The last few weeks have been less than glorious for Irish southpaws challenging for World titles on both sides of the Atlantic. Even Andy Lee had to rely on a last gasp effort to subdue Scottish puncher Craig McKeown, who was ahead on points in the final frame of their non-title clash at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut before Lee hit the jackpot and KO’d the Edinburgh-born middleweight with a left hook forged in the St Francis club in Limerick.
Incidentally, how was copper wire invented? Two Scots found a penny.
If in doubt, knock him out they say, although another victory like that, and Lee, who admitted that he had to pull it out of the fire, will be done for to paraphrase a famous general. There was no such luck for his fellow Limerick and Irish left-handers Willie “Big Bang” Casey or Brian Magee however. Casey was dismantled inside one round by Cuba’s Guillermo (El Chacal, The Jackal) Rigondeaux, the defending WBA super-bantamweight champ, and Ulster’s Brian Magee was stopped in the 10th round by defending IBF super-middleweight champ Lucian Bute in Montreal. You bute you.
Next up is unbeaten Derry-born southpaw Paul McCloskey, nicknamed Dudey. McCloskey, 31, meets defending WBA light-welterweight champ Amir Khan tomorrow night at the MEN Arena in Manchester. Dudey, despite the fact that he is the European champion, has been completely written off by the Irish bookies, who have him out at 6/1 as opposed to Khan’s 1/12 on. Khan’s purse took a major hit this week when Sky Box Office announced that they wouldn’t be showing the fight, that it would be broadcast live on the minor pay-per-view Primetime. Likewise, Khan’s purse plummeted from a reported £1.2 million to about a quarter of a million. It is understood that Dudey will trouser £150,000. Khan’s people say they are outraged by Sky’s decision, but McCloskey’s camp say he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the money, that their man is in the zone and ready for battle.
Meanwhile, back to the Casey and Rigondeaux duel. Some claim that Cork’s Gary Hyde provided the speedboat for Rigondeaux for his dramatic escape from Cuba. Under the moonlight, the serious moonlight, El Chacal did a runner from Havana a few years back. He was supposed to go to Cork, but for some reason he settled in Miami. It’s a difficult choice isn’t it? On the one hand you have Leeside – and then there’s Florida. Such a dilemma and life being so brutally short. Anyway, the two-time Olympic champ was in in Thomond Park for a press conference to promote his fight with Casey, the 2010 European super-bantamweight champ, who relinquished the continental strap to challenge the two-time Olympic champion for his WBA super-bantamweight crown, acquired on a split decision over Ricard Cordobain Texas a few months prior to his visit to the Treaty City.
The home of Munster rugby housed two former European champs on the day. Rigondeaux, or Rigo, as Hyde, who had to go to court in Miami to retain his services after a rival promoter tried to get in on the act, affectionately refers to the charismatic Santiago de Cuba native, was very impressed by Thomond Park and was taking pictures of the venue.
“I heard that Munster and the All Darks are the best in world,” says he, speaking through an interpreter.
“That’s correct and in that order. The All Blacks actually.”
“And what about Leinster?”
“Leinster are a British side.”
His interpreter explains that he had been corrected about the All Darks. Rigo grins menacingly. All his upper teeth are capped with gold. If a man whose waist is adorned with a WBA belt says they’re the All Darks then they’re the All Darks – unless you’ve developed a sudden taste for intensive care units.
“Has he ever fought a Traveller,” asks an eejit from the back of the audience when the press Conference commences.
“No, but he has won two Olympic gold medals, two AIBA World titles, Pan American gold and seven Cuban titles before winning the WBA after just seven pro fights,” replies a hack.
“Who’s fucking asking you.”
“Lads, leave the questions to the press will you.”
Rigo goes into a monologue about his career and his plans for the future. Casey, from Southill in Limerick, reiterates his belief that Rigo is a one-trick pony, that he’ll be in his face. The Limerick southpaw, a Traveller, is taking a leaf out of Jack Charton’s book and is planning to put him under pressure when they meet at the Citywest in Dublin. But Casey was made eat his words as Rigo stopped him in the first round. The opening exchanges were civilised enough, but once Rigo drove a left into Casey’s ribs after about a minute it was the beginning of the end for the Shannonsider. Rigo’s footwork is also amazing. He’s sliding in, not unlike the moonwalk perfected by Michael Jackson, the people’s peadophile, and is sitting down on his punches. He’s also extremely hard to hit, the type of boxer that looks elusive even when he’s standing still. His second last opponent before his engagement in Dublin was flaking away hammer and thongs at a point which Rigo had vacated about half a second previously, and when he turned around to face his foe he was left occupying a large area of floor space after being felled with a left hook.
Back at the Citywest, Rigo’s body shots are forcing Casey to drop his elbows to protect his rib cage – an open invitation to go for the head. Rigo obliges. A few seconds later the ref steps in and takes Casey into protective custody after he wilts under a barrage of combinations. Casey’s Rocky Balboa-like rise to stardom ends 22 seconds from the sanctuary of the bell for the end of the first.
He admits after the fight that he was hurt by the shot to the ribs early in the opening frame, the only frame. Still, it was a brave challenge from the Shannonsider. And he can always say that he had a shot at a World title. He was a contender.
But back to the Press Conference in Thomond Park. Rigondeaux tells a tale which should serve as a sobering reminder to those of us who might be inclined to be lyrical about Castro and his pathetic Marxist fiefdom. In 2007, at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro , Rigo, and fellow pugilist Erislandy Lara, did a runner and defected. However, they stopped running too soon and were arrested by Brazilian police and put on the first flight back to Havana. Another Cuban athlete was collared in a whorehouse in Rio, all shagged out. He was also frog-marched to the airport. Back on the Caribbean archipelago, Uncle Fidel wasn’t amused and, comparing defectors to soldiers deserting their comrades in battle, bans the entire boxing team from the 2007 World Championships and first Olympic qualifier in Chicago. Rigo – who was once presented with the keys of a new car by Castro in recognition of his incredible sporting achievements – was singled out and booted off the Cuban team for the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, where he would almost certainly have won his third Olympic gold on the trot. He no longer had a future, just a glorious past.
Shunned in his home town his career appeared to be in tatters – until a man from Cork provided the means for his escape. But his second defection came at a price as he had to leave his partner, Farah Colina, and nine-year-old son behind. Rigo spoke lovingly of his other half and son in Thomond Park, his voice subdued from its normal up-tempo patter. He suddenly stopped talking after saying that he didn’t want to say anymore because of the “political situation back home”. Casey expressed his heartfelt wish that one day his opponent will be reunited with his family. Rigo’s interpreter relays Casey’s sentiments. The combatants share a nod and a smile.
Some thing’s are a lot bigger than WBA super-bantamweight titles. However, the bottom line is that, in the 21st century, Guillermo Rigondeaux, who some believe is the greatest pound-for-pound amateur boxer of all time, had to sneak out of his own country like a thief in the night to pursue fame and fortune in his chosen trade, leaving his loved ones behind to fend for themselves. He can never set foot in his homeland again and his partner and child cannot legally leave. Rigondeaux’s tale should serve as a reminder of the freedoms we take for granted. For whether O’Gara fired over a last minute penalty or not, or whether Messi completes a hat-trick or McCloskey has the last laugh at the Irish bookies, the unpatriotic swine, and triumphs in Manchester, are really matters of profound indifference, existential distractions.
Bill Shankly once said that football wasn’t a matter of life and death that it was much more important than that. Sorry, it isn’t Bill. It’s just a game. Having said that, fingers crossed that Dudey triumphs in Manchester tomorrow. Amir is without doubt a class act and he’ll try to blow McCloskey away from theopening bell. But if the three-time Irish Elite champ can survive the opening onslaught and take the Bolton fighter down into the wilderness rounds then he’s right in there with a shout. McCloskey has waited his entire life for this shot and he’s going to leave everything in the squared circle tomorrow night. Can Dudey do the business? Yes He Khan.