Cuban Olympic champion boxer defects-promoter

MIAMI Mon Feb 23, 2009 2:32pm EST

MIAMI Feb 23 (Reuters) - Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who fell into disfavor with the Cuban government after trying to desert the national team two years ago, has defected, a boxing promoter said on Monday.

Rigondeaux, the bantamweight champion at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, is in Miami and has signed a contract with ARENA Box-Promotion, the fight promoter said in a written statement.

Rigondeaux, 28, was dropped from the Cuban squad for the Beijing Olympics in August after running afoul of Cuban authorities when he and teammate Erislandy Lara failed to turn up for scheduled bouts at the Panamerican Games in Rio de Janeiro in July 2007.

The two were soon located by Brazilian police, who said the boxers regretted their decision and wanted to return to Cuba.

Then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro blamed the United States for the attempted defections, saying the two had betrayed their country for money.

Cuba is an Olympic boxing superpower and has produced great fighters like Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, both of whom resisted rich offers from American promoters.

Cuba won five of 11 gold medals at the Athens Olympics in 2004 but was soon hammered by a string of defections, including those of former world welterweight champion Lara, who fled to Mexico last year, and Athens heavyweight champion Odlanier Solis. Both signed professional contracts with Germany-based ARENA Box-Promotion. (Reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott)

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