Wednesday, June 07, 2023  |



‘A Cuban Boxer’s Journey’: Author discusses new Guillermo Rigondeaux book

Fighters Network

BH: So he can fight like that – why doesn’t he?

BJB: I think that’s part of what he sees as a mark of his excellence. You know, like the medieval swordsman or snipers today – the shot of excellence. You want to take out that heart. Anybody can just slash somebody.

BH: Well, it’s strange, given the history of his style and what he had just done in Dallas. Why do you think he suddenly turned it on like that? Do you think it had something to do with you?

BJB: No, I don’t think it had anything to do with me, but I think it had everything to do with he was so roundly criticized for how he fought in Dallas that he was probably thinking, ‘If I stink this arena out in Dublin, where’s next?’ I mean, Dallas came after he fought in Tijuana (against Jose Angel Beranza) where the Mexican fans booed him ruthlessly, chanting, “Bicycle! Bicycle!” And here he was in Dublin, and nobody knew who he was, and I think he was afraid that his career – even though he kept winning – was on a real downward spiral and that he wanted to make a statement. And it was one of the highest points that I’ve ever seen him. I mean, the riot police were called out for that fight; there were dozens of riot police, and even our team driver wouldn’t come into the arena because he was so afraid that, win or lose, we were gonna get stabbed or bottles would be thrown at us, so he had the engine running outside of the arena for the entire fight. And to compound all that with this wager ÔǪ I wasn’t going to be able to pay the rent, my marriage was falling apart – I mean everything that could possibly go wrong – and then one punch and all of a sudden you’re flush. I bought a ticket that night to go back to Havana to visit his family, which I’d never had the balls to do, because I just thought, “At this point I have to go all in ÔǪ and let’s see how close we can get to what this story really is.”

BH: As for Rigondeaux, it seems from reading your book and from watching your documentary that his own feelings about commitment might have changed, that maybe he’s intent on distancing himself from that life in Cuba.

BJB: Yeah, I mean at first he stated that he wanted to reunite with his family and later on he had changed his tune, that he is supporting them with the proceeds of his pro career, but “they’re better off there,” were his words. And I think it’s very hard for a lot of people to defend that position. I tried my best not to really judge any of the characters but just to listen to them and let their own positions speak for themselves, and people can see what they want to. ÔǪ One of the fascinating elements of the story was seeing the parallels between someone like Rigondeaux and Gary Hyde (the Irish promoter who financed Rigondeaux’s defection), that they both risked their family for this decision even though Hyde was very comfortable in Ireland. He had money and he had family and all that, and risked never seeing them again to get Rigondeaux out. So something was missing with him that was not financial, and something was missing with Rigondeaux, and they had that in common. ÔǪ But I think some people will see the things they did and find them very sympathetic and others will certainly not.

BH: And what do you make of him now that he has some of that money he was after?

BJB: The image that struck me with his diamond necklace that he would literally wear on the scale before fights is a guy who is shipwrecked on a shore and there are a bunch of diamonds everywhere but nowhere to go to cash them in. And if he could there’s nobody to share it with! ÔǪ I mean, I think anyone can understand why he came and what he achieved, but there’s just something about it that rings out like a dial tone. ÔǪ Some of my favorite footage in the documentary was him in Times Square with an iPhone and it just looks like someone floating into space. ÔǪ I mean, he’s just like any tourist wowed by it and yet, “What do I do here?”

BH: So did he make the wrong choice?

BPH: A recent issue of ESPN Magazine, their Cuba issue, said the story of Teofilo Stevenson rejecting millions is a lie – it’s the worst kind of lie that Cuba’s propaganda machine can offer. I don’t think that’s a lie. I think the man lived and died standing up for the principle he maintained, and, regardless of him making $130 from me to talk about how money means nothing, he really did turn down all those millions. And I think that’s really important. And of course there’s a cost to having made that decision, but I don’t understand how you can call him a liar for defending that position. And in offering that contrast, of taking money from me and not sharing it with the government and rejecting all that money from the U.S., gives everyone the opportunity to choose for themselves which decision defines him and what he stands for. I think they both are revealing. I see the same thing with Rigondeaux – I don’t know that I would’ve made more honorable choices if I were in his circumstances, which of course I’ve never been. But it was fascinating getting as close to where he was coming from as I possibly could, and that’s what I set out to do – just to understand rather than to judge him. I think the only villain is the choice he had to make itself.

BH: I was just thinking that the subititle of your book – “From Castro’s Traitor to American Champion” – could almost be reversed to “From Castro’s Champion to American Traitor,” depending on how you see it. Where does Rigondeaux go from here?

BJB: Well, Rigondeaux has become the face, for a lot of journalists and cable networks, of everything that’s wrong with boxing in a way that I’ve never heard. I’ve never heard a fighter’s own promoter say, as Bob Arum said, that the only way to promote this guy is to have Fidel Castro come over and co-promote. It just seems remarkably counterintuitive, and also to add that HBO vomits every time he mentions Rigondeaux’s name. So I think that Rigondeaux has left one abject political situation in Cuba to enter into boxing’s equivalent, where’s there’s a massive Cold War between the cable networks. He has oscillated between saying, ‘I do get it, I do want to learn English, I do want to connect with an audience, I understand some of my performances I could’ve done something different that is more what Americans respond to and cheer for, and I’d like to move toward that.’ And other times it’s just complete contempt for it. ÔǪ And I think that contempt is something that has wowed a lot of boxing aficionados, because people who have devoted their lives to appreciating the art of the sport recognize ÔǪ I don’t really understand how you can appreciate what Floyd Mayweather does and not recognize that Rigondeaux can do all of that – and he hits a lot harder.

A Cuban Boxer’s Journey is available on Amazon by clicking here.

Author Brin-Jonathan Butler is on Twitter @brinicio

Brian Harty is Contributing Editor for THE RING Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]


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