Teófilo Stevenson Lawrence or Teófilo Stevenson (born March 29, 1952) is a former Cuban boxer who made history in amateur boxing, but who refused to turn professional. Many people consider him to be one of the greatest Olympic boxers in history, alongside Felix Savon and László Papp.
Teófilo junior was a restless but bright child who at nine years old soon found himself sparring at the makeshift open-air gym his father had frequented. Under the tutelage of former national light heavyweight champion John Herrera, the young Stevenson began his career fighting far more experienced boxers, but according to Herrera, "had what it took". Despite his growing involvement in the sport, Stevenson had yet to tell his mother about his activities. Eventually Teófilo senior broke the news to his wife, who was furious; but she agreed to acquiesce on the proviso that the boy was accompanied by his father.
Stevenson's senior boxing career began at age seventeen with a defeat in the national championships against the experienced heavyweight Gabriel Garcia. Despite the setback, Stevenson went on to register convincing victories over Nancio Carillo and Juan Perez, two of Cuba's finest boxers in the weight division, securing a place in the national team for the 1970 Central American Championships. Defeat in the final after three victories was considered no shame, and Stevenson firmly established himself as Cuba's premier heavyweight. Back in the gym Chervonenko and leading Cuban boxing coach Alcides Sagarra worked on Stevenson's jab, which paid dividends when the Cuban easily defeated East Germany's Bernd Andern in front of a surprised Berlin crowd. The victory made the entire amateur boxing world take notice of Stevenson as a serious heavyweight contender.
Proceeding to the quarter finals, Stevenson met fancied American boxer Duane Bobick. Bobick, a gold medalist at the 1971 Pan American Games, had beaten Stevenson previously, and was considered favorite to continue the U.S. team's dominance of the weight division; previous American gold medalists included George Foreman (1968) and Joe Frazier (1964). After a close first round, Stevenson lost the second, but a ferocious display in the third round knocked Bobick to the canvas three times and the contest was stopped. The victory was viewed on television throughout Cuba, and is still considered Stevenson's most memorable performance.
Stevenson easily defeated German Peter Hussing in the semi final, and received his gold medal after Romanian Ion Alexe failed to appear in the final due to injury. The Cuban boxing team won three gold medals, their first in Olympic boxing history, as well as one silver and one bronze medal. The Munich games established Cuba's dominance over the amateur sport that was to last decades. It also established Stevenson as the world's premier amateur heavyweight boxer.
Stevenson might have won a fourth gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, but the Soviet Union boycotted the games in retaliation for the United States boycott of the 1980 Moscow competition. Cuba followed the Soviet's lead, and Stevenson was deprived of the chance to earn a fourth gold. For consolation, he beat the future Olympic champion Tyrell Biggs in February 1984. In 1986 at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in the USA he won the super heavyweight gold, defeating American Garcia. He retired from boxing shortly after the Olympics. During his career as a boxer, he won 302 fights and lost only 22.
Stevenson was named coach of Cuba's amateur boxing program, and Cuban President Fidel Castro presented him with a mansion in an exclusive residential area. When Stevenson refused to turn professional and fight Ali, the heavyweight scene was vibrant, with fighters of the calibre of Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Joe Frazier competing.
Never avenged his two defeats to Igor Vysotsky.