Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. — W.B. Yeats
Those socialized into western culture carry core beliefs and universal truths which represent our idealistic selves. Honesty and hard work combined with talent make for a worthy mixture that usually leads to success and happiness in life. All of us are blessed with talent, some of which is never cultivated, but the added ingredients of graft and integrity will see us make our parents, and ourselves, proud.
Perhaps the mental health crisis is a predictable reaction to our collective careering away from those aforementioned traits, or to our inability to consistently stick to them. The current idealized notions of what we should be and how we should live are, in so many instances, impossible to adhere to. More than that, in actual fact they are destructive, driving people to self- loathing, anxiety and depression.
We once had leaders and role models we could look up to, standard bearers, people who extolled the crucial principles of service to others and opportunity for all. Now the idea of looking up to our political leaders and staying true to the values taught by our parents seems like a sick joke. Slimy, career opportunists and confidence men able to play the great unwashed like toy violins are our civic authorities now, corrupt rulers paid off by corporations, the lackeys of unchecked greed.
Donald Trump is the latest incarnation of this slide into the collective abyss in that he is so transparently without intellect, integrity or compassion, just a silver spooned product of hand-me-down money with an average IQ and a truckload of confidence, the kind of confidence that is never bothered by scruples or reflection or humility. He is a hand grenade, lobbed by the tired and cynical masses for entertainment purposes. The whole thing would be funny if it wasn’t guaranteed to wreak havoc on so many lives, to make a travesty of those core values: honesty; hard work; talent.
I suspect Guillermo Rigondeux was also raised to believe that if he worked hard and lived right, his natural talent would serve him well. One imagines an upbringing far removed from Trump’s life of privilege, one of desperation and scarcity in a Cuba where millions struggle to make ends meet. In my view Rigo turned out rather well, possessing more raw talent and ability than Trump’s whole organization could ever aspire to, a talent developed through years of hard work in Havana’s grimy gyms. He has succeeded on nothing more than his athletic gifts, discipline, and the courage required to take risks most of us wouldn’t dream of taking.
George Foreman once said ” Boxing is the sport all other sports aspire to.” They dish out superlatives for golfers, footballers and rugby players but when it comes to skill and bravery, combat athletes are perched at the top of the food chain. And from that height Guillermo Rigondeaux soared, from impoverished Cuba to amateur boxing prodigy. Trainers, boxing experts and old-time fight pundits all spoke in awe of him. Two Olympic gold medals is some feat considering the shady deals in the background and the curious judging debacles that deform that version of the noble art.
Countless accolades at that level and tales of fleeing Cuba in a dinghy under cover of darkness to turn professional only add to the mystique. Those who controlled that escape operation must have viewed Guillermo as a future superstar and cash cow in the making. His status now is the kind of bizarre tragedy that only boxing can serve up. Inactive, ignored and avoided, this special talent is simply too brilliant to be considered worthy of competition.
I witnessed the great man in action on a tense night in Dublin a few years ago. A seven fight pro and already a world champion he was given a cheque of some decency one presumes to give Irish journeyman Willie” Big Bang” Casey an unlikely title shot. The usual hopes of a passionate home crowd were ruthlessly scuttled by Rigo, who dropped poor Willie like a sack of spuds.
Rigondeaux had entered the arena with a chilling smoothness of emotionless movement. A natural fighter, his entire mental and physical composition combined to create something approaching genius. And now us boxing anoraks find ourselves sharing short videos on social media celebrating his ability and cursing the economic semantics of the professional game.
It’s the fault of the language barrier, some will say. Or the desire for blood-and-guts slugfests. He’s just not marketable. Too aloof, too enigmatic. Will make my fighter look average and devalue his future prospects, managers will say. He just doesn’t sell tickets, promoters will say. Others say boxing is dead or in decline. Boxing is not dead, but the appreciation of “The Sweet Science” appears in rapid decline.
And one wonders what Carl Frampton (not to mention Leo Santa Cruz and others) will say years from now when the Rigondeaux question is brought up yet again. Will he truly believe his own platitudes of “the timing wasn’t right,” or “such a pity we couldn’t get it done”? Or will he privately regret not testing his skills against one of the greatest boxers to ever step into the squared circle? But forget the distant future; the tragedy is happening now as Rigondeaux battles privately with motivation and idleness, as opportunities shrink into nothingness and lethargy and procrastination launch their daily attacks.
The story of Rigondeaux thus far is the story of thwarted talent, the triumph of business over sport and the tragedy of conflicting human values. And it is very sad. We live in a world where Donald Trump is the most powerful man on the planet while Guillermo Rigondeaux sits beside a phone that never rings. There’s something very wrong with this picture.
Unless one sees Yeats gloomy old poem as a bleak and inescapable prophecy. Indeed, in boxing the centre hasn’t held for a long time now and mere anarchy continues to turn what was once called “The Sport of Kings” into a hollow travesty. Sadly, the rare gemstone of balletic pugilism that is Guillermo Rigondeaux remains surplus to boxing’s requirements, as once again economic necessity trumps talent and true sporting achievement. And boxing girds itself for the absurdity that is Mayweather vs McGregor. Anarchy, indeed. — Gary Elbert