The 2012 Olympic games are underway and boxing is getting its fair share of air-time on CNBC for a welcome change. Muhammad Ali is there and has been presented with awards and is being treated like the citizen of the world he truly is. It's also ironic that one of the biggest stars in the history of Olympic boxing, Cuban sensation Teofilo Stevenson, recently passed. Incidentally, it is the 40th anniversary of Stevenson winning his first gold medal in Munich Germany back in 1972.
As most all boxing fans know Stevenson won gold Medals at the 1972, 1976 and 1980 Games and if Cuba didn't boycott the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, it's plausible Teofilo would've won the gold again. If you recall, Tyrell Biggs won the gold medal at the 1984 Games. Biggs, who went onto fight for the heavyweight title against Mike Tyson, lost to Stevenson in 1984 before the Games. Granted, Biggs improved after losing to Stevenson but there's no doubt the Cuban fighter would've been favored had they met in Los Angeles in 1984.
Since Stevenson's passing a few months ago there have been things said and written about how he would've been the fighter to end Ali's domination of the heavyweight division during the 1970s. It makes for eye catching copy, and it's true in years past, a gold medal by an Olympian almost guaranteed that the fighter would be a good and successful pro, but now it means almost the opposite.
However, because of Stevenson's high profile, cultural influence, good looks and big right hand, he seems to get the benefit in most hypothetical match ups. Personally, I believe this is more a case of guys trying to come off smarter than they really are. They think by coming up with an unconventional point of view it will project them to others as being someone who is a deep thinker.
Give me a break. If you need to go out on a limb in order to make yourself look as if you're the one who has the real insight, you don't know what you don't know.
Let me be clear, Teofilo Stevenson was a great amateur and had he turned pro after the 1976 Games he would've had his first pro bout in early 1977. Therefore he would've had a good shot to win a piece of the heavyweight title. By early 1977 “Smokin” Joe Frazier was gone, George Foreman was months away from being out-boxed by Jimmy Young and then retiring, and Muhammad Ali only had two successful title defenses left in his reserve. Then again there is a problem out there looming named Larry Holmes. Holmes wasn't a great amateur, but he was an all-time great pro. So it's not like Stevenson is a given to make it to the top of the heavyweight ranks as a pro in the mid to late 1970s.
Most chose to forget that before Stevenson won his first gold medal in 1972, he lost to Duane Bobick at the 1971 Pan Am games. That was the same Bobick who a green amateur named Ron Lyle knocked out in the first round with one punch earlier that year. What is never mentioned is the fact that Bobick was favored over Stevenson until he got nailed with the best right hand Stevenson ever landed at the 1972 Games. Also, Stevenson wasn't unbeatable as an amateur fighter. Russian Igor Vystotsky beat Stevenson twice. The first time they fought Igor stopped Teofilo and when they met a second time, Stevenson lost a decision and at one point during the fight literally turned his back and ran from Vysotsky. How many times did you ever see Ali do that?
The reason why Stevenson didn't fight Vysotsky at the 1976 Games was because Igor was a bleeder and the Russian coaches feared he'd get cut before the medal rounds and therefore the Russians wouldn't have competed for a medal at heavyweight. So the Russian coaches never sent Vysotsky to the Olympics. Also, Vystotsky lost to his countryman Angel Milan, and Americans Jimmy Clark and Greg Page, yet Stevenson couldn't beat him once in two tries.
Stylistically, Stevenson had a nice straight left jab and a big right hand. However, his uppercuts and hooks were nice set up punches but certainly not finishing shots. He was adequate but not great when he had to move his feet trying to catch an elusive opponent and preferred luring them into him, which he did successfully. Also, his money punch was his right hand, the one punch Ali was almost impossible to hit with any regularity. Stevenson's stamina was never tested and he was out boxed for gaps of his bouts against American amateurs Michael Dokes, Marvin Stinson and Jimmy Clark. And as we know they weren't nearly as resourceful, strong, fast or as mentally tough and durable as Muhammad Ali was.
There were talks of Ali and Stevenson fighting that almost came to fruition. Ali wanted to fight Teofilo in his retirement bout. Fidel Castro was close to being on board with it because by 1978 Ali was washed up and Stevenson was still at the top of his physical skill. The only hang up was, Ali wanted the fight to be 10 rounds or he wasn't interested. When Stevenson/Castro countered that they were only willing to consent to a three round bout, Ali scoffed and said something like, “Well, he really is just an amateur.” So the fight never happened.
Oh, after Stevenson won his second gold medal, Castro invited Latin American hero and great undisputed lightweight champion Roberto Duran to come to Cuba and watch Stevenson train and spar. When Teofilo finished his workout, Castro asked how he thought he'd do against Ali and Duran replied, “Ali kill him”!
Just because Roberto Duran thinks an elder Ali would've handled Stevenson doesn't mean it's a gimme. However, Ali achieved too much and was too tough and versatile to be defeated by a big strong amateur who's only chance to win was by landing a lottery right hand. Stevenson couldn't hold up under Vystosky's assault, a fighter Ali once sparred in street clothes during his trip to Russia in 1978 and left the ring unmarked while wearing no head gear.
Again, it makes for different copy to write how Teofilo Stevenson could've been Muhammad Ali's foil, but in the real world it's a massive reach. I mean, come on, there's no chance Stevenson could've knocked out even an old Ali. Maybe for three or four rounds he could've stayed with Ali circa 1977-78, but that's about it.
Ali wasn't infallible as a fighter, but he had everything a fighter needed to beat Stevenson in a pro bout. As great as Stevenson was as an amateur, it's a joke to say he could've been Ali's equal. There's just not enough evidence to support that theory. Only hyperbole.
You wanna talk about an interesting hypothetical bout? How about 1968 heavyweight gold medal winner George Foreman versus 1972 heavyweight gold medal winner Teofilo Stevenson?