Cuban boxers can now turn pro without having to flee their homeland.
An agreement was reached by the Federacion Cubano de Boxeo (FCB) to allow pro boxing for the first time in sixty years. The historic decision was made public on Monday, with the intention of allowing its most notable amateur stars to turn pro as early as May in Aguascalientes, Mexico where its boxers have regularly trained since last summer.
Boxers fighting in the pro ranks out of Cuba will be represented by Golden Ring Promotions. The intention is to stage at least four events through the rest of the year, as first reported by ESPN Deportes' Salvador 'Chava' Rodriguez who revealed that the series will air on ESPN Knockout.
“Three and a half years ago a serious analysis began that has resulted in the approved agreement and well seen by the direction of the country's sport and the Cuban Boxing Federation with Golden Ring Promotions, for the representation of Cuba in its entry into professional boxing," Alberto Puig, president of the FCB said in a statement provided to BoxingScene.com. "The continuous sports and competitive preparation of Cuban boxers to continue representing and raising the name of Cuban boxing in all competitions where it forms part and the economic benefit it represents for boxers, coaching staff and medical triad that work with the team, are one of the main objectives.”
Among those expected to turn pro in the coming months include the nation’s most recent Olympic medalists Lazaro Alvarez, Andy Cruz, Roniel Iglesias, Julio Cesar La Cruz and Arlen Lopez.
“We have contemplated that six of the main figures of the Domadores de Cuba, take part in six-round fights in at least four events this year,” revealed Puig. “The upcoming month of May is being considered for Cuba's beginnings in professional boxing."
Pro boxing has not been recognized in Cuba since 1962, during the reign of late leader Fidel Castro who regarded that aspect of the sport as corrupt. Boxing has been limited to an amateur sport since then, with its participants encouraged to fight for nationalistic glory. Cuba’s boxing teams have won 78 Olympic medals, including 41 Gold—nearly half of the nation’s total of 84 across 15 different sports.
Cuban boxers have also enjoyed considerable success on the pro level as well, though through means of defection and detainment before enjoying a life of freedom. The first form of compromise came in 2013 when Cuba put together a team to participate in the World Series of Boxing, a worldwide tournament that allowed boxers to compete in pro-style fights while retaining their amateur boxing status.
It appears the days of going through such extremes are no longer necessary.
"It is a privilege to have reached this historic agreement with the Cuban sports authorities that marked a before and after in boxing,” Gerard Saldivar, president of Golden Ring Promotions stated of the landmark declaration. "A challenge that is taken on in a professional manner, corresponding to the quality level of a country with so much history and positive results in Olympic and world boxing.
“We have had the opportunity to be close from the formation and participation of the Domadores from Cuba to the World Series of Boxing, training camps prior to important competitions and the program in June of last year in Aguascalientes. We have been working for a long time on an analysis to harmoniously and progressively integrate Cuban boxers into professional boxing.”
The announcement comes less than two weeks ahead of a major fight involving a top Cuban pro.
Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12KOs) puts his WBA welterweight title on the line versus IBF/WBC welterweight titlist Errol Spence (27-0, 21KOs) in a three-belt unification bout April 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Ugas’ journey from Cuba to the U.S. has been well-documented throughout his career and in the buildup to the upcoming Showtime Pay-Per-View event—at least six defection attempts, all ending in prison time before the 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist and reigning titleholder was able to escape in 2010.
Thanks to the latest ruling in his homeland, such brave tales long serving as the standard for making it in the pros will become less and less frequent.
“We will seek to place [Cuban boxers] in the rankings of all the professional boxing organizations for whom we have a deep respect,” noted Saldivar. “The boxers will have the full support of the Cuban sports authorities, they will train in Havana and travel to take part in professional fights.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox