|** FELIX SAVON Interview ** by cc|
I had a chance to speak with boxing legend Felix Savon when he came to my crib in Havana. Also had the opportunity to visit his, where he showed me all his boxing bling.
CC: Where were you born?
FS: Guantanamo [province].
CC: How old were you, and how did you first get involved in boxing?
FS: I'm from the country. I grew up fighting - it's something we just did. People used to put a bottle cap on each of your shoulders "this is your father, this is your mother" and knock them off. And so we fought.
[this is analogous to the american practice of having a chip on your shoulder... for those of you not familiar with this: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/92100.html ]
I started boxing when I was 13. Within 6 months, they took me to the ESPA [provincial junior school, first rung up from the local gyms on the ladder to the national team]. After 7 fights, they took me to the junior national team, at age 16. Nobody wanted to fight me.
CC: Were you scared in your first fight?
FS: No, I never was. I was raised in the country, where we fought for fun. Initially, I was timid in hitting people - my sisters used to defend me, even at the fight against Solis, they were hitting him LOL. [Solis beat Savon at the cuban nationals, and after Savon retired, was allowed to fight for the gold medal (successfully) in 2004]
CC: (looking upward): How tall are you, and what weight did you fight at?
FS: 194cm [almost 6"5], and I fought at the 91+kg [200+lb] division.
CC: What's your record, and what were your accomplishments in boxing competition?
FS: 432 fights, with 17 losses [415-17]. I won 6 world championships, and 3 olympic gold medals.
[World Amateur Championships winner in 1986, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997; also PanAm games champion in 1987, 1991, 1995; olympics gold in 1992 (Barcelona), 1996 (Atlanta), 2000 (Sydney)] [see also http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/.../savon_bio/ ]
CC: That's a pretty sick record. What were your hardest fights?
FS: Chagaev, Vanderlijde. At the [cuban] nationals - Solis, Causse.They were all hard. Fights are won in the gym as well as the ring.
[see http://www.geocities.com/pedrinet/savon.html ]
CC: What kind of training routine did you have before?
FS: We trained 11 times a week. Twice a day, 6 days a week, except on Thursdays, when we only had one session. And Sundays off. The training consisted of getting up at 5 am to run 6-8km, depending on where you were in the training cycle, then doing shadow boxing, skipping, hitting the bag, and doing some exercises like sit-ups, stretching, and weights. In the afternoon there would be a 3-hour session of technical work and sparring.
CC: In your opinion, are champs born or made?
FS: Some people are born at an advanced level, but everyone has the same capacity, so you can reach the same level.
CC: You've had a lot of great moments as a champ. What was your best memory?
FS: The first time that Fidel Castro gave me the Cuban flag to carry, to represent the people in 1986. He made a speech, comparing me to Teofilo Stevenson. I was so emotional that I lost my sight and my speech.
CC: So you got KO'd by Fidel?
FS: Yeah LOL.
CC: Now that you're retired, what do you do these days?
FS: I work at the cuban boxing federation. They had me answering the phones all day, but I felt useless. Now I have a project with Stevenson, I go around the country, scouting and training heavyweights.
CC: How many do you have, and what do you do with them?
FS: About 70. You know, technical training, and giving them advice.
CC: Are you going to be at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?
FS: We'll see. [in Cuba, boxers, like the rest of the population, can only travel abroad with the permission of the government]
CC: So what advice do you have for up and coming boxers?
FS: Have faith in your elders. If you want to have good results, you need to have punctuality, discipline, and responsibility. In a fight, don't think about the opponent as if you're having a fight, but as if you are playing a game.
CC: What do you think of the boxing game these days?
FS: It's been stable, but maybe not as good as before.
CC: Why not?
FS: Kids these days have lost their patriotism, against the U.S. I want the whole world to recognize Cuba. Me, I'm a symbol of Cuba like Marti [also names other figures of Cuban nationalist history]. I'll be remembered forever when I die.
CC: I read that an English promoter wanted you to fight Tyson.
FS: No, that's lies. It was the Americans - in Mexico, they were trying to get Don King on the phone with me, and get me a helicopter [to defect]. But I said "No!" to Imperialism!
CC: Have you followed Tyson's career?
FS: I couldn't - we don't get the fights here. I remember him biting a guy's ear off though.
CC: Do you know Lennox Lewis? [I tell him about the fight with Tyson, and that Lewis retired recently] If so, what was your impression of him.
FS: Yeah - I remember him from around 1986-1987. We didn't have partners to spar with, so we were together. He asked me to take it easy. I showed him some boxing; he showed me some dance moves [gyrates, reggae-style]. Nice guy, humble.
CC: So you don't get to watch pro boxing?
FS: No, I don't even have a computer. Besides, I like to participate more, and to train people.
CC: What do you think of pro boxing in general?
FS: It exploits the fighters. [Although this is a common question to Cubans, he doesn't elaborate. The Cuban government is against pro boxing.]
CC: How do you feel about the recent defection of some members of the national team, including Solis? I hear they're in Miami already.
FS: I feel sad. I feel as if I'm responsible. There were some ideological problems.
CC: Maybe some financial ones too.
CC: Besides Cuba, what countries do you think are strong in boxing now?
FS: Russia - well it's been split into many countries now.
CC: When was the last time you had a chance to travel?
FS: November 22, 2006, to Kazakhstan. They put me to spar with one of their fighters, a 19 year old kid; he was strong. His trainer told him in the corner to go hard and open up on me.
CC: Yeah, I imagine that would be a nice notch on his belt, having rocked Felix Savon.
FS: I wanted to show him my experience, so I used movement [footwork] to diffuse his attacks. He wouldn't gain anything by me just knocking him out.
CC: Any opinion on women boxing?
FS: Men and women are equal, but women are naturally more limited. Besides menstruation and pregnancy, a woman's body and face are valuable. For men, it's ok to have a beaten face; women will still want them. I don't think it's ethical or healthy - boxing is a traumatic sport, and the effect is not the same on women. They are more fierce and throw more punches. Women will not be trained in Cuba - we are against it.
CC: Besides boxing, do you have some hobbies?
FS: I paint, and I love basketball and volleyball. I'm also planning on getting my PhD in physical education.