The Culture of Boxing in the Caribbean

Frankie Melendrez

Introduction
Boxing has been around in the Caribbean since the early 1900s and things like language, religion and politics are normally things that people associate with cultural identity but boxing is just as important as any of those things in Puerto Rico and in Cuba. Boxing has transformed the culture of countries like Puerto Rico and Cuba. In the United Sates we think of boxing as just another sport like basketball or football. In Puerto Rico and Cuba it's not just a sport it's who they are as people. Boxing has represented everything that these countries have stood for and that's that they've always been in a fight. Even though these countries have their independence, they've always felt they've had to fight to keep their culture alive as well as there way of life. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United Sates and much of their culture is slowly being lost. Cuba is a communist country and has always felt persecuted and looked down upon because of their way of life. Boxing has done many great things for both of these countries and it best represents the culture and character of these two countries.

What is Boxing?
Boxing is a sport in which two competitors try to hit each other with their glove-encased fists while trying to avoid each others hits. The competition is divided into rounds, 3 minutes long, with 1-minute rest periods between rounds. Amateur fights consist of 3 rounds; professional fights from 4 to 15 rounds, the rules have been changed now fights only go up to 12 rounds. The recognized length of championship fights is 12 rounds. Around the world in most countries professional boxing is the most popular but in countries like Cuba they don't have professional boxing and only have amateur boxing in which they compete in the Olympics. In all boxing, however, winners are determined either by a decision of the judges (who keep points or round victors on a scorecard as the fight progresses), the referee, or both. The winner also may be decided by a knockout, in which one rival is sent to the floor by a punch and cannot get up within 10 seconds. A doctor or referee can declare the boxer injured or defenseless even if there is no knockdown. A tied or even match is ruled a draw. Gloves have been worn by boxers as a general practice since 1892.

History of Boxing
Boxing first appeared as a formal Olympic event in the 23rd Olympiad (688 BC), but fist-fighting contests must certainly have had their origin in mankind’s prehistory. The earliest visual evidence for boxing appears in Sumerian relief carvings from the 3rd millennium BC. The earliest evidence of rules for the sport comes from ancient Greece.These ancient contests had no rounds; they continued until one man either acknowledged defeat by holding up a finger or was unable to continue. Over time boxing had spread throughout Eu
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Bare Knuckle boxing before we had our modern day rules
rope but was the most popular in Great Britain, the first recorded bout took place in 1681 and by 1698 regular bouts were taking place in the Royal theater in London. When boxing first started out it was fought with bare fists and there was hardly any rules but in 1867 a new set of rules called the Queensberry rules were invented which are what our current rules in amateur and professional boxing are based on (these rules are explained in the opening paragraph "What is Boxing" above). British sailors are generally credited with having introduced boxing to Latin America when their ships visited ports in Argentina en route to the Straits of Magellan. The first recorded bout on the mainland occurred in 1903 between combatants identified as Paddy McCarthy and Abelardo Robassio. Thereafter British seamen organized local tournaments, and the first official boxing federation was founded in Chile in 1912. Boxing spread from here into Central America and the Caribbean. The countries that mainly participate in boxing from these regions are Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. There are other fighters from other countries in Central America and the Caribbean but these are the countries that have the most fighters and where the sport has become almost a national sport.



Puerto Rico
Boxing is a very popular sport in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are drawn to the sport for a number of reasons starting with they don't have a military so boxing is one of their ways as being warriors for their country and it's one of the best ways they feel like representatives of their country. Puerto Ricans have received international acclaim for their boxers and boxing is one of the many ways they feel they can bring nationalistic pride to their country. When Puerto Rico competes against countries like Mexico, Russia, Cuba, United States and they win, gives them the sense that they can compete on the world stage. There is so much pressure on Puerto Rican boxers to be successful because there is only 4 million people in the entire country. When Puerto Rican boxers win, they see it not only as a win for them but a win for Puerto Rico. Sports like basketball and baseball are also very popular all over the Caribbean, but they've had the most success in boxing with multiple championships in professional boxing and many medals in the Olympics. Puerto Rico has won more medals in boxing in the Oly
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The Puerto Rican Boxing Club is one of the main gyms where future Olympic fighters can train.
mpics than any other sport they've competed in. Boxing has been able to show the world that with their success they are a strong country and that they never give up. Boxing has become so important to the Puerto Ricans that they actually passed legislation in 1996 that helps boxers who have retired from the sport and provides them with a $600 a month pension, as well as access to a social service program.This program is similar to what we have for our veterans in the U.S. when they come home from war. This program has helped champion boxers like Wilfred Benitez, who has chronic traumatic encephalopathy and is facing financial troubles. "It was the least we could do," said commonwealth senator Ramon Luis Rivera Jr., chairman of the committee that drafted the bill. " "He put Puerto Rico on the map. Now he is sick and needs our help," said Rivera Jr. This bill shows how much Puerto Ricans appreciate the sport of boxing and are grateful for all it's Puerto Rican boxers. Sports Sovereignty is a term that's used a lot in Puerto Rico and defines how important boxing is to this country.Sports Sovereignty is a non-politically sovereign nation's right to participate as if it were in international competition. Historically, their participation in international sporting events coincides with several political movements, almost as if their athletes were seen as political diplomats. Sports Sovereignty goes a lot further than just international competition because it represents the individuality of Puerto Rico a country that has been under the control of the U.S. for most of it's history. Even though it's been under U.S. control, Puerto Rico clearly has a cultural identity of it's own and a big reason they've been able to establish that is because of their boxers. Many boxers like Miguel Cotto, the recently passed away Hector "Macho" Camacho, and Felix Trinidad are some of the best fighters from Puerto Rico and have really pushed Puerto Rico to the forefront of boxing.

Cuba
Since Cuba is a communist state, they have a very strong sense of the team aspect and feel that the state is always more important than the individual. Baseball is considered the national sport of Cuba but boxing is what has put Cuba on the map as a superpower in the sports world. Professional boxing in Cuba was a huge sport all the way up until Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959 passing a law that prohibited professional sports because he felt it went against communist ideals. Before 1959 Cuban professional boxer Kid Chocolate was the first Cuban boxer to hold a world major title which he held from 1931 to 1933. When the law was passed by Fidel Castro, many professional athletes left the country. After this, amateur boxing became very popular due to the fact Cuba felt it more represented their communist ideals in competition because of the bigger focus on being a team. Boxing has been a huge part of Cuban culture and this has been shown throughout Olympic competition by Cuba winning the last 7 of 9 heavyweight gold medals. As once said by legendary Cuban boxing coach Alcides Sagarra, "Boxing is well suited to the Cuban character, we are brave, resolute and selfless. We have strong convictions and clear definition. We are pugnacious and we like to fight." It is obvious that boxing is very important to this country and feels that boxing embodies what Cubans stand for and how boxing is apart of their cultural identity. Boxers in Cuba are considered heroes of modern society and they start training boys as young as 8 years old by putting them in boxing academies so they can one day represent Cuba in the Olympics. Cubans don't just see boxing as a sport but as a way to show how important their country is to them and to show the world that even though they are a small country they are the best, most fierce warriors in competition. The video below shows one of the boxing academies these kids are placed in (most important information in video is 0-2:00 and 3:00-6:30)




Boxing Today in the Caribbean
Boxing is still going strong in Puerto Rico and Cuba. Boxing has already made it's mark on these two countries culture and will continue to only get bigger. Boxing brings out the best of these two cultures and shows the rest of the world that they have a identity of their own. In the United States we see boxing as just another sport but in Cuba and Puerto Rico it's who they are.

Works Cited
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/76377/boxing/229619/Latin-America
http://www.umich.edu/~ac213/student_projects06/student_projects/spr/identity.html
Youtube.com- Cuban School Boxing [ENG SUB] - part 1/5
http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/havana/Boxing1.htm
http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/havana/Boxing2.htm
http://whitecollarboxing.com/boxinfo.htm