The Cuban Master of Amateur Boxing

by Fran on June 20, 2012

Amateur Boxing Brilliance the Cuban Way

I got to thinking about what separates the very best from the rest in the world of amateur boxing.  Rather than try to answer such a wide-ranging question in a contrived list, I thought that I would take a much more enjoyable and ultimately more educational route.  It was certainly both of those things to me anyway and I hope it is to you.

If you have spent any time going through the other posts on this site, you’ll know that wherever possible I make use of video.  We’re going to jump back a few years to the 2004 Olympics in Greece.  It’s the lightweight final between Mario Kindelan and Amir Khan.

Mario Cesar Kindelan was, quite simply, one of the most complete amateur boxers to ever have stepped in the ring.  He was Cuban (no surprise there) and was Olympic Champion twice and World Champion three times.  He was a supremely talented southpaw and retired from amateur boxing at the age of 34.

To get an idea of the boxing background from which Mario Kindelan emerged, and indeed which has underpinned the Cuban dominance of amateur boxing for the best part of 40 years, check out the recent post on Boxing Drills Cuban Style.

Amir Khan was a precocious 19-year old who had shone en route to the Olympic final.  He was a very talented amateur and that talent has helped be very successful in the professional ranks.  If you want to get a little more technical analysis of Khan, why not check out the post Amir Khan – The Road to Roach.

For this post it’s the Cuban maestro on whom I want to focus.  The video below contains the first 2 rounds of the Kindelan/Khan meeting in Athens.  Watch the video then afterwards I have made a few observations on what aspects of the Cuban’s style and approach I believe were vital to his success.

The fighting starts at 2:00.


Nail the Basics

From the start of the fight, just check out the style characteristics of Kindelan.  He has a nice wide stance without over-stretching, and his lead shoulder remains pointing toward the threat, never going ‘square on’.  He uses short forward movements with his feet to remain on the edge of range, teasing Khan to lead off.

Look at the width of the stance from 3:40 to 3:48.  Rather than being a fixed and set distance, Kindelan often widens his stance.  This drops his height and acts as a lure to bring the opponent forward.  But as he has his widened stance he is actually at his most responsive and dangerous.  Simple principles in play that bring the opponent towards the Cuban, very important when you want to increase your punching power.

Fight to Your Strengths

Kindelan is a southpaw.  Not only is he a southpaw, he is very good at being a southpaw.  The simplest demonstration of this is at 2:11.  Kindelan uses the lead hand parry followed up with a simple jab.  The parry deflects the incoming jab and gives the southpaw a perfect line of attack straight to the target.  This move says to the opponent “Look what I can do, and there’s a lot more to come.”  It’s about the psychological impact rather than the physical impact.

Following on from the southpaw aspect, Kindelan loves to move aggressively into the ‘safe zone’ of Khan; that is the area to Khan’s left where he cannot land his right cross.  Go to 5:34 and check out the wonderful double lead hand hook to the head, combined with a pivot and followed with a thumping one-two.  The pivot takes Mario out to the ‘safe zone’ whilst scoring 2 points.  Brilliance personified.

Mix it up a Little

Whilst Kindelan uses his southpaw skills superbly, he also has a really neat trick that he uses throughout the contest.  He uses lots of passive movement.  He knows that Amir Khan is young and eager, and the Cuban wants to use that to his favour.

He spends time backing away, hands down, feet loose; the typical Young Ali approach and allows Khan to advance unchallenged.  At the right time he defends the incoming shot (usually by allowing it to fall short using the push away or the lay back), hits his stance and fires thunderous counter punches.  Look for the example at 5:20.  Being able to fight in such a way is a real talent as you are allowing the opponent to dictate the pace of the fight.  A true master class in ‘passive-aggressive’ boxing!

Exploit the Openings

Throughout the fight, Kindelan is always looking to exploit any opening that he creates.  It is not often that Kindelan does not fire off punches following the execution of a defensive skill.  Watch the brilliant lateral movement at 3:03 where Kindelan drifts left, feints to go right, then left again then a sharp 3-punch combination.  Doesn’t score a point though, but that’s the oddities of computer scoring for you.

There’s a superb lead hand hook at 5:18, the push away creating the platform and the fact that he is ‘on the edge of range’ allows him to land those counters.  A similar event takes place at 6:01, with the lead hand hook being followed up with a straight back hand and a lay back.  This is really classy work from the Great Cuban, finding the zone and making the most of every opening.

This was by no means a vintage performance by Kindelan’s standards, but if you can win the Olympic gold medal with a sub-par performance, then it says something about your quality.  Mario Cesar Kindelan, an all time amateur boxing great.

By the way, I love the overhead view at the start of the 2nd (5:00).  It shows the two boxers’ stances perfectly.

As always, any comments are gratefully received.

Cheers

Fran

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Poster December 11, 2012 at 5:26 am

Hi Fran,

I haven’t notice this article before but I have always admired Cuban boxing and your article was great ! Kindelan was one of the best.

Chris,
Ariel Hernandez was twice olympic champion and twice world champion in the 90’s. He had to stop his boxing career due the eye injury but is still involved in boxing as a trainer. In the late of his career he fought for the memeory of his past friend, Roberto Balado, who was also a Cuban boxing great.

Hernandez got a great punching power and was able to use it. For example in the Pan American Games in 1995 he knocked out all of his opponents during the first round excluding the final adversary. The final bout lasted all four rounds and Hernandez won it 13-0.

There are some well known boxers who stepped in the ring against Hernandez and was clearly defeated; Sven Ottke ( lost twice ), Chris Byrd, Rhoshii Wells and Alexander Lebziak for example.

It seemed like Hernandez was able to do whatever he wanted in the ring. He was so damn good. Unfortunately most of the videomaterial of this great boxer is located in Cuba and not in the internet. We can just hope that maybe someday …

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Fran December 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Thank you, especially for the mini biopic of Hernandez. Time to search endlessly for footage of the Force of Nature!

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Jackson September 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Brilliant article mate. Do you think its possible for a Southpaw to use the Shoulder Roll defense in boxing? I’m southpaw like Kindelan but I’d like to use the shoulder roll for quick counters

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Fran September 7, 2012 at 8:03 pm

If you get away with it Jackson give it a go. I tend not to coach the shoulder roll because in the amateurs it’s easy for the shot to glance off the shoulder and make contact with the head. That means a point lost!

In the pros it’s a bit different, it’s used much more there.

Let us know how it goes if you decide to try it Jackson.

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dan August 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

When you start talking about Cuban boxers, the first name that springs into my mind is Teofilo Stevenson. It hurts so bad that he and Ali never fought. I remember all of us “back in the day” wanting to see that fight materialize, the two greatest technical boxer heavyweights of all time (imo, of course).

Thanks for this vid and your excellent analysis. Kindelan seems to employ a strategy similar to that of Mayweather , staying outside a lot, then getting a bit closer to lure some shots and counterstrike. Of course, both fighters rely on cat-like reflexes to avoid getting decked, but this style is almost impossible to beat if they can pull it off. Do you have any suggestions as to how to stalk and cut off the ring to opponents who use this style? They just seem too slippery to me.

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Fran August 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Hi Dan.

Thanks for the question and I agree, Teofilo was the ultimate. There is an analysis on the ‘To Do’ list, he’s was absolutely top class. Watching him box Ali would have been good, but the fight I would love to have seen was Stevenson versus George Foreman as amateurs. Talk about Clash of the Titans, that would have been a real smash up.

In terms of nailing the Kindelans and Mayweathers of this world, well, there’s a question. I guess it would be a mix of lots of feinting and lots of intense closing down with a high guard. Ultimately try to draw them into a close range fight from the outset. Easier said than done.

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Chris July 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Fran,

I recently got Olympic tickets for myself and my son. I’m not an expert on amateur boxers by any means but spurred on by some of the comments on the website re the Cuban’s I did a bit of research. An American writer (lost the note I kept of his name) did an article on what would have happened if the Cubans had been able to turn pro, he came up with three Cuban fighters who he believed would have been some of the best ever, the names were; Tefilo Stevenson ( I remember him well) you’re friend Kindelanand one I’d never heard of – a guy called Ariel Hernandez, who he thought was the best of them all. So I set about finding Hernandez on YouTube and I could only find one video but I was literally shocked at this guys punching power, it was awesome and his opponent looked genuinely frightened to be in the same ring (and I can’t say I blame him). I know you know the Cubans, do you any info on Hernandez or any idea if theres more video out there of him. Also how on earth does be generate that punching power?

Chris

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Fran July 1, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I love the way people get involved with the site in this way. I’ll not answer now Chris, I will over the next fortnight do a single fight analysis on both Teofilo and Ariel. Great suggestions, looking forward to the job already. 🙂

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Matt June 30, 2012 at 9:42 am

Thanks for your reply Fran, insightful as always.

I know this isn’t an amateur bout, but every time I watch this fella: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3lWusLDA6o&list=FL_fT22693kz2wrJbPQ2pOdA&index=31&feature=plpp_video
I’m just amazed by his ring generalship. Any idea what the secrets of his success are?

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Paul Smith June 27, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Fran,
I greatly enjoy this feature of My Boxing Coach.com. Please continue with these type of exemplary lessons. They may be short, but they are certainly educational and insightful. It’s wonderful to be able to learn so much just by watching a 5 minute video, combined with the added benefit of your and other member observations.
Thanks.

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Matt June 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm

This is a great post mate. Your attention to detail in terms of the minute aspects of technique is unparalleled, and rare to find in my opinion. I can see all of your points clearly and there is no question of the Cuban’s skill. I find this post particularly useful to me as I am a southpaw, thank you for thinking of us lefties!! I wondered what you think about the fact that the Cuban holds his lead low, at around 2:36 and 3:44, and uses the half-guard or shoulder roll at 3:12 to parry a one-two from Khan. Is this not too risky at amateur level?

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Fran June 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Thanks Matt.

They are very kind words, I appreciate them.

In terms of his lead hand position. Kindelan was such an experienced, intuitive and talented fighter that his lead hand position is based upon the opponent’s position relative to him. That is, he knows exactly where he is to the millimeter and can judge the likelihood of a shot landing on him. Note his lead hand position at the start of each round, high and in the path of the orthodox jab coming his way. So, a lot of the time when his hand is lowered he knows he is out of range even if no-one else does.

Is that a shoulder roll at 3:44? Maybe so, but there’s a couple of things. I would define that as a cross between a lay back and a push away. He was caught on the hop a little because he didn’t fire a counter punch. Kindelan counters a lot. But, this is the only time he does this during the match, certainly that I can find anyway. It’s a passive type defense which is not something that a fighter can do to often.

The way someone like Mayweather for instance uses that shoulder roll, he will allow multiple punches to come his way. If the occasional shot lands that no big deal in the pro ring, but in the amateurs a single shot landing is a big deal. That’s why most amateurs now tend to use defences like the double arm block, so that doubt is introduced into the judge’s mind as to whether a punch landed.

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Ivan June 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm

This time you’ve put the spotlight on someone who really deserves it, Kindelan is one of a kind. He is unorthodox even for a southpaw, he doesn’t move or act the way a reasonable solid southpaw would and that’s one of his strengths.
It took him seconds to realize Khan is eagerly going for it head on, so instead of tightening his guard and circling counter-clockwise waiting for openings, Kindelan dropped his hands, slowed down just a fraction and started moving towards Khan’s right hand. What looked like disrespect was in fact the proverbial ambush, and Khan fell into it instantly. The Cuban took advantage of the young eager-beaver big time.
Kindelan likes to go in and out playing and testing the opponent’s range, but he is actually a long range boxer, his stance, footwork and body position are mid and long range oriented . His range is the edge of the other guy’s range. What is curious and unique for an amateur is that Kindelan uses straight shots very rarely, most if not all of his scoring shots are long-range hooks. His sidestep – lead hook counter, pivot- lead hook combo at 5.33 is textbook material.

I’d like to mention Teofilo Stevenson and wish him well on his last journey. He was one of the greatest and an ambassador of the sport. George Foreman recently credited Stevenson for being a better boxer than him and Ali, better than everyone in his time.

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Fran June 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Thanks Ivan.

Kindelan was indeed very special. Thanks for your additional observations, always interesting.

I second you’re little tribute to the super-human Teofilo. 3 Olympic Golds and it could have been 2 more. A true Great in every sense, in all likelihood that best we’ll ever see.

Cheers Ivan

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Mo June 21, 2012 at 10:22 am

Good post Fran, very good match!

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Fran June 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Cheers Mo. It was a top performance by Mario, plenty to learn.

Thanks

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Adrián June 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

Great, great analysis, Fran! I love reading these articles.

I also wanted to ask you; please, could you make an analysis of Chris Byrd´s style someday? I would love to see that, as I see his style of fighting very interesting and nobody would make a better work on it than you.

Thanks

Adrián

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Fran June 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Thank you Adrián

I take a look at Byrd and see what we can do.

Thanks for the comment, it’s appreciated.

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Marek June 21, 2012 at 4:31 am

Excellent analysis, thanks so much for your work for boxing sport.
All your advice we use during trainings sessions of our young talented fighters. The results are truly visible.
Thanks again

Marek
VIPER CLUB
Czech Republic

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Fran June 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Hey Marek

You’re very welcome. The fact that you are putting the site to use directly with young boxers is really pleasing. Fantastic.

Thank you very much for the comment

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manuel June 21, 2012 at 2:35 am

thank you very mucho Frank for your lot of post about boxing being a cuban myself means that I’m a fan of boxing of course I practice a long time ago and now that I’m living in canada I don’t have much time spare to throw many punches because I work very hard but sometimes I got home and I really enjoy see your posts and practise a little specially in the proper technics that combine with the gym tree times to do some weights I’m 40 and for this time on I need it more even. well I know kindelan of course even in person,I remember many of his fights he really got the top of his from at his late twenties he was brilliant a very skilled man and a very modest person one of the greatest of amateur boxing thank you frank for posted it here I really love all your posts specially your observations and explanations about the technics.

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Fran June 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Hey Manuel. You’re welcome, it’s always a pleasure producing these analysis videos, especially on a subject like the wondrous Kindelan.

Thanks for the personal insight on your countryman. And it’s good to know that you are still checking out the site, I recalled that you’d commented some months ago. Keep working hard mate, I’m 40 in September and guys like us need to keep in shape!

Thanks Manuel

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