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Cubans infiltrate Cambodia boxing


PhilBoxing.com


It’s not only a Cuban coach who’s made the five-man Cambodian boxing team a curious, if not dangerous, contender in the SEA Games but also a naturalized Cuban fighter out to derail the medal hopes of Fil-British lightheavyweight John Marvin in Kuala Lumpur tonight.

Cuban coach Rolando Castellano Rodriguez arrived in Phnom Penh from Havana to teach boxing in 2010. Boxing coaches are a rich source of foreign income for Cuba as they’re in demand as imports all over the world. It was once estimated that there are 19,000 boxers and 500 boxing coaches in Cuba. The Philippines has been the beneficiary of Cuban coaching in the past with Pedro Pacheco, Raul Liranza Fernandez, Juan Enrique Steyners Tissert, Dagoberto Rojas Scott and Honorato Espinosa.


When it was time for Rodriguez to return to Havana, he refused and sought political asylum. Rodriguez, considered a Cuban defector, now lives in Cambodia and aside from coaching the national boxing team, makes a living as a personal trainer for expats and wealthy locals. He started boxing at the age of eight but after 284 amateur fights, retired at 21 because of eye issues. Rodriguez then turned to coaching and wound up in Cambodia as an import.

Felix Merlin Martinez was born in Cuba and fought in the Cuban simon-pure circuit from 2009 to 2013. He made his way to Cambodia somehow, acquired Cambodian citizenship through naturalization and will now fight for his new country in the SEA Games. Tonight, Martinez takes on Marvin at the MATRADE Exhibition and Convention Center in Segambut, a constituency in K. L., to kick off their campaign.

Only six fighters are competing in the 81-kilogram division so that just one win will mean advancing to the semifinals for a sure bronze medal. Martinez looms as a major stumbling block for Marvin who has to overcome the Cuban to land a podium finish.

On paper, the Cambodian coach is Ven Sophal but it’s widely known that Rodriguez is calling the shots. The other Cambodian fighters in K. L. are lightflyweight Sann Tola, flyweight Hang Ramorn, bantamweight Nat Seik Nin and lightwelterweight Phal Sophon.

ABAP secretary-general Ed Picson said yesterday at least two countries are in K. L. with foreign boxing coaches, naming Cambodia and Laos. He reported that Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia came from training camps overseas so their boxers are well-prepared for action. Laos’ foreign coach is Russian Dmitry Morozov who took over the boxing program last June.

Picson said he likes Marvin’s chances despite the Cuban’s presence. “John is coachable, he does what he’s supposed to, he listens to the coaches,” said Picson. “He’s been with us since June. There are only six entries in the lightheavyweight division so the door is wide open for John to take home a medal.” Marvin, a lance corporal in the British Army, said he’s not on leave from the military because boxing is part of his line of work. He’s been with the British Army boxing team for five years. The 6-1 Marvin, 24, won a gold medal as a middleweight in the UK Armed Forces Championships last year and another gold medal as a cruiserweight in the same competition this year.

Boxing promoter Johnny Elorde, son of the late world junior lightweight champion Gabriel and a 1979 SEA Games gold medalist in boxing, said the other day he was contacted by Marvin on the possibility of fighting for the Philippines last February through a Facebook message. “We had several exchanges of messages and I told him I would recommend him to ABAP through Ed since I don’t handle amateur boxers,” said Elorde. “I called up Ed and gave John his e-mail address. That’s how it started. During the Elorde Awards Night last March, I saw (ABAP coach) Pat Gaspi and suggested to take this guy.”

The lightheavyweight division used to be a source of medals for Filipino boxers in the SEA Games. Raymundo Suizo won back-to-back gold medals at the 1989 and 1991 SEA Games. He settled for the bronze in the same division in 1993. Emmanuel Legaspi claimed a bronze as a lightheavyweight in 1995 and Ernesto Coronel bagged a pair of bronzes in 1997 and 1999. But since the turn of the century, the Philippines has been blanked in lightheavyweight boxing in the SEA Games. Marvin could be the man to end the drought in K. L.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.


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