If there was one competitor who upheld the unique beliefs of the Olympics then it was most likely Teófilo Stevenson.
Regardless of being provided monumental sums of cash (together with a reputed supply from Don King of $5m dollars) to show skilled, Stevenson resisted the temptation and remained an beginner for the entire of his boxing profession.
He valued his pursuit of gold for his country far more than any money that he was offered. He was the first boxer to win the gold medal three times in the same weight division.
Born in a small town in Cuba in 1952 Stevenson moved to Havana at the age of thirteen to train as a boxer. He soon attracted the attention of the Soviet boxing coaches who were very much part of the Cuban sporting regime at the time and his performances in the heavyweight division singled him out as a special fighter.
His loyalty to the Castro regime did bring him some rewards a two-storey house in Havana, two cars and a villa in the town of Delicias were all provided by a grateful Cuban government.
His first appearance at the Olympic Games came in 1972 in Munich. His devastating right hand made short work of most of his opponents and he only needed to box six rounds to win gold.
His opponent in the final Ion Alexe of Russia withdrew before the contest with a broken hand. Some of the more sceptical reports at the time said even if he had been fit, there’s no guarantee he would have turned up anyway.
On his way to the Gold medal Stevenson met the American Duane Bobick. Bobick had a big reputation and had beaten Stevenson at the 1971 Pan American games and was being courted by many promoters to turn professional. They met in the quarter-finals and this time Stevenson hammered Bobick before stopping him in the third round.
In the semi-final he beat the experienced German Peter Hussing, after his defeat Hussing was quoted saying that he had never been hit so hard in any of his previous 212 bouts. Stevenson’s victory meant he succeeded George Foreman as Olympic heavyweight champion.
At the Olympics in 1976 Stevenson was at his peak, he was an amazon of a man and was in superb physical condition. He looked so formidable that some opponents seemed to be awestruck by his stature and size. If they weren’t overawed by this, they soon were when he hit them.
His punching power was awesome and delivered at lightning speed for such a big man. He used his long reach and his height to full advantage. A great combination puncher, he could deliver bone jarring left jabs followed by enormous rights that more often than not would leave his opponents on the canvas.
On his way to another Gold medal Stevenson disposed of his first three opponents in a combined time of only seven minutes and 22 seconds. His opponent in the final was the Romanian Mircea Simeon. Simeon survived until the third round of the contest, mainly by running round the ring trying to avoid being hit. In the third round a tiring Simeon was caught cleanly for the first time by Stevenson and the Romanians corner threw in the towel. Stevenson had become a double gold medallist.
In 1980 an American boycott of the games meant that Stevenson did not have to face any US opposition. Not that this had hampered his progress in any previous Olympics as Stevenson had made a habit out knocking out Americans. In Moscow Stevenson did not sparkle in any of his contest. His speed and power seemed to have diminished, and some of his performances were lacklustre.
In his first two fights he won in knockouts against rather mediocre opposition. In his third bout Hungarian Istvan Levai became the first boxer to take Stevenson the distance at the Olympics, before losing on points. In the final Stevenson also won on points with a 4-1 decision against a powerful Russian, who showed great courage and perseverance.
The Russian Zaev tried valiantly to take the bout to Stevenson and did some good work when he got inside. However Zaev was out muscled throughout and a third and historic Gold medal was Stevenson’s.
Stevenson never got to defend his title in 1984 as Cuba was part of the Soviet boycott of the games. Whether he would have been the force of old is debatable, but one thing is for sure. Teófilo Stevenson was one of the best fighters of his generation, professional or amateur.
1980 Moscow Olympic Games – Gold
1976 Montreal Olympic Games – Gold
1972 Munich Olympic Games – Gold
World Amateur Championships – Gold (1974,1978,1986)