HAVANA TIMES — Ever since his debut as a professional boxer in 2008, I have followed every match fought by Cuban pugilist Guillermo Rigondeaux (“Rigo”, as his fans call him), keeping a close eye on his prodigious, almost dizzying rise in the field, admiring the talent and courage he invariably shows in each fight.
During the Pan-American Games held in Rio de Janeiro in 2007, Rigo and a fellow Cuban boxer, Erislany Lara, members of the Cuban sports delegation that year, attempted to desert. This incident concluded with a rather shameful move by the Brazilian government, which detained the two boxers and repatriated them.
As may be recalled, the incident prompted a series of “Reflexions” by Fidel Castro, in which, through one of his typical monologues, he reproached the “unpatriotic” attitude of the boxers, whose sports careers immediately ended upon their return to Cuba.
Their heartfelt regret, displayed before the Cuban press again and again, did little to change things. So did the fact Cuban boxing superstar Teófilo Stevenson intervened on their behalf.
I will never forget that, on the day Lara and Rigondeaux arrived from Brazil, Castro concluded his Reflection of the day with the phrase: “Now I can get a good night’s sleep.”
It struck me as shameful, even cruel, that destroying the careers of two great Cuban boxers could give Castro a good night’s rest.
To his frustration, Rigondeaux’s and Lara’s determination was unstoppable, and, the following year, having left Cuba behind, the two picked up their boxing career were they left off, demonstrating, in each and every one of their matches, the high quality of their Cuban training.
Rigondeaux’s greatest achievement as a professional boxer was witnessed this past Saturday, April 13th, at New York’s Radio City Hall. There, 6,000 spectators saw the Cuban boxer defeat the Philippine pugilist Nonito Donaire, the world’s top professional boxing champion of 2012, and walk away with the title of World Champion in the 122 pound division.
Rigo, far from his native soil and public, has achieved the feat of becoming the world boxing champion for the 122 pound weight class after a mere 12 fights. During the last fight, we saw him dominate Donaire, who seemed disconcerted, lacking in skill to match Rigondeaux’s talents.
Rigondeaux’s unquestionable victory did more than amaze professional boxing critics, who had unanimously set their bets on Donaire. It also, and more importantly, made a human dream come true, that dream one reaches through personal sacrifice, without harming anyone.
Without a doubt, the night of April 13, 2013, Guillermo Rigondeaux slept more peacefully than Fidel Castro, who, years before, through a pitiful political victory over the boxer, naively thought he had put an end to his career.