Money, shit, and the left hand of god – the tale of Coggi vs. Gonzalez
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?
–from “One of Us,” by Joan Osborne
1987 was a great year to be a world champion in Argentina.
The country was fresh from one of its most memorable sports triumphs ever. The picture of the recently deceased soccer legend Diego Maradona lifting the Mexico ’86 FIFA World Cup after his national team defeated Germany in the final game of the tournament was probably one of the most iconic pictures of that year, second only to the image of an airborne Maradona hiding his left fist from the referee’s sight behind his trademark curly hair to punch the ball into the net for one of the most egregious and blatant fouls ever to be validated as a goal in soccer history, right in the face of England’s helpless goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
For both Argentina and England, the quarter-final match was a very emotional confrontation, taking place barely four years after the Falklands War. The eyes of both nations were eager to find any measure of exemplary revenge or symbolic retribution, in the form of a dominating or humiliating athletic feat of any kind, for the pain they had mutually inflicted upon each other in the southernmost war ever fought.
Maradona’s unpunished foul was indeed one of them. But only minutes after it, just when sportscasters and spectators around the world were wondering out loud whether the “hand of God” (as it would later be arrogantly described by its perpetrator) had been a premeditated, vicious and arrogant reminder of the sneak attack in which Argentine forces took the British-held islands on April 2, 1986, Maradona made his deepest mark in soccer history yet (and probably ever) when he slalomed through half a dozen befuddled English players to score “the goal of the century” (as it would later be described by almost every soccer connoisseur), in a feat that prompted an equally exaggerated analogies with the fearless maneuvers of the Argentine Air Force’s Mirage airplanes zigzagging through the Royal Navy fleet, sinking half a dozen ships and downing a third of their combat aircraft during the entire conflict. The sinking of the Argentine battleship Belgrano, an incident that took place outside the theater of operations and which has been called a “war crime,” had been also mentioned as a poetic justification of Maradona’s illegal and ultimately decisive goal in that match, won by Argentina by a score of 2-1.
In this scenario, with a country still grieving its young heroes, vilifying their irrational commanders, and struggling between finding closure and exacting revenge, the emergence of a champion willing to go the extra mile in his quest for pride and honor was more eagerly awaited than usual.
Those where the shoes that Juan Martin Coggi stepped into when he traveled to Italy to face unbeaten former Olympian hero Patrizio Oliva in July of 1987, attempting to become Argentina’s only boxing champion at the time. And he delivered on his promise, stopping Oliva in Sicily after only three rounds and avenging the loss of Argentina’s last previous titlist Ubby Sacco in the process.
The stage was set for the left-handed Coggi to be the next “hand of God,” the man tasked with keeping the flame of boxing alive in a country that had boasted half a dozen dominant and respected champions in the previous two decades.
And just like with fellow lefty Diego Maradona, Coggi positioned himself to be the one who’d let the world know that if there was a God, he was probably Argentine, left-handed, and always ready to stretch his left hand to tip the scales in their favor, whatever the consequences.
Sometimes one must beware of what one wishes for.
1993 had been a great year for Juan Martin Coggi thus far.
The southpaw slugger had, by any standard, one of the busiest title defense schedules possible for any reigning champion, regaining his WBA belt against Morris East in January and following up with a string of four title defenses against average to sub-par opposition, one of them abroad in Japan.
Before that, he had run a 13-0 streak in the two years after the end of his first title reign to Mexico’s Loreto Garza in France, a bout he lost by the slimmest of margins after four defenses of the WBA junior welterweight belt he had picked up against Oliva back in 1987.
His numbers alone were impressive enough to elicit an offer to fight Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez in the following year.
All he needed to do was to close the year with a stay-busy, dominant performance to splice one more scene into his already respectable highlight reel.
The WBA had already approved Spain’s Jose Berdonce as his next foe, but a last-minute injury forced his withdrawal from the fight, and a member of his team was offered the job.
Eder Gonzalez was originally from Turbo, Antioquia, Colombia, but had been allegedly forced to move to Spain after a dispute with his manager. He was now in the hands of Ricardo Sanchez Atocha, a burly, ponytailed Spanish trainer who would later lead Javier Castillejo and Gabriel Campillo to short title runs, and who would briefly handle Sergio Martinez as well.
Not a bad setup for a fighter willing to close the year with a bang. But plans have a way of going sideways, even if the hand of God is involved.
The first sign of trouble came right out of the stadium speakers.
The customary enunciation of corner colors, fighter names and origins, and other usually irrelevant data contained an element that raised a few eyebrows: Gonzalez, previously announced as No. 10 or even No. 7 in the WBA divisional ranking, had been magically promoted to No. 4.
A minor detail, yes. But given the way in which the soiree developed, this may have been, in hindsight, a harbinger of things to come. In any case, barring the dubious probability that the ring announcer and the promoters could already be conspiring to mislead the public and scam the WBA-ranked junior welters by rearranging their positions in the top 10, there were no reasons to foresee the enormous debacle that would follow during that hot summer night at the Club Defensores de Villa Lujan, in the northern province of Tucuman, Argentina.
The first round was largely uneventful, with referee Isidro Rodriguez’s unusual, leaping-and-running style of patrolling the ring being the most remarkable feature of the entire episode. A long counter right by Gonzalez that landed flush on Coggi was, as it turns out, the challenger’s first salvo of target practice on the champ’s weak spot.
Gonzalez would have his chance to fire for effect shortly thereafter, but not before surviving a major scare in the form of Coggi’s vaunted left cross. The challenger was visibly rocked, and was subsequently dropped in the follow-up onslaught. Up at three but still dazed, Gonzalez goes into survival mode as Coggi moves in for the kill.
Up to that moment, the world still made sense. The underpaid, late-replacement challenger plays his role, and the champion gets set to give his fans another memorable stoppage win to cap a banner year.
But exactly midway through the round, Gonzalez times his foe perfectly and lands a brutal, numbing, demolishing right hand.
The punch crashes onto Coggi’s jaw, and the gates to the Twilight Zone are kicked wide open.
Coggi, who only a second before was on his way to score a record number of title defenses against an unknown opponent in an easy fight before heading towards the best payday of his career, is suddenly deprived of his ability to stand firmly on two legs. His limbs stiffen, his eyes lose focus, and Coggi walks through the rabbit hole into an alternative dystopian reality in which he is about to be humiliated in his first-ever stoppage loss, and in front of his countrymen to boot.
Somehow, the champ manages to stand up on his own, but he rapidly retreats to a corner and leans on the ropes for support. A count is administered, and as it reaches the fateful eight, Coggi is still wobbly and clinging to the ropes, unable to walk unassisted.
In the beginning of a memorable sequence, the referee continues asking Coggi whether he is ready to fight on, and since he is visibly unable to utter a proper answer, Rodriguez simply decides that he is. The seven or eight additional seconds in which Rodriguez allowed himself to pointlessly interrogate Coggi are the first sign that things are about to go spectacularly wrong for Gonzalez.
With a minute to go in the round, and with a helpless Coggi being pummeled near his own corner, Rodriguez intervenes with the sole purpose of keeping Coggi from falling to the canvas, holding him upright and pushing him towards the protection of his corner. Still incapable of standing firmly on his legs, Coggi manages to lean on the ropes as he stumbles around, staring at Rodriguez as the referee walks away from him and makes a series of confusing gestures that leads Gonzalez and his corner to believe the fight is over.
With Coggi’s corner engulfed in chaos, and with the stadium on the verge of erupting into a frenzied riot, Gonzalez’s chief second Sanchez Atocha jumps into the ring to hug his fighter and begin to celebrate what they both perceive as a victory. But right at that moment, Gonzalez is being motioned back into the fight by Rodriguez while Coggi’s manager/promoter Osvaldo Rivero clamors for Gonzalez to be disqualified due to his trainer’s ring invasion.
The mayhem is seized by Luis Spada (a veteran Argentine promoter and manager who was part of the fighter’s corner in absence of any norm prohibiting persons with his job description to do so), is already up on the ring apron pulling Coggi to safety by the edge of his trunks and talking directly into his right ear. A completely groggy Coggi can only manage to lift his hands and cover himself, and as Gonzalez moves in for the kill, Spada simply stretches his hand into the ring to stop or deflect Gonzalez’s punches, in the peak of bizarreness during an evening that was pretty much defined by it.
With about 20 seconds remaining in the round, a single hit on the bell ends the round prematurely, and the person responsible for this new infraction is a character that would have a couple of miraculously close calls of his own in his near future.
“I did it just to help a friend,” said future middleweight champion Jorge Castro, about his decision to simply stand up from his ringside seat to grab the timekeeper’s hammer (let’s assume he used his left hand, for poetic reasons) to ring the bell ahead of time. “I saw him in trouble and I thought I had to do something.”
As strange as it may seem, the person that validated the nonsense in progress and initiated a second wave of illegality was none other than a fellow boxer who, in spite of his best intentions, had Coggi “condemned by the bell” instead of saved, as the moment would live in infamy in the champ’s resume while Castro’s action ended up being either ignored or forgotten.
As the corner personnel scrambled to resuscitate Coggi, Rivero began plotting ways to give his fighter more time to recover. For a minute, he entertained the idea of sprinting towards the stadium’s master switch and killing the power altogether, but he was quickly talked out of it by the main sponsor of the event, local governor and former superstar singer-songwriter Ramon “Palito” Ortega. Miffed but undeterred, Rivero grabbed Castro’s idea and ran with it, appealing to timekeeper Jose Luis Maron to extend the rest period and allow Coggi a few extra seconds to recover.
About a minute and a half after the end of the second round, the bell rings its belated call to begin the third. In a dramatic moment, Coggi slumps back onto his stool immediately after attempting to stand up on his own, and is then pulled back upright by his corner man Ruben Dupen.
Gonzalez’s very first punch staggers Coggi and sends him reeling to a neutral corner, where the challenger proceeds to unleash at least 25 unanswered blows before Coggi manages to clinch his way to safety. Rodriguez pushes them apart. Way apart. On average, the referee creates a six-foot buffer zone between the fighters every time Coggi is visibly hurt.
More than four minutes have passed since Gonzalez scored his knockdown, and Coggi is still struggling to regain his balance. With a minute remaining, he falls to the canvas after a clinch, with the ref ruling it a slip. Even though he walks on largely unresponsive legs, Coggi’s torso seems to be un-numbing rapidly, and he lands a few powerful shots followed by clinches.
With 27 seconds to go, the bell rings to end the round. This time, Castro is nowhere to be seen. The timekeeper is now officially a new member of Coggi’s expanding entourage, and he adds a few seconds to the ensuing rest period as well, probably to allow himself to celebrate his sudden enrollment into this growing brotherhood of misbehavers and malfeasants.
The fourth round marks the beginning of Coggi’s reversal of fortune. His head is clearing, his legs are back under him, his punches regain their natural zip. Still, the round ends 14 seconds earlier, with no one appearing to wonder why anymore.
Round five begins with Gonzalez dropping Coggi from an apparent right cross, but it is ruled as a slip by the referee. Coggi manages to corner Gonzalez in the same neutral corner in which he took a beating in the second round, and he lands at will with both hands. Unsurprisingly, this act of dominance by Coggi appears to magically unfurl the fabric of space-time, and the episode lasts the customary three minutes.
After an uneventful round six in which Coggi fell to one knee after crashing against Gonzalez in what was ruled a slip, round seven starts with clear skies and ends up in a thunderstorm. The slow early going ends suddenly with a barrage of punches that sends Gonzalez into an ineffective defensive shell. Coggi punches his way through it to finally send the challenger down to the canvas for the second time in the fight.
Gonzalez struggles to his feet at the count of six. Coggi is in a neutral corner surrounded by a group of people who climbed onto the apron as they anticipate a celebration. When Coggi resumes his attack, Sanchez Atocha jumps into the ring to save his man from the onslaught, and the remaining portion of hell that had not yet broken loose finally does. Two dozen people invade the ring and lift Coggi around as he celebrates his unlikely victory.
In the end, the ring announcer’s unverified bump would mark the highest point of Gonzalez’s career in the boxing rankings of the world.
In hindsight, the ring announcer may have been (knowingly or not) the only person in the stadium who gave Gonzalez the measure of respect and recognition that he ultimately proved he deserved.
The demand for a rematch was as overwhelming as it was obvious. There was no way a disaster of this magnitude could have gone to the history books without a serious chance at redemption, for the fighters and for boxing itself. The world was watching.
The return bout took place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, exactly three months later. In a significantly less festive environment, and with J. C. Chavez’s promoter Don King watching from ringside as a reminder of the riches that awaited the winner, Coggi and Gonzalez climbed through the ropes accompanied by the very same people that were in their corners back in the Tucuman fiasco, as if the chance of getting it right this time applied to all of them as well.
After being dropped on his trunks by the same counter right hand that sent him to the canvas in their first encounter, Coggi sprung back up to end a frustrating first round in which he looked uneasy and restless, walking to his corner with a palpable sense of frustration on his face.
The second round came and went, and by the time the bell rang to start the third round Coggi was already down on points across the board. In the first serious exchange of the round, Gonzalez landed yet another demolishing right hand that opened a significant gash on Coggi’s left eyebrow.
Blood gushes out of the cut and soaks Coggi with a sense of desperate urgency, and right then his survival instinct kicks in.
“He had his chance and he blew it,” Coggi said later, in an interview. “He dropped me in the first, beat me up in the second and cut me in the third, but he failed to pull the trigger. And I went out to get him, because for me it’s either money or shit,” he concludes, alluding to a colorful Argentine expression used in do-or-die situations.
Fortunately for Coggi, money won the duel. The champion manages to land an uppercut that wobbles the challenger quite badly, and the ensuing clinch ends with Coggi pushing his way out of it and landing a crushing straight left hand that explodes on Gonzalez’s face and sends him down on his back. As he rises to his feet, Coggi moves in for the kill and unleashes all his power, and a few punches later Gonzalez nosedives onto the canvas as a consequence of the attack.
A towel flies into the ring from Gonzalez’s corner. But referee Richard Steele, a veteran of the most controversial ending in junior welterweight history, was not going to have it, and he all but kicks the towel out of the ring just to make a point that he was in charge as he continues counting.
In a twist that could only have happened within the realm of this unscripted tragicomedy of errors, Rivero rushed to jump into the ring as soon as Sanchez Atocha threw in the towel, triggering the same potential disqualification that he had sought in the first fight and which, fortunately, never happened.
It didn’t happen this time, either. Determined to have a proper ending, Steele motions Rivero to leave the ring and reaches the count of eight. Gonzalez fails to respond to Steele’s question about his fitness to continue, and the veteran referee calls it a day. Coggi, with his cut emanating enough blood to have caused the fight to be stopped if it only had gone on for a few more seconds, earns his vindication at the 2.01 mark of the third round.
In all, a quick checklist of fouls and illegalities between both bouts included an unimaginable number of infractions, many of which were so blatant and egregious that were previously unknown in boxing.
None of them, however, was attributable to the fighters themselves.
None. As in “not a single one.”
Aside from a few hold-and-punch tactics by Coggi in the early going of the return bout, both fights were as clean as one can expect, at least as far as the actions of both fighters are concerned.
But even though there weren’t any major fouls committed by the fighters, it was not for lack of trying.
“When (Coggi) was being held (by his trunks) in his corner, I threw a right hand with the intention of missing Coggi on purpose and punching (Spada) instead,” said Gonzalez, to a choir of laughs, during a recent joint phone interview with his old opponent in the “ADN Boxeo” radio show, hosted by Leo Benatar, former cruiser titlist Marcelo Dominguez, and none other than Coggi’s son Martin, a boxer himself.
Instead, Gonzalez claims he received an unexpected hand in return, and not precisely in the form of a punch.
“God placed his hand there,” claims Gonzalez, alleging that greater forces were at play during those days, both in and out of the ring. “Because if I became champion, they were going to kill me and my family. I was under threat. I had a contract with one of the bad guys here in Colombia. When you don’t fight for a year, the contract is voided. But when he learned that I was fighting for the title he called me to get his cut, and then threatened to kill me if I didn’t give it to him.”
Gonzalez, who was limited to small paydays through his career and was allegedly avoided as a dangerous opponent after his fights against Coggi, goes on to make a dozen more unsubstantiated claims to justify his final downfall. He claims he only received less than 25% of the purses that his managers collected in Spain. He says he has heard a confession from a judge from the first fight indicating that every official involved in the fight received a $20.000 payoff to skew the results in Coggi’s favor. He alleges that someone injected him a substance that caused his vision to blur in the hours leading to the rematch. But the provable parts of his many misfortunes, caught on video for the whole world to see, were more than enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. And as outlandish as his claims may be, the events that transpired in both of his fights with Coggi are stranger that any fictions he may be able to concoct.
Coggi blames his warrior mentality for both his successes and his failures.
“I used to gather my family and say goodbye to them before every fight,” claims Coggi, in an emotional exchange. “I was ready to lay down my life in the ring in every fight. I had nothing else. If you want to beat me, you have to kill me. I would never surrender,” said Coggi, who threatened to kill Rivero if he stopped the fight during the rest period after the second round of the first bout, as overheard in the original TV broadcast.
Coggi claims he doesn’t remember anything at all between the punch that deposited him on the canvas in the second round and the early going of the fifth, when his head began to clear. But even as unaccountable as he may have been during this “blackout” period, Coggi never strayed away from the rules far enough to be counted in as part of the whirlwind of corruption and ineptitude that engulfed him during both fights. For some reason, everyone else involved in those events had a reason to believe that they could judge Coggi’s interests better than the fighter himself, and ultimately it was Coggi the one who paid the price.
“I wanted to set a record that year, I wanted glory,” concludes Coggi. “I wanted to put my flag above everything else, and I wanted my father’s name to never die.”
His way of accomplishing that goal may have been tainted by his entourage, the very kind of people who pray for God to work his miracles with his left hand only. But both Gonzalez and Coggi can claim, for the most part, that they gave their very best in the ring in two intense and emotional fights that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
The way in which they will be remembered, however, is another matter entirely.
The fights ended. The dust settled. Tempers cooled, feathers unruffled, and the disputed title belt traveled back to its glass case.
But the whole Coggi-Gonzalez affair was the gift that kept on giving, and the last chapter of this already consequential pair of bouts was just as tragic as the entire debacle that preceded it, and had even more lasting consequences.
Outside the hardcore group of Coggi fans and win-at-all-costs sports enthusiasts in the country, the vast majority of the Argentine people was palpably embarrassed by the entire ordeal, even after Coggi’s legitimate and unimpeachable victory in the rematch.
In an undeniably cheap shot aimed at boosting TV ratings and barely disguised as a questionable attempt to make sense of the whole debacle, Coggi was invited to take part of a sports talk show called “Tribuna Caliente,” featuring some of the country’s most celebrated sports columnists, with Ernesto Cherquis Bialo, dean of Argentine boxing writers and a respected voice in sports journalism, as one of the main participants.
Midway through the usually contentious, testosterone-fueled debate among pundits in front of a boisterous and loud live audience, Coggi is surprisingly introduced by the moderator as a “special unscheduled guest,” and he walks in carrying a case with a special belt given to him by the WBA as their “Fighter of the Year.”
The resulting duel of gab versus grit is still remembered as a defining moment in Argentine boxing history.
“I earned this belt fighting against nobodies, like you said,” quipped Coggi, sarcastically looking right into Cherquis Bialo’s eyes as he laid the acrylic enclosure in front of him, while a muffled murmur descended from the stands where the excited attendees were already relishing the impending confrontation. “What you said about me hurt me, and it hurt my family.”
The initial interest of reaching a cathartic resolution got off to a rough start as the panel felt they were being ambushed by Coggi and Rivero, who had also conveniently “invited” a dozen or more Brandsen natives in the audience to back Coggi in the imminent confrontation. But Cherquis Bialo was a veteran of dozens of similar debates, and he charged against the duo with gusto, doubling down on his request for Coggi to retire once and for all.
The attention then turned to Rivero, who quickly engaged Cherquis Bialo, who in turn shut him out of the conversation with a resounding phrase: “I don’t lend my microphone to backstabbers.” Legendary boxing commentator Horacio Garcia Blanco intervened to make a passionate defense of Cherquis Bialo’s right to opine, and the debate reached an awkward standoff that was seized by the moderator to end the proceedings. As fighter and manager walked out of the set a challenge was issued by Rivero, who apparently wanted to drag Cherquis Bialo to an impromptu bareknuckle fight. Soccer legend Jose Sanfilippo restrained Cherquis Bialo, and the cringe-worthy confrontation was almost defused until none other than a former referee jumped in to seize the attention of the cameras.
“To me, Coggi is right,” said Guillermo Nimo, a clownish former soccer referee whose main role in the panel was to incite heated debates with inflammatory comments, topping the embarrassing cocktail of ill-advised comments on both sides with another one of his “pearls” and waving his hands covered in shiny cheap rings as the crowd roared its approval.
In the end, Cherquis Bialo scored a Pyrrhic victory with disastrous long-term consequences. A line was crossed that was then never crossed back again. The win-at-all-cost crowd effectively imposed its sports philosophy as the leading school of thought from there on. In a country previously accustomed to the dignity of defeat however unfair it may be (Firpo being denied his victory over Dempsey after knocking him out of the ring, DeVicenzo being denied a chance to win the 1968 Masters Golf Tournament due to an error in a scorecard, and many more), the “money or shit” crowd came storming out of the gates.
And it wasn’t shit what they were hungry for.
The Coggi-Gonzalez debacle had a lasting effect on all of the people involved in it.
Referee Isidro Rodriguez was banned for life, but returned in 1997 in his native Venezuela for one last fight, with a special permission that acted more as a parting gift from the WBA than as a vindication of his actions. In the non-scandalously corrupt part of his career, he had been the third man in the ring in fights featuring legends such as Roberto Duran, Wilfredo Benitez and Antonio Cervantes.
Timekeeper Jose Luis Maron was also banned for life, a stretch of time that no one has yet managed to manipulate at will, in anyone’s favor.
Luis Pabon, then 27 and manning one of the three judge seats for the first time in his career in a championship bout, became a well-known and respected referee after that, and remains one of boxing’s most active officials at the highest levels.
Sanchez Atocha continues training fighters in Spain. He still wears his trademark ponytail.
Cristobal Pobón, Gonzalez’s first manager in Colombia and a shady character with alleged ties to the local drug cartels, was shot to death for causes not related to boxing in 1997.
Luis Spada escaped mostly unscathed of the entire fiasco, in spite of being one of its most infamous participants. He was originally sanctioned with a 90-day suspension from all things boxing by the WBA, a very convenient number since the return bout would take place exactly three months later, just in time for Spada to be in Coggi’s corner again. He died in Panama, where he had relocated in the early ‘70s, in 2009. During his four decades there, he handled several Panamanian champions, most notably Roberto Duran in the mid-80s, and many other fighters as well.
In December of 1994, Jorge Castro earned his place in Argentine boxing lore when he demolished John David Jackson in Monterrey, México, in what was later deemed The Ring’s Fight of the Year. On the verge of defeat, and with his corner men ready to step in and throw in the towel, Castro landed a crushing left hand that turned the tables on Jackson and sent him to the canvas in an eerily similar way to the manner in which Coggi had fallen against Gonzalez exactly a year earlier. Luis Spada was in his corner that night, and only minutes before the end of the bout he had asked referee Stanley Christodoulou for “one more round, the champion’s round,” just as the South African ref was getting ready to halt the bout due to Castro’s facial cuts.
Every round in that fight lasted three full minutes.
Castro’s unofficial biography is appropriately entitled “Money or Shit.” Fittingly enough, he claims he never received a penny for it, and he is in the process of suing the author for royalties and other compensations.
Rivero continued his career as a manager/promoter, producing a few dozen titlists for Argentina, both men and women, through the late 2010s. If his testimony in the lawsuit brought by former middleweight champion Hector Velazco is to be believed, Rivero now lives in abject poverty in Uruguay, where he relocated some time ago, being thus unable to pay the restitutions claimed by Velazco (and other fighters as well, such as former lightweight titleholder Raul Balbi), which the fighter has won both in the first instance and on appeal. If his many critics are to be believed, however, he is living off his considerable off-shore investments in a self-imposed exile. His company (which changed names several times for alleged “tax-related purposes”) is now run by his three offspring.
The principals, as usual, bore the brunt of the disgraceful choices of their handlers.
Gonzalez, now 56, lives in Barranquilla, Colombia, where he works as a clerk in a hardware store. He trains young aspiring fighters in a local public square, unable to afford the rent on a proper gym.
Coggi, now 59, lives in his adoptive childhood hometown of Brandsen, Argentina, where he owns a gym. He travels to Buenos Aires regularly to train other fighters as well.
He is one of 42 Argentine boxing champions in history. Many of them are full-fledged celebrities, other remain only mildly famous and recognizable.
Fairly or not, many of them are remembered more benevolently than Coggi. And for most boxing fans, this entire fiasco was Coggi’s own embarrassing “No Más” moment, even though in truth it was the exact opposite. His unwillingness to surrender was subverted by his entourage in such a devastating way that the remedy ended up being worse than the disease itself.
Coggi retired in 1999, six years and 12 fights later, including a memorable trilogy with fellow champ Frankie Randall.
He never fought Julio Cesar Chavez.
As popular as they may have been or not, in a long-enough timeline boxing champions rarely remain the subjects of eternal adulation, and oftentimes their stars dim faster than most others.
Some are remembered only by a single episode of their careers, some of them live on as an empty name in the collective memory, and some others are just pushed towards the corner of the firmament in which the unlucky stars are left to dwell, shining a dull light that reflects our embarrassment more than their shortcomings. A reminder, to be avoided at all costs, that our faults lie not within them as much as they do within ourselves in our role of guiltless enablers.
It is early in the afternoon in Buenos Aires. A reporter is live on TV from a crowded bus stop, interviewing people as they line up waiting for their daily trips to work, asking them about the latest increase in the price of public transportation. Most people try to brush off the inquiries. One of them obliges. The reporter asks patronizing questions about how difficult it must be to cope with the increased cost of living, about how the system is stacked against the little people, about how much of a robbery everything is today. The gentleman with the grey curly hair smiles and nods a few equally patronizing answers behind a thinly veiled smirk.
The news anchor is suddenly cut in on the left half of the screen, looking befuddled and slightly embarrassed.
“Do you know who that is,” she asks. Her question is lost in the noise of the bustling Buenos Aires street, and the clueless reporter walks away from her interviewee as the line begins to move into the bus.
“That was Coggi. Go get him!” the anchor exclaims.
Coggi is already on the bus, smiling through an open window, happy to have grabbed a seat in the crowded vehicle on his way to his job as a trainer in his downtown gym. A regular Joe, a bonafide nobody, just another worker, a survivor, a non-deity, non-idol, non-iconic figure negotiating his way through the anonymous mass, in the pursuit of the daily hustle.
Just a stranger on a bus, perhaps, still trying to escape the dreaded touch of the left hand of God.