Skip to main content

Cuban boxing legend Teofilo Stevenson dead at 60

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
  • Teofilo Stevenson won Olynmpic gold medals for Cuba in 1972, 1976 and 1980
  • He passed up a big payday, declining to fight professionally against Mohammed Ali
  • "What is $1 million compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?" he declared

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Teofilo Stevenson died from a heart attack in Havana, Cuban state media reported Monday.

He was 60 years old.

Stevenson won three Olympic gold medals fighting for Cuba and is still tied for the record in the sport.

Boxing was briefly banned after Cuba's 1959 revolution. But with the help of Soviet trainers, Cuba soon became a powerhouse in the sport, with Stevenson as one of the island's most famous fighters.

The imposing Cuban heavyweight won gold in 1972, 1976 and 1980, when Cold War tensions often took center stage at the games.

Olympics 2012: Secrets to Cuba's boxing success

But Stevenson did not fight in 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, after Cuba joined the Soviet Union in boycotting the games.

Promoters dreamed of pairing Stevenson against Muhammed Ali but the match never took place despite their offering Stevenson millions of dollars to fight.

Cuban athletes are not allowed to compete professionally, and they earn only a fraction of the salaries that their counterparts in other countries take home.

But Stevenson did not appear to have any regrets about his decision to turn down a big payday by staying amateur.

"What is $1 million compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?" he famously declared.

In an interview with CNN in May, Stevenson showed the strain from his many battles in the ring. But the boxing champion still possessed a sharp wit and easy smile.

"Cubans like to box because of our temperament," Stevenson said, "Because of our idiosyncrasies and because we have needed to know how to defend ourselves."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.