Cuban boxers defect, sign deal to fight on German TV

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.