Osvary Morell (left) gave an impressive performance during the recently concluded Playa Girón National Boxing Championships. Photo: Ismael Batista

Until lately the name Osvary Morell Gutiérrez was unknown to the majority of Cuban sports fans. However, he was one of the top fighters to watch in the recently concluded Playa Girón National Boxing tournament.

There in Santiago de Cuba, site of the event, the press and boxing fans couldn’t wait to see the young man proclaimed World Youth Champion in the 81kg division of the global competition held two months ago in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Morell defeated his four opponents with such skill that he ended up being named best boxer of the tournament; a performance which also saw him chosen among Cuba’s top youth athletes of 2016.

At 18 years of age, the boxer from Villa Clara participated in his first National Championship in a division dominated by Light heavyweight World Champion, Julio César La Cruz, who speaking to Granma International after defeating Morell in the final, described the youngster as an opponent who is on target to replace him in a few years.

Did you expect to be chosen as best boxer in the World Youth Championships?

It was a complete surprise. The first thing you want to do is debut with a victory, then you start planning how to win the next fights, until you get to the final, where you look to secure the gold. Being selected best boxer was a bonus prize. However, after my fight against Christian Montano from the U.S. in the quarter finals, I felt like I might have a change at being named MVP, given the results of my previous fights. In the final against Ukraine’s Román Savitskyi, I knew the crown was mine. It’s not that I felt my opponent would be easy, but Montano was meant to be my most difficult rival, according to the experts, and that’s happened. In the fight for the title, I came out feeling confident of winning and perfectly executed my strategic plan.

What did the National Championship in Playa Girón mean to you?

It was my first appearance in a competition of this kind, I felt a certain amount of pressure in my first fight against Yiosvaldo González from Pinar del Río, but as soon as the bell rang I left everything behind and focused on the fight, like the coaches had instructed me. I now hold the World Youth Championship title, but winning the national competition in Cuba is a big challenge which I hope to achieve in the future; my career is just starting.

How would you describe your boxing style?

I’m a boxer that uses all three distances, with entries and exists. I can easily up the intensity level if the rhythm of the fight demands it. However, I still need to develop other elements, as I’ll face older fighters with more experience in the ring. I don’t have a definite style.

What are your short-term goals?

I want to keep improving my boxing, being World Youth Champion doesn’t mean that I’m a master sportsman; this is something that is achieved over the years and by continually coming up against quality opponents. Of course I hope to make the ranks of the national pre-selection team, and to be considered to participate in international events given my results, a privilege I must earn starting now. The titles will come; only time and my systematic work will tell. I won the silver medal in the recent Playa Girón competition, which means a lot. I had four tough fights against difficult opponents who were the pre-competition favorites. I defeated Ernesvadi Begué in the quarter finals, not an easy fighter; I also won in the semi-finals against 2015 National silver medalist Jorge Garbey, in an evenly matched fight.

What do you think of Julio César La Cruz?

What can I say about Julio that hasn’t already been said. Coming up against him, whether in this competition or others in the future, will always be a great privilege. He is a versatile fighter, but not invincible. Today he shines as number one in the world in the 81kg category and is among the best boxers regardless of division. We just fought for the national title and, although I lost, I was pleased, because I didn’t expect to fight as well as I did. The key was the good condition in which I arrived to the final, which meant I was able to move around the ring, attacking at precise moments, but La Cruz is out of this league.

Are you ready to lead boxing in Villa Clara?

For me it would be a great honor to become a reference for boxers from my province. This means focused and disciplined training, and taking on a leading role within the provincial team when the guys need motivation in difficult situations.

 Who has contributed to your bourgeoning sporting career?

My family has always supported my boxing ever since I was small. The fact that I am here today, I owe to them. I’m also very grateful to my coaches who have worked with me for many years, both those in Santa Clara, and from the national youth team. My success lies in putting all their recommendations into practice, polishing up my weak areas, exploiting my strengths, box always looking for my opponent’s weak spots. All this is the accumulation of many years of work with various teachers, which is now beginning to pay off.

Osvary Morell’s performance during the 2016 World Youth Championships:

First fight: 5-0 against Michal Soczynski (Poland). Second: win by K.O. in the third round against Stefan Patrascu (Romania). Quarter finals: 5-0 vs. Christian Montano (USA). Semifinal: 5-0 vs. Sergei Murashev (Russia). Final: 5-0 vs. Román Savitskyi (Ukraine).

Osvary Morell’s performance during the 55th Playa Girón National Boxing Tournament 2016:
First fight: 5-0 against Yiosvaldo González (Pinar del Río). Quarter final: 5-0 vs. Ernesvadi Begué (Guantánamo). Semifinal: 4-1 vs. Jorge Garbey (Santiago de Cuba). Final: 0-5 loss against Julio César La Cruz (Camagüey).