Boxer finds love and a ticket to Rio in Azerbaijan

Lorenzo Sotomayor (left) will face Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in today's light welterweight final.
Lorenzo Sotomayor will face Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in today's light welterweight final.

RIO DE JANEIRO • Lorenzo Sotomayor was born in a rough neighbourhood of Havana, learnt how to box on the streets of the capital and is a relative of Cuban high jump hero Javier Sotomayor.

On Friday, the gangly 31-year-old surged into the Olympic light welterweight final for Azerbaijan after winning his semi-final on a unanimous points decision.

Sotomayor will face Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in today's title clash. But he has not forgotten his roots, saying: "My life has changed 100 per cent, but I owe everything I am to Cuba.

"That's where I learnt everything, it's my home country.

"Due to the circumstances, I am in another country, fighting for different colours."

His official Olympic biography says he moved from Cuba to Azerbaijan in 2013 to give himself a better chance of qualifying for Rio - less competition for Olympic places - joining decorated Cuban coach Peter Roque Otano in Baku.

But that is only part of the story.

Sotomayor was a promising boxer back in his homeland but gave up the fight game to take care of his family who were struggling in Cuba's moribund economy and he ended up selling whatever he could on the streets.

And then his life turned upside down when he met and fell in love with a visitor to Cuba, a Russian girl who lived in Azerbaijan, and he followed her there.

The dramatic lifestyle change triggered an upturn in Sotomayor's fortunes.

Since switching nationalities, he has enjoyed the finest results of his career, winning gold at the European Games last year and becoming the favourite of fans in his adopted homeland.

He is now guaranteed at least silver for Azerbaijan.

The boxer said that Javier, who won the high jump gold at Barcelona 1992, was his father's cousin and also an inspiration.

"He doesn't know much about boxing, he's a jumper. He's just told me to keep focused to fight my style of boxing and to always look forward," said Sotomayor.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Boxer finds love and a ticket to Rio in Azerbaijan'. Print Edition | Subscribe