By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba paid its respects on Tuesday to the late boxer Teofilo Stevenson, one of the greatest Olympians of all time who turned down the chance to fight Muhammad Ali at the height of both fighters powers.
Stevenson, who won three gold medals as a heavyweight boxer and turned down multi-million dollar offers to turn professional
after emerging as a huge talent at the 1972 Munich Games, died of a heart attack on Monday at the age of 60.
Stevenson, born into a poor family in Puerto Padre in the eastern province of Las Tunas, won gold medals at the Munich Games in 1972, Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980.
He also won three successive world amateur championship titles and missed out on a shot at a fourth Olympic title when Cuba boycotted the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
“Cuba has lost a symbol,” said Alcides Sagarra, Stevenson’s former trainer.
In a 20-year career, Stevenson stood out for a devastating right, skillful movements in the ring and sportsmanship which won him a Fair Play trophy.
Stevenson, widely regarded as the best amateur heavyweight ever, fellow Cuban Felix Savon and Hungarian Lazlo Papp are the only amateur boxers to have won three successive Olympic titles.
“Teofilo belonged to Cuba and the world. Those who haven’t heard of Teofilo haven’t lived,” said Savon.
U.S. boxing promoters tried in the late 1970s to tempt Stevenson to fight then world champion Ali for $5 million in what they said would be the “fight of the century” but it never happened as he rejected the offer.
“What’s a million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” Stevenson was quoted as saying as a 20-year-old after his first Olympic gold in Munich, expressing his loyalty to the Cuban revolution which outlawed professional sport.
“I wouldn’t change a piece of Cuban soil for all the money they could give me”