Cork boxing manager Gary Hyde risked over 20 years in jail to smuggle amateur Olympic and world champion boxers out of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
The idea began with a conversation with Michael Flatley.
Hyde, who was looking into getting into boxing management, had been encouraged to seek potential stars in poor nations by Michael Flatley – the dancer known for his Riverdance and Lord of the Dance productions.
Hyde looked to Cuba. Fidel Castro had banned professional sports on the island two years after he took power in 1959. Since then, Cuban amateur boxers – regarded as the best fighters in the world – were more famous for the money they had turned down in contrast to what they could have earned. Teofilo Stevenson famously turned down five million dollars to fight Muhammad Ali.
Guillermo Rigondeaux was a national hero in Cuba, the biggest celebrity on the island, after he won gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. The super bantam weight was regarded as the best amateur fighter on the planet.
Mike Perez was a junior world champion and was seen as a rising prospect in Cuban boxing circles.
Travelling to the island under the pretence of writing a book about Cuban boxers, Gary Hyde courted the best fighters he could find including Rigondeux and Perez. Within moments of talking to Rigondeux, the boxer talked about his desire to go professional.
Hyde flew home with two professional contracts signed by Rigondeux and Perez, which he had to smuggle out of Cuba.
But the contracts were the easy part. Some Cuban boxers had defected at international competitions but none had ever been smuggled off the communist island.
At the time, 39-year-old Hyde was initially employed a Cork fisherman in his seventies, who sailed into Havana. But Rigondeux was unable to shake of a security detail. He would eventually identify a system for getting fighters of the island; a system that would involve speedboats, Mexican crime gangs, Fidel Castro and the Mexican navy. It’s a story that would be fought as much in the Florida court rooms as in the centre of the boxing ring.
Cuba claims a territorial sea of 12 miles and Cubans fleeing the communist regime need to cross this marker.
12 Miles tells the story of Guillermo Rigondeux and his Irish manager, Gary Hyde LISTEN HERE.