'Boxing has always been my life': Joel Casamayor interview
Luke G. Williams
Photos (top to bottom): Jonathan Ferrey/ Getty Images; Al Bello / Getty Images; DAVE KAUP/AFP/Getty Images; Jonathan Ferrey/ Getty Images
This weekend Joel Casamayor will be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. Luke G. Williams spoke to the Cuban maestro about his memorable career...
Joel Casamayor just might be one of the most under-estimated and under-rated boxers of the past couple of decades. A slick southpaw who was also capable of going to war, the Guantanamo-born stylist won a gold medal for Cuba at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, defeating Wayne McCullough in the bantamweight final, and won world titles at super feather and lightweight.
In a 45-bout pro career, Casamayor beat foes of the quality of Diego Corrales (twice), Nate Campbell and Michael Katsidis. His reverses to Acelino Freitas in 2002, Jose Luis Castillo and the aforementioned Corrales in 2004 were highly debatable and his other defeats came against top quality opponents in the form of Juan Manuel Marquez, Robert Guerrero and Timothy Bradley.
Ahead of his induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame, the now 48-year-old Casamayor spoke to BM about why he left Cuba, winning Olympic gold, his rivalry with Diego Corrales and much more....
BM: How does it feel to be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame?
JC: First of all, I give thanks to God, of course, for giving me the talent to do what I was able to do in boxing. I thank all my fans and I'm very happy and proud to be in that Hall of Fame given that I was a high-level, high-calibre fighter. I'm very happy.
BM: Can you explain your entry into boxing in Cuba?
JC: In Cuba, even as a little child, I was boxing. Later I became disillusioned when, having won the gold medal in '92, all they gave me was a lousy bike. Crazy. So over here [in the USA] it's much easier, if that makes sense. That's what disappointed me the most.
BM: Do you hope to go back to Cuba one day?
JC: Look, I'll tell you the truth. I'm good here. It's a free country, you know what I mean? Cuba is my country. I'm not saying I won't go back but I'm good here with my family, so I'm happy here.
BM: Why has Cuba produced so many excellent boxers?
JC: Cuba was a boxing powerhouse. That comes from the old days, you understand? The first people who brought boxing to Cuba were the Russians, see? And then Cuba and Russia worked on it together there. From there it expanded. Castro would take young kids from the schools train them in boxing and sports medicine and send them to different countries, learn boxing there for two or three years then take it back to Cuba. That's why in Cuba we do very, very well in boxing.
BM: What are your memories of winning the gold medal in Barcelona and beating Wayne McCullough, who is also being inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame this week?
JC: Well, that was a very special day for me, you understand? Because I couldn't be touched, you understand? A very special day for me. When I won my first fight at the Olympics, I was surprised. I though, 'Woah, I won my first fight at the Olympics,' and I was 19 years old, and I said, 'Woah!' But, anyway, I made it to gold and I got the gold. My memories of Wayne are... That day was the day of the first finals of the Olympics, you understand? And, well, that it was a good fight, it was a very good fight, too. It opened up the doors for me becoming the successful fighter that I was.
BM: How hard was it for you to leave Cuba?
JC: The decision I made to leave Cuba was because of their nerve, watching, making sure you win gold medals and that you win and it was all the same, all the same and I said I don't want to be here. There's nothing doing here. There was no reward or anything for winning the gold medal. There was no life there for me. So I looked towards the US for the future of me and my family. I looked and I liked what boxing could be like here in America.
BM: What are your memories of winning your first world title, at super featherweight against South Korean Jong-Kwan Baek in 2000?
JC: [Laughs] At that weight, that fucker was strong, right? Yeah, a very strong fighter, a tough dude. A fighter that was hard for me to beat, you understand? He took me to my limits, but it was my moment.
BM: You faced Acelino Freitas in a super-feather unification fight in 2002 which brought together two unbeaten fighters. How frustrating was the outcome - a points decision to Freitas - given many people thought you should have been the winner?
JC: Well, that was a tough break. But it is what it is, you understand? These things happen in boxing. I lost to him but anyone who knows about boxing knows I didn't lose. They did me dirty in that fight there, understand? But champions get up and keep on going.
BM: You had a trilogy of memorable fights against Diego Corrales. Winning two (TKO 6 in 2003 and split decision points in 2006) and losing one (split decision points in 2004). What are your memories of those contests?
JC: For me, those three fights were classic. He thought he was going to win the first fight, that it would be easy for him, but he found out different and I won. But I have to say, from me, I had a lot of respect for him: he was a great champion - a great champion and a warrior. The second one was two years in the making and that was the worst I've been cheated. He beat me the second time because, supposedly, the decision went to him. But in real life I won the fight, you understand? It was 3-0 but, well, we lost one to him and then we went to the third bout. It's all good. Beating Corrales and being regarded as the best lightweight in the world was like being on top of the world, like winning the Olympics again.
BM: Diego died tragically in 2007. Your names are so linked in boxing history, that must have been a real shock.
JC: Yes, it was very shocking for me. Just a couple of days before I had seen him with his wife and his child and she was also pregnant again. It was very shocking and sad.
BM: You lost the lightweight title to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2008. What are your memories of that fight and how do you rate Marquez compared to your other great rivals?
JC: It was a great but a very controversial fight. I was winning the fight, you understand? I got up a little fast. I dropped my hands, I got a little tired, and he gave it to me. I made a mistake and paid the price for it. So I said, "Give me a rematch," and he said, "No." I rate him as one of the greatest rivals I ever had.
BM: What would you pick out as your favourite boxing memory?
JC: Winning my first world title. That's the memory I treasure the most.
BM: One fight that never happened was you against Floyd Mayweather. Did you want that fight?
JC: Yes but Floyd never gave me the opportunity. I think I could have beaten Floyd.
BM: Do you miss fighting?
JC: No, no. I feel fine because I always kept my body healthy. So I feel good and healthy. And, well, I'm thankful that I;m now available to help others [as a trainer].
BM: Do you still love boxing and can you summarise the effect the sport has had on your life?
JC: Boxing has always been my life, you understand? It has given me a lot. I've learned a lot from it. It's always going to be in my heart, my spirit and my blood.
With thanks to AJ Rodriguez for translation assistance.