One of the best ways to improve as a boxer is by studying the habits of other successful boxers. In other words, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, you see what other fighters have done to keep rolling along. There will always be something that another fighter does differently from you. As you continue to study victorious boxers, you are bound to pick up new ideas. For instance, the Cuban boxing program has long been a dominant force in the sport. When so many successful fighters continually come from the same small island, it’s obvious that they are doing something right. Plenty can be learned by studying the Cuban boxing program.
Amateur Boxing Dominance
It is difficult to fathom just how successful the Cubans have been. Ever since Rolando Garbey and Enrique Regüeiferos won the country’s first Olympic boxing medals in 1968 (both silver), Cuban boxers have been virtually unstoppable. Following the two silvers in 1968, Cuba has racked up 65 more Olympic boxing medals. Of their 67 total medals, 34 have been gold.
No country wins 67 medals in a sport without knowing what they are doing. Cuba’s dominance is even more impressive however when you consider the size of the small island. The entire country has a population of approximately 11 million. To put that number in perspective, states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio have larger populations than all of Cuba. Cuba doesn’t just compete against individual states though. The small island has excelled on an international stage.
The natural question therefore is what is the secret to Cuba’s success?
Cuban Boxing Documentaries
It is one thing to read about Cuba’s dominance, but it is much more useful to observe their boxing program in action. A visit to Cuba would be the best way to learn, but since that isn’t an option for most, the documentaries below offer a good starting point. The two films are similar yet both worthy of a look.
Cuban Punch-Up: The Boys who Fought for Castro
Victory Is Your Duty
The secret to Cuba’s success is that there is no secret. Cuban boxers begin training as youngsters. There is a boxing academy in each of Cuba’s 14 provinces. Children have access to the sport, and take pride in becoming champions.
As stated by one of the young boxers from the footage above,
“To become someone, you have to make sacrifices. If you don’t, you can’t become what you want to become.”
Young Cuban boxers are raised with this mentality. They train hard and dream of becoming champions. Such dreams are not easily realized however. Unlike the United States, boxing remains a prominent sport in Cuba. Thus, while Cuba’s population is small, there are a lot of boxers on the island.
In many ways, I relate Cuba to previous eras when professional boxing was a major sport in the United States. During boxing’s prime, there were naturally more fighters. More fighters led to more bouts and ultimately more talent.
Cuba’s small island has maintained that high density model. The island is filled with talented boxers. And when you have a lot of talented boxers who box with each other, everyone improves. Super bantamweight world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (seen at the top) serves as a prime example. Prior to defecting to pursue a professional career, Rigondeaux amassed well over 400 amateur bouts as a Cuban. He is now considered one of the best pound for pound boxers in the world.
Rigondeaux’s ability is clearly a product of the Cuban system. Similar to the great boxers of the past, he fought regularly and focused the bulk of his attention to the sport. Cuban boxers do not get distracted with overly complex training plans. Instead, they box, box, and then box some more.
The combination of hard work, pride, and experience is instrumental to Cuba’s boxing success. As stated before, boxing is a sport where experience is a must. No amount of bag work in the basement can substitute the need for competitive experience. Cuban fighters commonly rack up well over 100 amateur bouts, often much more. That amount of experience is worth its weight in gold (literally).
The take home lesson for aspiring fighters is therefore quite simple. Clearly, you cannot replicate the Cuban system, but you can certainly learn from their example. If you are a young amateur boxer, it is extremely important to box regularly. And you should not limit yourself to local tournaments. It is always useful to participate in larger (national) tournaments whenever possible. The experience that you derive from each of these events cannot be developed in the gym.
It is also important for aspiring boxers to spar with different fighters. If you always spar the same boxers, it is difficult to improve. A developing boxer needs to box against various styles. A seasoned Cuban boxer has seen all styles. They have faced every variation of boxer, puncher, brawler, runner, southpaw, etc. And it is that widespread experience that often catapults them to the top.
In summary, the best way to become a better boxer is by spending more time boxing. Unfortunately, many young fighters overlook this seemingly obvious fact. The Cubans don’t make that mistake. If you plan to excel in the sweet science, I suggest that you follow the Cuban example. Focus the bulk of your time and energy towards boxing. Everything else is secondary. The most important work will always take place with the gloves on.