Just the sight of him is enough to make a grown fight manager cry. No doubt Angelo Dundee dreams about him regularly and he must surely be a steady inhabitant of Duane Bobick's nightmares. The guy stands 6'3" and he weighs 214 pounds—with most of it looming in wide, powerful shoulders, a deep chest and long, heavily muscled arms. Given two, maybe three more years, he probably could become the professional heavyweight champion of the world. But he most assuredly will not.
Last week, at the XII Central American and Caribbean Games in Santo Domingo, Cuba's Teofilo Stevenson whacked out his opposition, a Costa Rican and a Venezuelan, with about as much effort as most men would take to net butterflies. He won the championship of the Games, of course. No one—least of all his opponents—expected anything less. And during the course of the week, Stevenson again was approached by an unidentified U.S. fight promoter with an offer of $1 million to defect and take up a pro career.
It was an offer Stevenson could refuse; it was, in fact, the second such offer. He had been approached with a million-dollar deal in Munich after winning the Olympic championship by default over a Rumanian. Stevenson had savagely battered U.S. hopeful Bobick in an earlier bout while millions watched on TV and marveled at his powers.
But there is no chance Stevenson will leave Cuba. "No," he said last week, "no, I will not leave my country for one million dollars or for much more than that. What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?"
March 17, 1974
Stevenson has a flat, handsome face with high cheekbones, a snub nose and a wide mouth. Just under his right eye there is a faint smudge of darkened skin, a scar that is the only mark he has to show for some 100 amateur bouts, of which he says he has lost only two. No one knows how many fights he has had. He started at 16, figures he fights about 15 times a year and he will be 23 on March 29.
"I like boxing," he said in the Games Village. "My father, he was a boxer when he was a young man, but not so good as me. I have two younger brothers, but they play baseball, and two younger sisters, but they could not be boxers, no?"
He laughed at that. On the public-address system, a Dominican band was doing indescribable things to a merengue and Stevenson wheeled into a few graceful dance steps. Three girls who had come into the Village with the Puerto Rican team watched him, then applauded, and he waved to them. He looked at them for a long moment and smiled, a bit wistfully.
"Oh, well," he said and turned away. "The boxing. I have seen the professionals on the television. For me, I think Muhammad Ali is the best. Even now, I think there are some I could beat. That Canadian. What is his name? Chuvalo. Chuvalo I could beat. And Oscar Bonavena and Floyd Patterson. The others I am not so sure and I will never know. Maybe it would take time."
It probably would take time. But not a great deal. Bob Surkein, head referee for the Games and a veteran of more than 30 years of refereeing amateur bouts, has seen every Olympic heavyweight champion since 1948. A former boxer himself, he is a fine judge.
"Stevenson is the best," he says flatly. "Better than Foreman or Frazier and as good as Ali, but Ali fought as a light heavy in the Olympics. Stevenson has quick hands and he already moves almost as well as Ali—and he's bigger. He is a classic boxer, like all the Cubans. He has a strong jab and a punishing one. He turns his hand over as he punches so he makes contact with his palm down, with all four knuckles at once. He has a tremendous straight right. He doesn't hook much, because the Cubans are taught by Russians, who don't like to hook. But I've seen him hook off the jab and do it very well. He has gained about 10 or 12 pounds since Munich, all of it in the upper body. He's got a neck like a fighting bull."
Stevenson is single and lives in Havana with his parents and brothers and sisters. His life is centered on boxing, but he also is studying electrical engineering and is president of the Havana Communist youth group. He spends considerable time working with youngsters.
"I am not now a very good student," he said. "There are so many things on my mind, most of all the boxing. I would like to win the Olympic championship two more times, in Montreal and in Moscow, then I will devote myself to the studies and to the little ones. That, I think, will be a very good life."
Unfortunately for Angelo Dundee, Teddy Brenner, Bob Arum and the rest of the wheeler-dealers of professional boxing, there is no doubt of Stevenson's sincerity. Although he was born in Jamaica, he is a totally loyal Cuban. He was under no immediate surveillance in his conversations and he could easily have indicated that he would, indeed, be interested in a million dollars. But there was absolutely no hint of that.
Within their enclave in the miniature Games Village, the Cubans were surprisingly easygoing and lighthearted. One afternoon, waiting to begin training, Stevenson stretched out on the tile floor of a porch, rested his head on his duffel bag and dropped off almost at once into a deep sleep. Fifteen minutes later Manuel Gonzales Guerra, the august president of the Cuban Olympic Committee, awakened him by sitting on his middle. Stevenson laughed hugely, got up and feigned a punch at Guerra, then went docilely and efficiently through a strenuous workout.
Two nights later, in the Stadio Eugenio Maria de Hostos, an arena that seems suited more for cockfights than boxing—it seats maybe 1,000 fans uncomfortably on cement benches—Stevenson fought Costa Rican heavyweight Rafael Vega, a much smaller man. From the beginning, Vega attacked wildly, with the hopeless courage of a Christian determined to bite the lion before being eaten.
Stevenson's face, so expressive in conversation, is impassive in the ring. He brushed away Vega's punches easily, using a long left hand, appearing almost lazy and unconcerned. Then he was warned by the referee to mix it up and he nodded.
Stevenson snapped Vega's head back with a lovely long left jab and, in practically the same motion, hooked viciously to the head with his left, leaving the Costa Rican stumbling sideways. Then came the straight right hand, with all the leverage of the height and the wide shoulders, the punch traveling down a little at the smaller man. It caught Vega squarely on the cheek and dropped him as if he had been hit with a baseball bat. When he was finally revived and brought to stand with Stevenson under the puny light of the five small bulbs illuminating the ring, Vega looked vastly relieved.
Next man up in the Saturday night finals was Venezuelan Carlos Rivera, almost as big as Stevenson. But he lasted just a bit longer than Vega. Stevenson spent the first round languidly stalking his rapidly retreating adversary, flicking his long left jab more to measure the shooting range than to do any damage. Late in the round he dropped in the right hand behind the jab and staggered Rivera, but the bell rang before he could follow up.
Stevenson came out briskly in the second, obviously ready to clear up the night's work. He jabbed Rivera sharply twice, then swung a short, hard left hook. The punch cut a tight are under Rivera's guard and thumped home into the belly with the sound of a wet bass drum being struck. When Rivera doubled over in pain, Stevenson hooked again with the left, catching his man on the jaw. Rivera dropped on his back. He tried to get up, but it was a good 10 minutes before he was strong enough to stand and accept his second-place medal.
When the Games were over, the Cubans had won six gold medals in boxing, plus just about everything in wrestling, track and field, water polo and all other events except swimming. And, satisfied with the show, they pointed out that Stevenson is just one of their good heavyweights.
"Why, we have four or five others almost as good as he is," said one Cuban official. "He has more competition at home than he has here."
One could almost hear the U.S. fight promoters thinking; one could see the shape of their dreams in nights to come. Perhaps all is not lost, Dundee. There may still be hope, Brenner, Arum and all the others. Why, if there are four or five more out there almost as good as Stevenson, maybe just one of them wants a million dollars.