David Morrell Jr. fighting to reunite family after defection from Cuba

David Morrell Jr. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
David Morrell Jr. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

David Morrell Jr. is a promising young fighter who has all the talent to become a dominant world champion, but his family is his biggest motivator. 

Almost 2,000 miles away from his birthplace of Santa Clara, Cuba, super middleweight boxer David Morrell Jr. prepares for his Saturday, Dec. 26 fight against Mike Gavronski in his adopted home of Minneapolis. Morrell has acclimated to harsh Minnesota winters compared to Cuba’s tropical climates, but his immediate family is still in Cuba and never far from his thoughts.

Morrell (3-0, 2 KOs) only has three professional fights under his belt, but the 22-year-old already holds the interim WBA super middleweight title. If he gets passed Gavronski, he will be the WBA “regular” champion. Morrell’s accelerated success as a professional is due to his amateur achievements while a Cuban national team member.

As a little boy in Santa Clara, Morrell dreamed of being a baseball player. His stepfather started training him at six years old, but a mesmerizing image on television changed the course of Morrell’s life when he was nine years old.

There was Cuban amateur boxing on, but there was something different yet familiar about one of the two boxers on television. Morrell became curious and asked his mother an innocent question.

“I asked my mom why that guy fighting on T.V. has the same last name as me,” Morrell told FanSided through an interpreter. “My mom was like, ‘No, that’s your brother.’ From there on, I wanted to be just like my brother. That was my inspiration, seeing my brother fighting and following his footsteps.”

That’s how Morrell became acquainted with his brother Rafael, who was his father’s son from another relationship.

“His name is Rafael Morrell,” explained Morrell. “I didn’t know much about him. I knew of him, but he’s just so much older that I didn’t really see him. We’ve got the same father. He’s just way older, so I didn’t grow up with him day-to-day.”

They didn’t know each other, but Morrell felt a kinship with his brother from that moment on and wanted to be like him. Morrell gave up baseball and pursued boxing like his brother Rafael, who is 16 years his senior. It was a smart move on Morrell’s part.

Morrell proved to be a boxing phenom in the amateurs. He won numerous Cuban national titles and an AIBA Youth World Boxing Championship. The little boy who looked up to the brother he didn’t know became something special in the world of boxing.

Cuba is known for its amateur boxing talent, but the communist country doesn’t allow its fighters to compete professionally, which is why many of Cuba’s best boxers defect to pursue professional careers.

David Morrell Jr. defected from Cuba to make his boxing dreams come true, but he’s also fighting to reunite his family

In 2017, Morrell concluded that he needed to escape Cuba if he wanted his abilities as a boxer to flourish. It wasn’t an impulsive decision. A series of events compounded to make Morrell deadset on defecting.

When asked why he left Cuba, Morrell said, “Me being one of the best in Cuba and pretty much around the world and seeing all these other kids from other countries, and all the love and embracing me as champion and not seeing the results in Cuba. Me coming in second. They [Cuban boxing officials] would put somebody in front of me when I pretty much had the best skills in my weight class. Me seeing that, I said I’m not going to waste my talent in this country. That brought me to the decision I made.”

Morrell gave a detailed account of his defection from Cuba to Premier Boxing Champions (PBC). He got on a speedboat and left for Mexico, where he lived for 18 months before entering the U.S. He signed with Warriors boxing headed up by Luis DeCubas Sr.

“We got David a B-1 visa,” DeCubas told PBC. “We wanted to make sure we were patient and make sure all of the paperwork was done properly.”

When moving to the U.S., Morrell was given three destinations where he could live and train. He selected the unlikely choice.

“I had three choices: California, Vegas, and Minnesota,” Morrell recalled to FanSided. “They told me that in Vegas and California, there’s a lot of Spanish speaking. The best choice would be Minnesota because you would learn English faster, but it’s cold over there.

“I didn’t really care. I wanted to learn the language. I was like, naw, it doesn’t matter about the cold. I’ll go to Minnesota. The main goal is being focused and get all the titles at the 168 division. Another big goal that I have is bringing all of my loved ones here, my brothers, my parents here with me.”

Morrell’s professional boxing opportunities in the U.S. came at a price larger than exile from Cuba. He was separated from his family, and his teenage twin brothers were essentially punished for his defection. Morrell’s younger brothers looked up to him as a hero and followed him into boxing.

“When I came out here, they [Cuban government] just blocked everything,” said Morrell. “They didn’t let them continue. They would always make excuses to them that you can’t compete in this tournament because of this and that. It was just because I left Cuba. They put all the restrictions on my little brothers.”

His brothers are 15 years old, and he talks to them and his mother daily thanks to technology and social media, but it is not the same thing as being able to touch, hold or kiss somebody.

Morrell dreams of being an undisputed boxing champion, but his family is at the heart of his desire to succeed. Morrell has the talent, focus, and necessity to become a great champion. He’s filled with an in-depth purpose that supersedes vanity. Morrell longs to make his family complete again, which holds more value than any title.

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David Morrell Jr. vs. Mike Gavronski is the main event on Saturday, Dec. 26, on FOX. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the prelim fights on FS1 starting at 6 p.m. ET.