By Ray Schultz
“Sure, he ain’t going to last long. He ain’t going to last like you and me, Jerry.”— Fighter in Ernest Hemingway’s 50 Grand
Angel Robinson Garcia, the Cuban boxer, rarely discussed politics, but he did one night outside the Solar Gym in New York. “I like Fidel,” he said. ” Some day I return to Cuba.”
This was more than his manager, a Puerto Rican named Oscar Seary, could bear. “When you get off the boat, they’ll have a sign that says, ‘Welcome, Garcia,’” he snapped.
The year was 1977, and few Cuban exiles would say they liked Fidel Castro, but that’s not what Oscar was getting at. What he meant was that the socialist paradise would not embrace a washed-up pug like Garcia, with his flattened nose, mounds of scar tissue and gaps where he once had teeth.
At his best, this wreck had held his own with Roberto Duran, but now he could barely survive a Baltimore computer programmer named Johnny Gant. Garcia lost every round to the programmer—all he could do was butt him. And even bouts like this were getting hard to come by.
That, not Cuba, was the real cause of the tension this night. There were no fights, no road trips, not an ounce of relief, and Oscar blamed Garcia. “Drinking is all he wants to do,” he said, “fucking around with women, smoking pot.” He turned to Garcia: “You can’t lose any more fights.”
We’d heard it all before. To ease things, someone suggested that Oscar “do” Garcia—mimic his boxing style. A small man with a mustache and a broad smile, Oscar rolled his hips and moved his arms up and down like the poles on a carousel, to howls of laughter. Then he left to get his car, and I waited with the sulking Garcia. It was hot, we had a long ride ahead of us and we were out of beer. Still, I endured this every night, for I was Garcia’s biographer. I was there to record what he did and absorb the central lesson of his life: that greatness is not always defined by victory.