The fabulous heavyweight boxing competition of the 1960s and 1970s that featured Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Ken Norton was without one ingredient.
Teofilo Stevenson, the three-time Olympic champion, remained an amateur in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and never fought professionally. He was the Olympic champion in 1972, 1976 and 1980, and won the last of his three world amateur championships in 1986.
The Stevenson name came up when boxing manager and promoter Luis DeCubas was praising the talents of his newest fighter, David Morrell Jr., during an interview at the Circle of Discipline gym in south Minneapolis.
“This kid is going to be the best fighter ever to come out of Cuba,” DeCubas said. “A lot of people who know Cuban boxing believe that.”
My response was: “Better than Teofilo Stevenson?”
DeCubas had an easy answer to that one: “We’ll never know. Stevenson never fought as a pro.”
Morrell turned 21 on Jan. 18, 2019. He was in Mexico, halfway through a 14-month wait to get a visa to travel to the United States. He received permission to leave for Miami this July and immediately signed a long-term contract with DeCubas’ Warriors Boxing Promotions.
Morrell’s full name is Osvary David Morrell Gutierrez. He has been listed as Osvary Morrell in his amateur records, but he’s being promoted as David Morrell Jr. — starting Aug. 31 at the Minneapolis Armory.
Warning: If you want to see Morrell’s pro debut a week from Saturday, get there early. There are 15 fights on the card, with a dozen coming before the TV portion starts on Ch. 9 at 7 p.m.
The full card starts at 4:15 p.m., and Morrell’s six-rounder with Mexico’s Fabian Valdez could be in the ring by 5 p.m. They have a 60-yard bar on each side of the Armory, so you don’t have to worry about developing a thirst during this marathon of boxing.
DeCubas’ partners in the Morrell promotional contract include Ural Promotions, a Russian company, and Neb Abdul, the owner of the Armory.
Morrell has been living here since shortly after signing his contract and will be listed as fighting out of Minneapolis. He’s a super middleweight or light heavyweight. The promoters are citing an amateur record of 130-2.
Asked to name his last “tough” fight, Morrell said: “The only tough fight I’ve ever had was waiting 14 months in Mexico, waiting for the chance to live my dream.”
Dream — as in a professional world title.
“I really believe he can take over the super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions,” DeCubas said.
This will be the sixth Premier Boxing Champions card since boxing returned to the Armory in 2018 after a four-decade absence. Middleweight Caleb Truax and welterweight Jamal James have been the local headliners.
Truax has a rematch with Peter Quillin on Aug. 31. Their first fight ended in a two-round no-decision, after Truax suffered a 14-stitch cut from a head butt that was ruled accidental.
The main event is a 12-rounder for a WBA super welterweight title between Erislandy Lara and Ramon Alvarez (Canelo’s brother).
It seems clear that PBC, the Armory and DeCubas would like to see Morrell join James and Truax as a local attraction. Morrell is living here with Ramon Garbey, his trainer.
Garbey was an outstanding Cuban fighter. He’s also the brother of Barbaro Garbey, a former big-league ballplayer.
Asked if he had tried baseball in Cuba, Morrell said: “I played when I was small, but I saw boxing on TV and wanted to do this.”
Morrell was named the “fighter of the tournament” at the world youth boxing championships in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2016. That put him on every boxing promoters’ radar.
“David was tremendous there,” DeCubas said. “He dominated.”
Morrell’s last fights as a Cuban amateur came when he cruised through four bouts in the Indian Boxing Championships in New Delhi in February 2018. He was able to get to Mexico after that, then endured the long wait for the flight to Miami.
And now Minneapolis.
The Cuban connections will go beyond Morrell on Aug. 31 at the Armory:
Main eventer Lara defected from Cuba while in Brazil for the 2007 Pan-Am Games. Quillin carries the nickname of “Kid Chocolate,” given to him by his Cuban father, and in honor of Kid Chocolate, the famed Cuban fighter in the 1920s and 1930s.
And there’s sure to be a reverent 10-count that night in honor of Jose Napoles, the great Cuban welterweight who died this week at 79.
Napoles is considered by many to be the greatest Cuban-born fighter, if you dismiss Stevenson, while we wait to see if DeCubas’ prophecy on Morrell is fulfilled.