U.s. Finally Ends Cuba Domination Mayweather Win Puts Smile On Face Of Defector Ravelo

Posted: August 01, 1996

ATLANTA — It was nearly 30 years ago that a young Cuban boxer named Jesse Ravelo, a Pan Am Games champion, defected to the United States. His Olympic year would have been 1968. He would have boxed for the Cuban team. That dream died as his new life in America began.

Before last night, it had been 20 years since a U.S. fighter beat a Cuban in the Olympics. Because the U.S. boycotted the Games in 1980, and Cuba boycotted in 1984 and '88, the streak isn't exactly what it seems. Still, it spanned four fights in Barcelona in '92, and two fights here. The overall record for the U.S. against Cuba in the Olympics was only 5-11, with Leon Spinks being the last winner at the '76 Games in Montreal.

But the losing streak against Cuba is now over, courtesy of featherweight Floyd Mayweather's 12-11 decision over Lorenzo Aragon. And in the U.S. corner was an assistant coach named Jesse Ravelo. You easily can guess the pride that he was feeling. Across the room, you could see the smile.

``I don't care what anybody says - it means a lot to us,'' Ravelo said. ``It means a lot. The intimidation is over . . . And it means a lot to me personally. To be the best, you've got to beat the best. And I don't care what anybody says - Cuba is the best.''

With Mayweather's victory, the U.S. now has six fighters guaranteed of at least a bronze medal. After the disaster of Barcelona, when only three Americans medaled, the pressure is now off everyone.

The Mayweather decision was a close one. Aragon spent much of the first two rounds holding Mayweather. The act of pushing him away eventually tired the American. Holding a 12-7 lead in the middle of the final round, an exhausted Mayweather just tried to hang on as the Cuban cut it to 12-11. Aragon landed a clean shot to Mayweather's head in the final 15 seconds but didn't receive a point.

Oh, well. At least we can dispense with the anti-American conspiracy theories - along with, Ravelo hopes, the aura of invincibility that surrounds the Cuban boxing program.

``We heard them in the locker room because we were right next door,'' Ravelo said. ``We could hear them talking about `salsa time.' I don't know what that means in English. It's like `party time.' ''

But as the fight progressed and Mayweather got his feet under him and built his lead into the late stages of the second round, Ravelo said he noticed Cuban coach Alcides Sagarra doing something he never had seen before.

``He showed the fighter the towel,'' Ravelo said. ``He was saying he was going to throw in the towel if he wasn't going to fight . . . In the third round, he was standing with the towel in his hand almost the whole time. He was intimidating his boxer . . . I've never seen him that way.''

Ravelo says he has no history with Sagarra, no animosity. He says it's simply a competitive thing, not a personal thing. And he could read his opponent's body language as the fight ended.

``I could see them in the corner,'' Ravelo said. ``I could see it in his eyes. That's pride. He doesn't want to lose. He doesn't want to lose to the U.S. He especially doesn't want to lose to me.''

It's pretty certain he didn't want to lose to a guy from Tonga, either - but that's what happened later last night, when Cuban super-heavyweight Alexis Rubalcaba lost a 17-12 decision to a big ol' 300-pound Tongan lad named Paea Wolfgram.

The Tongan might have stopped him in the first round if this were a pro fight. Only a quick standing eight-count by the referee gave Rubalcaba a chance to gather himself. But from late in the second round on, Wolfgram owned the Cuban. As the fight wound down, the crowd chanted ``Ton-ga, Ton-ga.'' Guaranteed a bronze, it will be Tonga's first-ever.

``Boxing in Tonga consists of one boxer - that's me,'' said Wolfgram, who actually lives and trains in New Zealand.

Anyway, as things stand today, the U.S. has six fighters into the semifinals and Cuba has seven.

Wondering what Fidel Castro thinks?

``I don't know Castro and he doesn't know me,'' Floyd Mayweather said.

Well, maybe now he does. That is, if he's finished searching for Tonga on a map.

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