Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman. This is the formidable list of Olympic heavyweight gold medal winners who turned professionals and were considered the greatest in their era.
But the Olympic heavyweight champion who did not join the fight-for-pay ranks three-gold medal victor, Cuban Teofilo Stevenson – to many, is the greatest of them all. Still many believe that had he chose to join Ali and company in the pro ranks, he could have been the best.
After completing a three-peat in the boycotted 1980 Moscow Summer Games, financial offers for him to do so from American promoters flooded his way. His ready answer though remained the same:
“I love my country and they love me. I want to keep it that way.”
Stevenson, then only 20 and imposing with his 6-foot 3 + inch frame, started representing Cuba in the 1972 conclave in Munich and at once, he captivated the fistic world with his powerful left jab and sledgehammer right hand.
He won all his preliminary round bouts via technical knockout en route to the gold medal fight. He had his hand raised as the gold medal winner without throwing a punch, however. His supposed opponent in the championship bout, Ion Alexe of Romania, injured himself in the semi-final round and couldn’t fight.
Observers considered what happened as ‘merciful’ Alexe was at least able to to walk out of the ring instead of being bodily carried out.
Four years later in Montreal, Stevenson continued his knockout streak again on the way to the finals where he was to face another Romanian in the person of Mircca Simon for the gold medal.
Apparently knowing Stevenson’s reputation, Simon employed a running tactic for more than two round until the Cuban finally connected with a blockbuster late in the third and before the slaughter could continue, the towel was thrown in and Stevenwon collected his second gold medal.
Stevenson picked up his third gold medal at the Moscow Games where, like in his two previous medal victories, he easily disposed off all his opponents, including a 4-1 decision over a Soviet pretender.
Newspaper accounts of his fights were that his opponents would be content by just finishing the fight standing.
Svenson’s three-gold medal harvest in as many Olympic Games tied him with Laszlo Papp of Hungary who did the trick in the 1948 in London, 1952 in Helsinki and 1956 in Melbourne.