The Roar
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38 days to Rio: The boxing superstar that never was

Some believe Teofilo Stevenson would have provided Mohammad Ali with another genuine threat, but the Cuban never went pro. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1984-0331-021 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)
28th June, 2016
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Win gold as an amateur Olympian, become a professional, then rake in the big bucks: that’s been the path to fame for many a great boxer. But one star of the sweet science decided to turn down professionalism’s fortune and fame, and instead became an Olympic legend.

When you think of great Olympic boxers, names like Cassius Clay, George Foreman and Floyd Mayweather Jr come to mind.

» VIEW THE OLYMPIC MEDAL TALLY HERE

One that doesn’t pop up as much to the casual fan – but undoubtedly should – is Teofilo Stevenson.

Cuba’s Stevenson broke the USA’s stranglehold on the heavyweight division at the 1972 Olympics, after Clay, Joe Frazier and Foreman had taken gold at the previous three Games. The Cuban announced himself by ending Duane Bobick’s 65-fight unbeaten streak in the third round of the competition and actually won the gold medal without stepping into the ring for the final match. His opponent, Ion Alexe, withdrew from the final with a broken thumb.

After taking the gold offers starting flooding it for Stevenson, plenty of them in excess of a million dollars. He turned them all down, instead staying an amateur and defending his Olympic crown in 1976.

Once again, he ignored the lure of professionalism and returned to Cuba.

“No, I will not leave my country for one million dollars or for much more than that,” he had said in 1974. “What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?”

His position obviously hadn’t changed, and not even a potential matchup with Mohammad Ali could tempt him into going pro.

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“Stevenson is the best – better than Foreman or Frazier and as good as Ali,” said the head referee from the Montreal games, Bob Surkein.

“He could have been in the same class as Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier,” was the assessment from promoter Don King.

Would he have beaten ‘The Greatest’? He might have, but we’ll never know for certain. What we do know is Stevenson went on to win gold again in 1980 but was denied a chance for a fourth title when Cuba boycotted the 1984 Games.

Wonderful as it would have been to see another genuine rival for Ali, it’s hard not to admire Stevenson’s decision.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian