Hector Vinent: Reasons Unknown and Known

By Mutaurwa Mapondera on August 3, 2012
Hector Vinent: Reasons Unknown and Known
Professional boxing is a dirty business that treats fighters like gamecocks or fighting dogs.

I studied at the University of Havana in the spring of 2007, and I was lucky enough to train under Vinent at Havana’s famous Rafael Trejo Gym…

RingTV.com recently published an article on the 10 Top Olympic Fighters of all time. In the article, writer Lee Groves placed Cuba’s Hector Vinent as number five and his section on Vinent featured the following line:

“Vinent, who equaled Kulej’s feat of two consecutive golds at junior welterweight, certainly had the youth and talent to shoot for a third gold in Sydney—and maybe an unprecedented fourth in Athens—but for reasons unknown to this writer he didn’t.”

I studied at the University of Havana in the spring of 2007, and I was lucky enough to train under Vinent at Havana’s famous Rafael Trejo Gym. As a skinny 20-year-old who was a little naive about how deeply connected sports and politics are on the island, I was completely in awe of Hector: a six-time Cuban National Champion, two-time AIBA World Champion and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist who worked with local kids at the gym in his spare time with an endearing humility.

Vinent would tell stories about beating Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley in the amateurs with the same casual tone that he would invite me and my classmates to his son’s birthday party, and over time we developed a friendship that I wish I could say continued to this day. Hector is an extremely gregarious, well-read family man who loved having a good time outside the gym, but as Groves detailed in his piece, he was an extremely fierce fighter in his prime, and is still well respected by Cubans around the world for his Olympic feats. Five years later, I tell Cubans that I trained under him and they have the same impressed and reverent reaction to the sound of his name.

Cuba is an extremely beautiful and progressive place, but it is also filled with sad stories, and unfortunately, the story behind Hector’s inability to capture his third and maybe fourth medals is one of the more tragic ones I heard during my time there. In Cuba, there is a regional rivalry between the eastern and western tips of the island with Havana acting as the anchor of the West while Vinent’s hometown of Santiago is the symbol of the East. As one of the best young amateurs from the East, Vinent grew up competing against and traveling with other young fighters from the eastern provinces, including Guantanamo’s Joel Casamayor. Vinent and Casamayor became best friends as they ascended the ranks in the Cuban system, culminating in their gold medal performances at the 1992 Olympics. According to Vinent, during a training camp in Guadalajara a few weeks before the Atlanta games in 1996, Casamayor came to his room late one night and told Hector that he was going to make a break for the United States. Hector told me that he thought about going with his friend for a second, but declined because was afraid. He had a wife and young daughter at home in Cuba and a large extended family to provide for, and without any time to think about his decision, his gut told him not to leave with Casamayor. The two fighters said their goodbyes and Casamayor went on to gain success in the pro ranks while Hector would grab his second gold medal at junior welterweight in Atlanta a few weeks later.

When Hector returned to Cuba, gold medal in hand, he assumed that he was going to get back into the swing of training and competing but was instead summoned by some higher ups at the Cuban Boxing Federation who told him that he was effectively grounded from international competition. Due to his close relationship with Casamayor, he was now seen as a flight risk, and the Federation wasn’t willing to be embarrassed by another high-profile defection. According to Vinent, he was slowly phased out of the program, and eventually barred from training with the team altogether. Where most Cuban fighters retire to positions in the Federation, Hector was told that he wasn’t allowed to have any interaction with the national team whatsoever, and now the only contact he has with boxing is training teenagers at Rafael Trejo, where I met him.

Despite his jovial exterior, I knew that Hector was deeply hurt by the violent turn that his career had taken, and my heart still breaks for him when I think about how different his life would have been had he accepted Casamayor’s offer. Professional boxing is a dirty business that treats fighters like gamecocks or fighting dogs, and for every Joel Casamayor or Yuriorkis Gamboa, there are ten Ramon Garbeys, Cuban fighters who naively enter the pro ranks only to get eaten alive by vices, dishonest advisors and financial mismanagement, however I feel that even failure would be less tragic than the limbo of unfulfilled potential that Hector has been caught in since 1996.

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  1. Lee Groves 05:07pm, 08/07/2012

    Thank you for the clarity regarding Hector Vinent….it’s so sad that he was denied his opportunity to box further. He was a special talent who deserved much better.

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