Cuba seek to regain world boxing crown

Cuba will be looking to put the Russian Federation in their proper place as the boys from the Caribbean seek to regain their place atop amateur boxing’s pecking order at the senior world championships here from Saturday.

In an early preview of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Cubans have sent four reigning Olympic gold medalists to the China slugfest led by Odlanier Solis, who has stepped up a division after also winning the heavyweight gold in the last world championships in Bangkok.

Stiff competition is expected across the steppes led by the Russian Federation, with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan playing the role of dark horses.

The Russian Federation are the reigning world champions, having won three golds in Bangkok, the same haul as the Cubans who put four fighters through to their respective finals compared to the Russians’ six.

After their 2004 Olympic triumph, the Cubans were then thrashed again by the Russians at the amateur boxing World Cup in Moscow in July.

Cuban light-flyweight Yan Bartelemi and bantamweight Guillermo Rigondeaux, Athens Olympics gold medallists, both have something to prove after they went out in the preliminary rounds at the last world championships in Thailand in 2003.

“I am going to remove that thorn,” Rigondeaux told Cuba’s official Prensa Latina news agency shortly before the team left for China last week.

Head coach Sarbelio Fuentes has vowed to put all his 11 fighters—who also include another Athens gold medallist in flyweight Yuriorquis Gamboa—into the medal rounds this time. The fifth Cuban Olympic winner, lightweight Mario Kindelan, retired after Athens.

Russian chief Eduard Khusainov is targetting two golds here and is pinning his hope on featherweight Alexei Tischenko to repeat his Athens triumph.

He tips Tischenko and Cuba’s Solis, who will fight as a super-heavyweight here, to become the stars of the Mianyang ring.

Boxers from 81 countries have confirmed entries to the November 12-20 tournament in this southwestern Chinese city, better known as China’s nuclear weapons base.

“Russia and Cuba will shine again at the championships,” said Choi Hee-Kuk, an amateur boxing official of South Korea who have modest goals of two bronze medals.

“Cuba will still dominate,” predicted Thailand coach Colonel Warit Pansuwan.

Thai hopes rest on Somjit Jongjohor, the reigning world amateur flyweight champion.

Inexplicably, the Thais have sent their reigning Olympic champion, light welterweight Manus Boonjumnong and Athens bantamweight silver medallist Worapoj Petchkoom to fight instead in the relatively insignificant Southeast Asian Games in Manila in late November.

“We do not have much hope in this tournament as six of our seven boxers are new and inexperienced,” Warit said.

Meanwhile the hosts are now without light-flyweight Zhou Shiming, silver medallist at the Bangkok world championships and a semi-finalist in Athens.

“Chinese boxers are weak, but we think our opponents from Europe and the Americas are beatable in the lighter weights because here the tactics are different. Chinese boxers though lack quickness,” team coach Li Qingsheng told the Mianyang Daily.

National coaches say the other former Soviet republics are dangerous opponents in the middle- to heavier classes.

Khusainov tipped Kazakhstan’s Athens Olympics welterweight champion Bakhtiyar Artayev and middleweight Olympic silver medallist Gennady Golovkin as favourites.