I can’t even begin to fathom how difficult it must be for one to leave Cuba knowing that they can never return.
Yes, this is my cliché opening line, the same sentiment echoed by most who tackle the subject of Rigondeaux or defectors in general. Originally, I had planned to open this post by discussing “Havana Affair,” by The Ramones (which has always struck me as a bit racist, and which the Chili Peppers actually do a really good cover of, both of which are reasons why I decided against it) or even about that time I wrote a piece about Rigondeaux as a drag queen, complete with fun name, personality, genre, and backstory about her long climb to the top but then backed out on publishing it because even with all of that, it still wasn’t good enough.
So here we are. Still great, but somehow never good enough.
Remind you of anyone?
My grand love of Rigondeaux began on that fateful night back in 2013 that he is undoubtedly most well known for. But before I recount it in flowery terms that will surely embarrass me in the morning (because don’t they always?) I must start on the eve on November 13, 2010.
AKA-The night I was a ginormous hypocrite.
To be fair, I didn’t realize that I was being a ginormous hypocrite at the time. All I knew was that I was out for the blood of Margarito at the hands of Pacquiao and all of this was being stilted by some boring little guy who had 15 pounds and 5 inches* on me. And I hated it. I exaggerated greatly my gratitude for the fight’s conclusion and continued my life with beer in hand, sure that I would never be subjected to another terrible fight by that-guy-with-the-weird-last-name.
Like most, I was set to watch ESPN’s “Fighter of the Year,” Nonito Donaire, accumulate yet another win against some guy I’d never heard of (as by this point I’d forgotten all about Rigondeaux). A friend of mine had even inquired about “any good fights lately,” and I’d been talking the bout up to him for a week at that point, how exciting it would be, how lightning quick Donaire was, how I was sure the fight wouldn’t even make it past six rounds.
Aaaaaand then, three rounds into the main event, my now husband (then boyfriend) announced that he was falling asleep on the couch and was going to bed, and my friend texted to make sure he was watching the right channel.
I, however, found myself utterly captivated by what I was witnessing. While admittedly not the most entertaining fight, it occurred to me that I was watching a true thing of beauty-a side to the sport that I’d yet to witness. (I’ve since described it as “boxing ballet.”) Here was a man picking apart a reigning champ (a Fighter of the Year, even) utilizing strategy alone, and the greatest example of ring generalship that I’d ever seen.
The Psych major in me was fucking pumped, y’all.
I became an instant fan, and almost just as instantaneously learned how difficult life can be as a Rigondeaux supporter at times. Aside from constant defenses of the Cuban style of boxing, long lapses between fights and bouts overseas with streaming capabilities only (I hate watching pretty much anything on a computer) added to the mounting difficulties. In hindsight, I think this only fanned the flames. The mystery of it all, the inaccessibility-you know. (The majority of the boxing public’s outright hatred for the “boring”, although I’ve noticed that some of those who refer to Rigo as “boring” also do things like read Shakespeare or watch baseball. The irony.)
Enter 2017, and how I tie this all back to the first sentence.
Inspired by my love of Rigondeaux and the works of Brin-Jonathan Butler, (as well as the fact that some friends were already going and invited my husband and I to join,) I visited Havana this summer. (Also, Mike Tyson went to Cuba in the late 90’s and I feel like if Tyson did it, I can do it too. Probably not the best yardstick with which to measure my life, but it’s gotten me this far.)
Attempting to describe Havana using merely words would do it a great disservice. The city has a soul and a presence like none I’ve ever witnessed, and a piece of it will remain with me always. Among the various memories I’ll hold from my short time in Havana, my favorite by far was a conversation I had with a local tour guide about Rigondeaux and Cuban boxing in general.
First, I learned how to pronounce Rigondeaux’s last name correctly: (say it with me now: Ree-gOne-doh, NOT Rih-gOn-DEE-OW which you will likely hear over and over on Saturday night). I also earned mad street cred with him for knowing who Erislandy Lara was and pronouncing his name correctly. But mostly, I noted how his eyes lit up when discussing Teofilo Stevenson. (“Did you know that Muhammad Ali came HERE to see HIM?!”) I did, but I’d trade a number of the less-cool experiences I’ve had to see that light replicated in the eyes of another when speaking of something that pays them only in joy.
I lived off that light for days, fed off of the experience when other annoying or shitty things were happening. I hold onto it still, and surely will for the rest of my life. To me, that light can be equated to another discussion we had on the great difference between American and Cuban boxers: pride. One need look no further than Adrien Broner flushing cash down a toilet, fighters carelessly missing weight for their bouts, or the infrequency of fights amongst top name pugilists to see that lack of pride in American boxing.
The scrappy little guy with the reputation for being difficult to promote (not wholly unearned) and the ever present sullen expression. The man who, despite surely being told that he would earn more money or have a greater presence and following if he would just be more of an offensive or entertaining fighter, continues to engage in “boxing ballet.” The man who carries the soul, history, and pride of Cuba as he walks through America today.
I can’t say for sure if Rigo will win on Saturday, partly because I lack clairvoyance and a crystal ball, but mostly because my predictions have historically sucked. (And, if I’m being honest, superstition is at play here as well.) But I will say this, and it may likely be something flowery that I’ll regret in the morning: it snowed steadily in San Antonio tonight. Reports say at least an inch (which, before you Northerners give me any shit, is a LOT for us-it was 85 degrees here on Tuesday), but December snow is uncharacteristically rare here-when snowfall does occur in any mediocre amount it typically happens in February. In fact, the last time it snowed in San Antonio in December was on December 21, 1929. (2.9 inches, for those of you keeping score.)
88 years ago (Yes, I had to use a calculator.)
It could all just be some huge coincidence-probably is. But how cool would it be if this was all some big, cosmic foreshadowing to another upcoming rift in the “norm”?
I wonder if Tyson ever made it snow?
To talk snow, Cuba, drag queens, beer, or even boxing, follow me on Twitter @littlejenna37
Brin-Jonathan Butler’s “A Cuban Boxer’s Journey: Guillermo Rigondeaux, from Castro’s Traitor to American Champion” is available on Amazon, and “The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
*I didn’t actually research this
Stats for my San Antonio Weather Report were found at: “San Antonio Snowfall 1885 through 2011 in Inches,” http://www.crh.noaa.gov/Image/ewx/snowfalltable.pdf