|Cuban boxer Erislandy Lara, left, and promoter Ahmet Öner|
It’s happened again. Another top Cuban amateur boxer has fled the island and landed in Germany. Former amateur world champion Erislandy Lara will fight professionally for promoter Ahmet Öner under the Arena Box banner.
According to a release, the welterweight left Cuba on a speedboat, arrived in Mexico and then flew to Hamburg on Thursday. He is scheduled to make his debut in Istanbul on July 4.
“It feels great to be in Germany”, said Lara in the news release. “I don’t want to talk about the details of my escape. I am just glad to be here and I am looking forward to turning professional and becoming champion of the world.”
This is the fourth Cuban boxer to defect and fight for Arena Box. In December of 2006, Olympic gold medalists Odlanier Solis, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yan Barthelemy left a training camp in Venezuela and signed with ARENA Box-Promotion. “Unfortunately the communist regime in Cuba still puts a lot of pressure to different people,” said Öner. “It’s about time that things change in Cuba and that they finally accept and respect Human rights… I am sure that Lara will be able to compete with the best in the world very soon. He’s an outstanding talent like Gamboa and Solis.”
Lara had attempted to defect last summer at the Pan Am Games in Brazil. He and two-time Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux left the team during competition. They were caught later at a seaside resort and were arrested by Brazilian police for overstaying their visa. While in custody, the Castro regime exerted tremendous political pressure to have the fighters returned to Cuba. The fighters feared that their remaining family members in Cuba would be mistreated and agreed to return home. At the time, in an attempt to diminish the consequences back in Cuba, both claimed that they did not intend to defect, but rather, were out partying and then became embarrassed because they missed curfew.
Lara and Rigondeaux – perhaps the two best active fighters on the island – were left off the 2008 Cuban Olympic boxing team. It has also been announced that Lara and Barthelemy will be co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. "It takes special talent to excel for so many years in the Cuban amateur system," De La Hoya, a U.S. gold medalist in 1992, said in a release. "I know that Yan and Erislandy will use that experience to soar through their professional careers."