Some reports claimed that the two Cuban amateur boxers dressed up as women to slip through Brazilian security, and everybody agrees the pair were in a brothel when they were captured a few days later. Back in Havana, the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, called Guillermo Rigondeaux, one of the two would-be defectors, “Judas” and banned him from boxing for life.
At the same time, high above the Caribbean Sea, the pair sat, shamed, broken, scared and hung over, on a speedily scrambled official Cuban plane; they knew their careers wearing the Cuban vest and winning medals were over.
The attempt to defect, which was initially denied by Rigondeaux, was in 2007 and this week his crazy life took a few more twists when he failed to show up for a fight in Liverpool scheduled for tomorrow night.
On Tuesday Rigondeaux, having been at a fight in Grozny, Chechnya last Saturday, was meant to be waiting for his British visa in Moscow, but instead the 35-year-old was stepping off a plane in Miami.
An attempt to get him from Miami to Liverpool was eventually cancelled on Wednesday and his fight with the British super-bantamweight champion Jazza Dickens called off. All the paperwork, not inconsiderable considering Rigondeaux’s complicated status, had been completed; he was free to enter Britain and fight.
Also involved in the story of how Rigondeaux came so close to fighting in Liverpool, a submarine, Michael Flatley from Lord of the Dance, Miami’s King of Spam, a Turkish boxing promoter with lead in his leg from a shooting, a Cork publican and speedboats carrying the most lucrative human cargo on the planet.
When Rigondeaux returned to Cuba in 2007, his privileges were taken away and his shame was a matter of public record. Castro delivered a short sermon condemning him and warning all future absconders, saying: “He did the same thing as a soldier abandoning his troops in combat.”
The boxing lineage in Cuba at the time was long, simple and extended by hand from Teofilo Stevenson to Felix Savon to Rigondeaux; the three men had each, during their reigns, dined privately with El Comandante. Stevenson, who had once shunned Don King’s cash advances for a fight with Muhammad Ali, famously said: “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?”
Back in Cuba, Rigondeaux was made to suffer for his perceived treachery in the Brazil farce. His partner in the failed attempt to defect, Erislandy Lara, had managed to get on a boat and flee Havana in 2008, ending up in Hamburg with a colourful character called Ahmet Ohner. Lara is a world champion today.
In 2009 Rigondeaux managed to board a high-powered speedboat and escape Cuba to Mexico and then to Miami, where one of his wealthy backers was the undisputed king of internet spam. The ownership of the boat, the multiple cash transactions involved and the plot to get Rigondeaux out safely are not easy to untangle.
It seems the promoter Gary Hyde and Ohner both staked a claim on the fleeing bounty. Hyde insists the boat was hired by him; Ohner insists he paid the smugglers. Hyde and his friend Flatley looked into the idea of hiring a submarine to make the passage safer and reduce the risk of rogue smugglers suddenly demanding a premium for their precious cargo. Hyde was in and out of Cuba and in and out of some deals with a lot of crazy people.
Rigondeaux left behind family in Cuba knowing his exile is likely to be permanent. Meanwhile, in America, Ireland and Germany he has been bartered over in courts and in deals behind closed doors;
He does not smile too often, that is for sure. He has fought just 16 times since turning professional, winning a version of the world title in 2010 in his seventh fight and then having that taken from him last year due to inactivity and stupidity and handed to Bury’s Scott Quigg. In theory, which is a popular concept in boxing, Carl Frampton, who beat Quigg recently, has to fight Rigondeaux this summer or risk being stripped of the WBA super-bantamweight title. The fight will not happen.
“I really wanted this fight,” said Dickens. “It was my chance and I’m sick that it has fallen through. Perhaps it can be arranged again. He has apologised for not showing. I will just get on with my career.”
On American TV Rigondeaux has often been criticised for simply being too clever, too slick and too good. He is accused of not understanding the professional sport, the demands of the fans and the whims of the television paymaster. The latest calamity has left a lot of seasoned boxing people very angry. You see, Rigondeaux is not very good at following orders. But he is a delight to watch, an artist inside the ropes, and it would have been a pleasure watching him tomorrow night.
He proves there is more to this art than blood, guts and fighting a lost cause.
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