By Danni Levy
They may look like a boy band, but these young lads have not had an easy ride to center stage. Plucked from the streets of Cuba as they fled illegally, five brave young fighters waved goodbye to their families to pursue their sporting dreams in Dubai.
“There’s a lot of young talent in Cuba selling food and hustling on the streets to make a living,” says boss of Cuban Boxing Gym, Phuc. “I decided to move my wife and kids to Dubai when COVID hit and I just couldn’t leave these poor kids behind. We opened a professional gym here and trained them up to become professional boxers. We took five fighters and three trainers with us. We placed them in a few fights and they were winning from day one.”
Cuba is a communist country where professional boxing is disallowed.
“Unless you’re number one, you don’t stand a chance,” explains Phuc. “Two and three mean nothing to their country and it’s prohibited to profit from fighting. Amateur boxing is fine in the eyes of the law, because Cuba can send an athlete to the Olympics and they can win money for their country, whereas if you’re a professional fighter you’re earning money for yourself and they don’t accept that.”
An Olympic gold medallist in Cuba can expect to win around $300, but every cent goes to the government. As a result, professional boxers are forced to flee the country to pursue a career in the sport and face a ban if they attempt to return to their families back home.
“Our lads won’t be able to go back to Cuba now,” says Phuc. “We were training illegally there, because we couldn’t get caught training up professional talent.
“An Olympic medallist in Cuba can expect to win around $300, but every cent goes to the government”
“We had to fly via Russia to Dubai in order to escape. We didn’t have a plan, we just opened a gym and started training. We call ourselves the people’s fighters because we’re fighting for the people. We’re not fake champions. We’ll fight everybody- we don’t just take easy fights.
“We bring out the champion in our athletes and nurture their talent. The Cuban boxing style combined with the Western way of training makes them unbeatable. People are blown away when they see them fight.”
The lads train twice a day, six days a week.
“We do a lot of power training, cardio, sparring and technique work,” says Phuc.
“There was a serious shortage of protein and vitamins in their diets back in Cuba, but as soon as we put them on a decent diet, their bodies transformed so fast. They’re the full package now. They train with a big smile on their faces every day- it’s so nice to see.
“When we were in Cuba, there was so much talent training for nothing. There was no hope, no chance of them being able to chase their dreams. Yes, they’ve had to flee the country but now they have a chance to show the world it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can pursue your dreams. We took them from their families and they send every penny they earn back to them in Cuba. They feel so responsible because their incomes can help provide such tremendous support.
“Their mothers are very poor. We provide the boys food, housing and everything they need so they don’t have to worry about their families and they can focus on chasing their dreams.
“Yes, they’ve had to flee the country but now they have a chance to show the world it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can pursue your dreams”
“We’re giving our team a platform to expose and develop themselves. No fixed matches. They give the people a show.”
The people’s fighters say their core team is Cuban, but it doesn’t matter where you’re from.
“If you’re from India, Russia, wherever- it doesn’t matter,” says Phuc. “If you’ve got talent, our door is open. We’ve got the platform and we want to give that talent the chance to fight. We train all new fighters Cuban style. We recently brought in an Indian guy whose family literally had no money for clothes. He’s a great athlete and now we look after him too.”
The Cuban Boxing Gym has received a lot of interest from promoters in the UK and the US, but Phuc continues to organize his own shows in Dubai in order to raise the profiles of his team for a chance to be offered high-profile event fights.
“We have a world champion fighter coming soon who fled Cuba on a raft and was caught and imprisoned for trying to escape the country,” says Phuc. “He fled a second time and made it to Miami where he led a poor life, but kept fighting to become undisputed world champion. He’s so inspirational.”
The Cuban Boxing team comprises fighters weighing between 57 and 72kgs.
“The boys can box, dance salsa and perform,” says Phuc. “They look like a boy band. They’re going to take over the scene and change the shape of the sport of boxing.”
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