Cuban boxers defect, sign deal to fight on German TV

Updated: July 27, 2007, 11:03 AM ET
Associated Press

HAMBURG, Germany -- Two Cuban boxers who defected during the Pan American Games in Brazil signed five-year contracts Thursday to fight on a cable television station.

Guillermo Rigondeaux, a bantamweight who won gold at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, and Erislandy Lara, an amateur welterweight world champion, signed with Arena TV.

Arena TV, which is trying to secure work and residency permits for the pair, has now signed five top Cuban boxers as it attempts to break into the highly rated sport in Germany.

``Now the best up-and-coming professionals in the world fight for Arena,'' company boss Ahmet Oner said. ``Our boxing stable has a big future.''

The two fighters failed to appear for bouts after leaving the Pan Ams athletes' village Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Cuban President Fidel Castro blamed American money for their defection, saying the boxers were ``knocked down with a blow straight to the chin, paid up with U.S. bills.''

Since the 2004 Olympics, the Cuban boxing program has been hit hard by defections, with several champions now fighting professionally in the United States and Europe.

In March, Arena signed Cuban Olympic champions Yan Barthelemy, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press