For blood or for glory : a history of Cuban boxing, 1898-1962
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“For blood or for glory” examines boxing’s political, social, and cultural impacts in Cuba from the U.S. military intervention in 1898 to the Castro regime’s prohibition on professional sports in 1962. It argues that, although boxing’s early development was strongly influenced by the U.S. presence on the island, over time the sport became “Cubanized” in distinct ways. The establishment of a national commission, the practice of interracial bouts, and the creation of a national academy served to develop Cuban talent. Yet in contrast to baseball, boxing was incompletely integrated into the nationalist project; by midcentury, it was valued more was as a source of state revenue than national pride. The lack of opportunities for Cuban fighters at home led to their exodus abroad, as they formed a transnational citizenry ranging from world champions and contenders to lowly journeymen. After the onset of the Cuban Revolution, the state sought to sustain prizefighting and other professional sports, but ultimately opted to ban them as Cuba’s tourist industry fell apart. Chapter 1 addresses different facets of early pugilism, including the rise of a boxing subculture in late colonial and early republic Cuba, the Havana YMCA’s efforts to encourage amateur boxing among middle-class Cubans and U.S. expatriates, and the construction of new infrastructure for public spectacles. Jack Johnson’s heavyweight title fight with Jess Willard in Havana in April 1915, and Cuban receptions to it, forms the subject of Chapter 2. Chapter 3 details the processes by which boxing spectacles were legalized and regulated and describes the rise of Cuba’s first world champion, Kid Chocolate. Chapter 4 considers the conflicting role of the state in both spurring and limiting boxing’s growth throughout the country during the 1930s and 1940s. Chapter 5 tackles the 1950s, including the impact of television on boxing in the U.S. and Cuba and the career of Kid Gavilán. Chapter 6 explores the decline of prizefighting in revolutionary Cuba and the concurrent establishment of an exiled community of prizefighters in the U.S. The Conclusion analyzes developments in post-1962 amateur boxing in Cuba and speculates as to the sport’s future on the island.