Kendall and Tafari Ebanks once again gave impressive performances when they fought at home for the first time this year over the weekend. But the local boxing program is sorely underfunded and badly needs a cash injection if it is to continue.
Four world-class Cubans were on the bill at the Lions Centre on Saturday. Cuba remains the world’s best amateur boxing nation and to have some of their finest here was terrific for Cayman’s program.
At heavyweight, Frank Sanchez outboxed his Cuban teammate Emmanuel Reyes Platt, beating him comfortably on points. It was a nice curtain raiser for the two bouts that followed.
Kendall Ebanks fought bravely against the classy Luis Oliva Gener. Losing on points to one of the best light-welters in the world was no disgrace and must have inspired the 22-year-old stylist.
The final bout pitted featherweight Tafari Ebanks against another top-notch Cuban fighter, Norland Yera Diaz, who has won medals at the elite level.
That was a stirring bout, too, with both hurting each other throughout and Ebanks getting the slimmest of verdicts.
Two bouts earlier highlighted the ever popular after-school boxing program. Finn Millward outpointed Callum Smith and Bruce Lee Coulson did the same against Sean Rankin.
The coaches were Norman Wilson and Troy O’Neil, while coach Nayon “Donie” Anglin refereed all bouts.
Comedian Mark Simmons went down well and the Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight with Saul Alvarez was shown on big screens.
Cayman Islands Boxing Association president Terence Spencer was pleased with the quality of the show, but wants more support for the program; otherwise, he fears it will cease as soon as next month if adequate funding is not found.
“The show was well received with members of the public and government, past and present, there as well as a crowd from the Cuban community,” he said.
“We have gotten tremendous feedback on our Facebook page, all noting the excitement of the Cuban matches and all asking when the next one will be.”
Spencer said the Cuban boxers enjoyed being in Grand Cayman. The Cuban coaches have noted the tremendous improvements of Kendall and Tafari’s technical skills in the ring since they last saw them in May.
Professor Jesus Dominguez, who was also here to review the Cayman Islands boxing program, is a legend in Cuban boxing circles, a celebrated technical instructor and chief adviser to the governing body, AIBA.
One of the Cuban coaches was the two-time Olympian Rolando Garbey.
Dominquez said, “We have been watching Tafari for some time now and, at the rate that he is improving, he will be one of the greatest Olympic champions the world will ever see.”
Members of the boxing association took the Cubans to Cayman Cabana after the bout for a taste of local cuisine and dancing, as well as a trip to Stingray City on Sunday.
Frank Sanchez said, “This is the best time I have ever had in my life.”
Spencer said, “I was absolutely overwhelmed with the performances of Kendall and Tafari. They showed that no matter how much the odds are stacked against them, they will find a way.
“It is a testament to their talent, ability and commitment to the sport, their country and who they are as young Caymanians.
“They don’t have jobs and no means of income and dedicate all of their time to train and compete to represent the Cayman Islands against the toughest opposition in the world. Their resilience is absolutely outstanding and it makes me so proud.”
The successful after-school program attracted to the show friends and family of some of the schoolchildren who learn the sport’s basics at the D. Dalmain Ebanks Boxing Gymnasium.
“The members who attended saw that it is a fantastic sport and a program that should have a strong level of investment and commitment, as there is clear interest among the youth,” Spencer said.
“Ideally, a major goal of the association is to ensure there is continual development to include as many children as we can from each of the five districts.”
Spencer hopes to get more backing for the program as the event proved to the public that not only can locals compete with the world’s best, they can beat them as well.
Kendall and Tafari are set to compete in the AIBA World Championships starting Oct. 11 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, assuming there is sufficient support and funding to send them.
After a break for Christmas, there is more good news for the two elite fighters because Spencer has negotiated with the Cuban Boxing Federation to allow them to train there from January at the Cuban Olympic Boxing Training Centre in Havana.
“Given their visit here and my close relationship with their president, this looks like it can be a reality and my plans are to have an immediate discussion with Minister of Sports Osbourne Bodden to make the opportunity a reality for them,” Spencer said.
Meanwhile, the plans for the boxing association for the rest of the year depends on its ability to receive adequate funding.
“At the moment, the coaching staff has not received a salary in over two months and there has been no communication that there is a budget allocated for boxing beyond October,” Spencer said.
The association has tirelessly tried to raise funds but, frustratingly for Spencer, because of public and private cutbacks, it has been extremely difficult.
“I am afraid that in 60 days, we won’t have a boxing program, given the current financial situation. The association implores all members of the public to support the program for the sake of the children. We appreciate the help given by sponsors like the Ministry of Sports, Dart and Elite Marble and Granite but need more support.
“We have a very real opportunity in Rio 2016 to have our very own Olympic gold medalists for the first time in the country’s history and the association does not want to see their talent go to waste due to a lack of adequate resources.”
Cayman Islands Boxing Association president Terence Spencer was pleased with the quality of the show but wants more support for the program otherwise fears it will cease as soon as next month if adequate funding is not found.