Muhammad Ali Pays Tribute To The Late Teofilo Stevenson

By James Slater: Fight fans were saddened by the passing of the legendary Cuban amateur Teofilo Stevenson this week; Cuban fans, along with everyday people from the small island where the three-time Olympic gold medallist was a God, especially.

Tributes flooded in as soon as the news of the 60-year-old’s passing was made public, and today, in an article that has appeared on Inside, the great Muhammad Ali paid tribute to the man he was once quite close to meeting in the ring.

“Stevenson was one of the greatest,” Ali, 70, said. “He was a great man. My condolences to his family and friends. May he rest in peace.”

In the mid to late 1970s, in ’76 and in ’78, there was much talk of a possible Ali-Stevenson “super-fight” taking place. Ali, like the Cuban immortal an Olympic gold medal winner (winning at light-heavyweight in 1960), was open to the fight, and there was talk of it happening; either at pro level or with amateur rules, with the two gifted boxers wearing head-guards. But Stevenson, famously, refused the many millions of dollars that were dangled in front of him in an effort to get him to defect from Cuba and fight Ali in the U.S:

“What’s ten million dollars compared to the love of the Cuban people?,” Stevenson stated around this time.

Teofilo was loyal to Castro and he remained at home; the Ali fight never materialising. Ever since, however, fans have wondered who would have won that fight had it taken place, as have fans wondered how great a pro Stevenson would have become.

Ali himself says he believes the Stevenson of 1976 or ’78 would have given him a mighty test.

“Despite his never fighting as a professional, having conquered three Olympic gold medals in three different Olympic games meant that he wouldn’t have been an easy rival,” Ali said. “He would have been a great challenger for any champion.”

Stevenson - who captured gold in Munich in 1972, in Montreal in 1976 and again in Moscow in 1980 - certainly had fine skills and tremendous punching power. But amateur and pro are two completely different sports when it comes to boxing. We’ve seen a number of guys who were superb amateurs, yet had nowhere near as much success without the headgear and the amateur rules: Tyrell Biggs, Francesco Damiani, Henry Tillman, Duane Bobick for a few examples.

How would Stevenson’s chin have faired in a pro ring? How would his stamina have held up had he boxed a fight scheduled for 12 or even 15-rounds? In boxing’s long list of what ifs? The never-to-be Ali-Stevenson fight comes close to the very top. People still wonder who would have won. Even Ali himself.

R.I.P Teofilo - you made an unimaginably huge impact on the sport of boxing as it is; even without boxing at pro level the way so many Cuban stars are doing these days.

Article posted on 15.06.2012

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