Teofilo Stevenson, as many of you will know, passed away earlier this week. Stevenson is remembered as the most successful amateur boxer to ever compete – winning the gold medal in three olympics. It is also worth noting that he was hotly tipped to take a fourth but Cuba boycotted his last chance at an olympic medal. Stevenson, after his third win, was famously offered one million dollars to fight Muhammad Ali, but declined the offer to turn professional, stating that professional boxing was full of interests other than sporting endeavor and that one million dollars meant little compared to the love of eight million people. As a brilliant counter jabber, Stevenson was certainly the sort of fighter who could give Ali enormous trouble, and it is a shame that we were never able to see that match up.
Today, however, we will examine just a few of Teofilo’s more spectacular moments. His patience in the ring was a marvel to behold, and despite being a heavyweight he moved like a middleweight and maintained a textbook, yet relaxed guard. A competent jabber, Teofilo used his reach excellently, but unlike many of the lengthier fighters of the modern era such as Lennox Lewis or the Klitsckos (who drive their coaches to distraction with their timidity), Teofilo did not coast rounds behind his lengthy lead. As soon as he felt comfortable, or his opponent began to open up, Stevenson would step in with his right hand counter and fell his man effortlessly.
Due to the short nature of many of Teofilo’s big wins, I will be including the video, then breaking it down in stills. I can only apologize for the video quality, but this was the 1970s and 1980s.
This video shows Stevenson’s match with the United States’ Olympic competitor, John Tate:
Notice that Stevenson fights from an upright stance, bouncing in and out. Not erratically but gracefully the Cuban moves in and out. One of the intriguing features of Stevenson’s style is that he does not put his weight behind many of his jabs. Particularly, using jabs with just the force of his arm to distract, discombobulate, and counter his opponent’s forward movements. You will notice that Teofilo uses his jab while moving backward. Of course it is impossible to put one’s bodyweight into a jab while moving backward but Teofilo uses it simply to distract and break Tate’s composure.
Notice Teofilo in the first frame is stepping backward while extending his jab, this forces Tate to rethink his entry strategy and move his head, meanwhile Teofilo Stevenson has re-established the distance between them. Clearly moving his head slows Tate’s forward movement so he moves directly in with a weighted jab. Teofilo performs a rock-back, wherein he moves his weight to the back foot, taking the sting off of Tate’s jab. He simultaneously pumps his arm jab out into Tate’s face. This prevents Tate from following up, and allows Teofilo to rock back onto his lead leg with an enormous right hand. A beautiful, basic counter combination but oozing with subtlety. The rockback is an excellent counter for upright fighters, and was also used by Jersey Joe Walcott to stifle and floor the great combination puncher, Joe Louis.
In this short clip you can watch Teofilo Stevenson knock out Mircea Simon with a beautiful draw and cross counter. We have discussed the Cross Counter before, but to reiterate, the term “cross” did not used to denote a right straight, but rather a looping right hand which sails over the top of the opponent’s jab and connects on their unprotected temple. Alistair Overeem utilizes this technique masterfully.
Notice in this (rather blurry) storyboard, Teofilo steps in with his non-committal jab in the first frame, and a second in the top right frame. Simon attempts a jab of his own in response to Teofilo’s, which Teofilo slips inside of (towards Simon’s right hand), and lands a looping right hook over the top. This is the most dangerous counter punch in boxing because it is the most powerful punch being used in response to the most common offense. We don’t see it much nowadays, but when we do, it’s effective.
Here, Stevenson takes out the overmatched Jair De Campos with Sugar Ray Leonard on commentary. You will notice that the same strategy of retreating jabs then sneaking the right hand through to his opponent’s temple. It is interesting that Teofilo was able to implement this against elite olympians as well as he did against low level amateur competitors. Sugar Ray Leonard comments on the Cuban style of moving straight backwards (in an era where the US boxing team was touting lateral movement and the Soviet Union and Cuba stressed in and out movement) and declared that Teofilo was practically defenseless. Yet, interestingly, Teofilo’s jab while retreating and it’s use to set up the right straight meant that while moving backwards, Teofilo was actually at his most dangerous.
Truly, in Teofilo Stevenson, the world has lost a great amateur athlete who embodied the true meaning of the olympic dream. A man who was happier to compete for his nation and the love of his people than the millions of dollars a knockout artist could have made by defecting from his homeland. Teofilo Stevenson’s legendary olympic run, and combination of textbook style with numbing power will give fans fuel for hypothetical match ups for decades to come.
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Jack Slack blogs at www.fightsgoneby.com, and can be found on Twitter @JackSlackMMA.
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