By Gav Duthie: No longer will Cuban amateurs need to turn their backs on their country to earn a living as professional boxers. The dramatic escapes, the jail time, elaborate plans, and defection will now be a thing of the past as the Cuban government has deemed that their stars are now allowed to turn pro.
Professional boxing has been banned in Cuba for 60 years since 1962. It was deemed corrupt by former President Fidel Castro and not in cohesion with their communist values. Fighters were not allowed to profit from their skills.
The last top legitimate professional from Cuba dates back to the era of Sugar Ray Robinson with one of his rivals Kid Gavilan one of the pioneers of the bolo punch, and Jose Napoles. It has been a common dilemma for Cuban standout amateurs wanting to better themselves but having to be vilified by their compatriots to do so.
It has given us some great world champions like Juan Carlos Gomez, Erislandy Lara, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriorkis Gamboa, and Joel Casamayor, who were brave enough to leave.
Still, in the pro ranks, we have missed out on some of the most skilled operators of all time, like Felix Savon, Teofilo Stevenson, and Mario Kindelan. Now they will have no worries.
They can turn professional whenever they want, and the boxing world will need to look out. Here are the current best 5, in my opinion, that I would like to see turn to the paid ranks.
(5) Roniel Iglesias
Perhaps the new ruling has come a little too late for Roniel Iglesias, who made his Olympic debut with a Bronze medal all the way back in 2008. Skill-wise, however, he is phenomenal, and if he is fast-tracked, he could definitively achieve something. Iglesias is now 33 years old with a 350-fight amateur career of 306-44 record between Jnr Welterweight and Welterweight. Iglesias is a slick southpaw with good speed and a great defense. He has been to 4 Olympic games winning Gold in both 2012 and 2020. In the amateurs, he has defeated ex-world champion Jessie Vargas, former standout Frankie Gomez as well as speedy Rashidi Ellis, and another Cuban who makes this list in Arlen Lopez.
Future World Champion: No
I think it is just a little too late for him, although I could be wrong. Seeing as the next Olympics is only two years away, he might try and equal the great Felix Savon and Teofilo Stevenson with 3 Golds. If he turns pro, he can easily do it. I just worry about his age.
(4) Erislandy Savon
This one is a little bit left-field, but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him. He is the nephew of Felix Savon, who is like a God in Cuba. It has been a lot of pressure for him to medal at the Olympics, but all he managed was one bronze in 2 outings in 2012 (Super Heavyweight) and 2016 (Heavyweight).
In 2012 he lost by a controversial point to Anthony Joshua. He stopped boxing in 2020 after missing out on the Olympic spot to Dainier Pero, but he is just 31 and could easily try to reach his Uncles achievements by turning pro instead.
He has a record of 200-37 as an amateur with wins over Ivan Dychko, Cuban pro Lenier Pero, Olympic Gold medalist Tony Yoka and three times over current world champion Lawrence Okolie including a first-round knockout against him.
He lost the first 7 of his ten amateur fights but stuck in with his dream and achieved a lot, including winning the World amateur championships in 2017. I don’t want one Olympic bronze to be the end of his story, and he is still only 31 years old.
Future world champion: No
In all honesty, I just don’t think he will turn professional. He seems to have given up on boxing, but I hope that isn’t the case. He could probably box anywhere between Cruiserweight, Bridgerweight, or Heavyweight. He has a good style for pro; he has power, a good jab, and right hand. Like Iglesias, he has the talent, but he might already be finished with boxing; but I hope he sees this as a new opportunity to achieve his dreams.
(3) Julio Cesar La Cruz
An absolutely amazing talent. Unfortunately, he has that style that the fans love to hate reminiscing about Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux. He is extremely hard to hit and is a good counter puncher. Julio is great at making fighters look ordinary, and given his size, his reflexes aren’t ordinary but again, he is 32 years old, and it is difficult to hold that style in later years.
He is also a double Olympic Gold medalist from 2016 at light heavyweight and 2020 at heavyweight. Of his victims in his 256-22 career, he has defeated #4 on this list Erislandy Savon, ex Sergey Kovalev conquerer and world champion Eleider Alvarez, as well as Joshua Buatsi and current WBA regular 168lb David Morrell champion who couldn’t get into the Olympic team because of La Cruz but is destroying opponents professionally.
Future world champion: Yes
La Cruz could probably box at light heavyweight and would likely be successful against some of the world champions. Like Iglesias, he may wish to chase that 3rd Gold medal, but if he wants to turn professional at any point, now is the time. Both Dimitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev became world champions in the division very early, and La Cruz could easily achieve this goal at light heavyweight or cruiserweight.
(2) Arlen Lopez
Arlen Lopez could have a great professional career. He is younger than the previous three mentioned at 29 and has a more aggressive style which will please the fans. He is a southpaw that is happier to trade than most Cubans. He is another double Olympic Gold medalist defeating Bek the Bully in 2016 and British slickster Ben Whitaker, in 2020. Lopez has a record of 148-24. He lost a number of times early on to Roniel Iglesias as Cubans get a hard start to see how they will perform under pressure, often fighting more experienced Cuban legends.
Future world champion: Yes
He would likely campaign at Super middleweight, and if Saul Alvarez relinquishes some of his titles, he could easily pick one up, given his skills. After a couple of years, an all Cuban showdown against David Morrell could be possible.
(1) Andy Cruz
The previous 4 are all great talents, but Cruz really has the potential to be an absolute superstar. Unlike the others, he is still young, at only 26. He won Gold in the lightweight division in 2020 (event in 2021) against American star Keyshawn Davis. In fact, he has defeated Davis 4 times out of 4 in the unpaid ranks. I can’t wait for him to turn professional. He reminds me of Pernell Whitaker with his head movement and counterpunching. He has great defense but doesn’t run. He stands in the pocket and uses head movement. He has great speed and is technically already better than many of his future opponents. His amateur record is currently 140-9.
Future world champion: Yes
It is extremely exciting and important that he is a lightweight given the talent already there in Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, George Kambosos, Devin Haney, and Vasyl Lomachenko. A future 12-round fight against Keyshawn Davis could also be great to see. Given his skill level, I couldn’t even count him out against the very best in the division.
It will be interesting to see how this goes for these five and, more importantly, in the future. How many Cuban world champions might we see, and will the nation now get behind them. This also has implications for how well they do in the Olympics if any talented fighters are allowed to turn professional before they do an Olympic stint. I look forward to seeing how this all plays out.