amateur boxing in cuba

Amateur Boxing in Cuba – An Experience

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MBA student Eric Muhlberger describes fulfilling one of his life dreams of boxing in Cuba

Ever since I started boxing in 2012, I had known that Cuba has a rich and proud history of boxing prowess. Over the past winter, I traveled to Cuba with a handful of classmates from the Kellogg School of Management and visiting a boxing gym was #1 on my “must do” list. Before leaving the US, I researched on blogs and websites, coming up with a gym named Rafael Trejo as the best place to seek out. 

Remember that name – we’ll come back to it. Being my typical self, I didn’t write it down and I found myself in Cuba without the gym name, internet, or a post-5th grade level of education in Spanish. One day as we explored Old Havana, we spotted a man with boxing gloves, dressed as though he’d just left a gym. We approached him and he said that he trained at a gym called Kid Chocolate. When we arrived, we were met with a locked gate and a wave of disappointment.  

training in Havana

Warming up for sparring

On our last day in Havana, we returned to the gym to attempt to gain access once again. Once again, the main door was locked. We navigated our way around the block and finally found a security guard who let us in but said there was nothing going on. Just as she said, the sprawling gym was completely empty. We asked her in desperation if there were any other boxing gyms in the city. Shrugging, she mentioned Rafael Trejo. Bingo!

We set out immediately to find the gym. Now in the middle of the afternoon, we arrived and were greeted by a blind man sitting on a stool who told us that the gym had closed for the day. We went ahead and knocked anyways, to no avail. At that moment two men approached us and reiterated that it had just closed and people were done working out. Dejected, we asked if they usually trained there and they said that they had just finished. Confused as to why we cared so much, one of the pair asked what we were doing there. Through a fluent in Spanish friend, I told him that I had been boxing for years and wanted to visit a gym while in the country. The unnamed boxer said that he usually trained groups in a town square nearby. Asking if he’d be willing to train me by myself, we quickly agreed on a price and set off for the square. As his friend, who we found out to be a national title holder fighting as a heavyweight, peeled off, we set up shop near the harbour under a tree, cobblestones under foot.

I had half packed for a training session, bringing the essentials of headwraps and a training top. With nowhere to change into my shorts, I decided to spare his time and train in my jeans. Over the next 45 minutes we worked through a typical boxing workout: light cardio, stretching, shadow boxing, 25 minutes over 1 continuous round on focus mitts, and ending in jumping rope.

“It was an incredible opportunity. I ended the session grateful, sweaty, and having earned the distinction of being “much better than the other tourists that try to box”.

Cuban Boxers

The post fight pose

My new friend was a well-trained boxing instructor and put me through my paces. As we worked through the session, tourists passed by to take pictures of the happenings. It was an incredible opportunity. I ended the session grateful, sweaty, and having earned the distinction of being “much better than the other tourists that try to box”. While sad I couldn’t be a fly on the wall inside the gym, I loved every second of being able to work with a veteran in one of the meccas of boxing.

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