Clandestine Fight Clubs are Booming in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Two officers of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Cuba in a patrol car.

Juan Juan Almeida, 7 January 2016 — Tired of family conflicts, without a future, restless by today and without a better model for living, clandestine fights become a place where hundreds of Cuban adolescents believe they can fulfill the dream of becoming famous and earning “a lot” of money. It’s a shame that they receive little interest from the State and no sensitivity.

The phenomenon is already part of the underworld, a jungle that seems to combine sports, barbarity and human decadence; something that for the time being can’t be confronted, because it’s impossible to put the brakes on those who have nothing to lose.

A trainer and former member of the Cuban team that participated in the Sydney Olympics explained to me that “with only 5 CUCs (or its equivalent in national money) and the appropriate contacts, anyone can come to those closed and shady places to witness an interesting spectacle.

“The boxers are young people from the slums who dream of having the money and fame that a professional boxer gets. They’re bored with looking in the mirror of family frustration or of the retired glories of the amateur sport, the national flag having been raised for a gold medal at the Olympics. They don’t have enough money to consume anything, not even in the cheapest makeshift shop.”

“To attend these clandestine coliseums you only have to pay, put yourself on a list and wait; the response arrives by SMS message, which almost always originates from a cell phone with a blocked identity, where they tell you the day, the time, the place and the program.”

The rookies begin charging, depending on whether they win or lose, from 25 to 100 CUC for fights of 4, 6 or 8 rounds, performed in boxing rings built in such an artisanal way that, instead of a ring, they look like cages. And, as in the movies, before starting the fight, the employees register all the bets.

The fighters wear gloves, boxing shorts, mouthpieces and almost never a shirt; and, in spite of looking like outlaws, the support team consists of trainers, ex-martial arts sportsmen, chiropractors, nurses, doctors, sports and health professionals with connections in clinics and hospitals in case of emergency, for any injured boy who needs it.

The PNR (National Revolutionary Police) pursues them.

It’s known that these “illegal circuses,” almost all located in the Havana municipality of Cerro, take place in private gyms and with a business license as “instructor of sports practices,” which, by being designed for a Cuban clientele, would have had to close if they hadn’t struck this vein.

They’re easy to detect, and because of that, there are periods of frequent raids. Although many guess that the earnings from this type of business are impressive, those arrested can’t be indicted because — according to an expert in reliable gossip — it’s not an illegal game but a sports exercise with certain legal guarantees, and there doesn’t exist, as far as I know, a legal description in the penal code that conceptualizes the crime.

Surely the Cuban authorities, moralist and complicated, are thinking about legislation; but the solution is simple and can be found behind that door that still resists opening: authorizing and supporting professional boxing.

Translated by Regina Anavy