence that the fight would happen but skepticism that Stevenson could dethrone him. The American champ felt that his being accustomed to 15 rounds in professional matches would help him overcome Stevenson, who was used to far shorter, three-round amateur bouts.
He needs money. Ali was wrong when he guessed in that Stevenson — who nabbed his third gold at the Moscow Games — needed the money. After Stevenson won his first gold, the Cuban government, as was custom for its champions, built him two homes and gave him two cars, one of each in his hometown of Delicia and in Havana.