My journey from airport to hotel was courtesy of a taxi driver whose physical presence couldn’t be ignored. Barbaro’s great bulk took some squeezing behind the steering wheel, but as I chatted to him I spotted a clue to his size in a country where I wasn’t expecting to encounter obesity. Hanging from his rear view mirror were a miniature pair of boxing gloves and sure enough it transpired that he had once been a heavyweight fighter.
As the journey progressed he explained that the two national sports of Cuba were baseball and boxing, and whilst they may not compete with the best in the former, their record in Olympic boxing is undoubted.
The country has a number of sporting facilities, but like everything else they have not been well maintained. The impressively domed Sports City arena that my driver pointed out to me boasts to the number of sports it can cater for, yet I’ve read that many now take place outside as there is no money to heat it.
But back to boxing. Opposite Havana’s Capitol stands a large building with a sign under its central arch that proclaims “Kid Chocolate”. When I first saw it I wondered if this was the name of a show, but it turns out that this is the gymnasium of Cuba’s first world champion boxer; Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo. Born in 1910, he apparently taught himself to box by watching fight films, a process which proved so effective that he retired with a record of 136 wins from 152 fights.