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HAVANA: Cuban boxing legend Teofilo Stevenson was buried Tuesday at Havana's Christopher Columbus Cemetery after the three-time Olympic and world amateur boxing champion died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Monday.
State-run media devoted much of its coverage Monday and Tuesday to remembering Stevenson's two-decade career in the ring as one of only three boxers ever to win three Olympic gold medals. He shared the rare achievement with fellow Cuban Felix Savon and Hungarian Laszlo Papp.
Stevenson, 60, was famous and loved not just for his boxing abilities but also for his loyalty to the sport and his country, repeatedly rejecting offers of big money in exchange for leaving Cuba and turning pro in the United States.
Fans, family and friends gathered at the cemetery Tuesday to pay tribute to the heavyweight considered to be the best amateur boxer in history. Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother and current head of government Raul Castro sent wreaths and instructed the coffin be covered with a Cuban flag.
Stevenson was born on March 29, 1952 in the town of Puerto Padre in the eastern province of Las Tunas. He went on to win 301 of his 321 fights and was known around the world for his devastating right punch, technique and speed.
He dominated the heavyweight division, collecting all the titles given by the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) , including the top Olympic titles in Munich 1972, Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980, and the top world titles in Havana 1974, Belgrade 1978 and Reno 1986.
Stevenson achieved spectacular knockout victories against such high-caliber rivals as the U.S.'s Duane Bobick and Marvin Stinson, Poland's Ludwik Denderys, Romania's Ion Alexe and Peter Sommer from the former Czechoslovakia.
In Munich, Stevenson went up against Bobick, who was coming from a streak of 62 consecutive victories. Bobick was being hyped by the U.S. media as the new "white hope" and was just waiting to garner the Olympic gold medal before turning pro and signing a multimillion-dollar contract.
The fight was held on Sept. 5 and broadcasted live on Cuban television. The first round was a draw, and Bobick won the second round, but in the third round Stevenson floored the U.S. fighter three times.
After that win, still considered his most memorable, Stevenson was beset by talent scouts and fight promoters offering him millions to leave Cuba and fight professionally in the U.S.
Stevenson said the love and admiration of eight million Cubans was worth more than any amount of money.
"I would not trade any little piece of Cuba for all the money you could offer," he once said.
His toughest opponent was the Soviet Igor Vysotskiy, who defeated him twice without ever having given him the chance for payback.
Though there was talk of a match between Stevenson and Muhammad Ali, unofficially dubbed as the "Fight of the Century," the fight never took place because, among other things, Cuban sports authorities demanded the match be guided by amateur boxing rules.
"Ali has said several times that the fight would have been a draw and I think so too," said Stevenson.
Emmanuel Steward, a veteran trainer of numerous professional boxing champions, said Stevenson "is the most perfectly balanced fighter I have ever seen."
He received several national and international awards and recognitions, including being named one of the top 10 athletes of the 20th century by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In addition to his killer punch and grace, despite being a heavyweight, Stevenson was known for his sportsmanship, which won him the Fair Play Trophy of the AIBA.
Stevenson was "a living example in boxing," said Savon, also three-time champion at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
Alcides Sagarra, the coach who helped Stevenson garner the World gold medal, said Monday "the world has lost one of the most famous boxers in history, not only for his qualities in the ring, but for his humanity."
Stevenson retired from the ring in 1988, but continued to serve the boxing world. At the time of his death, he was Vice President of the Cuban Boxing Federation (FCB). -- BERNAMA-NNN-XINHUA