It was the infamous and notorious Cuban/Marxist revolutionary Che Guevera who once said: "A smoke in times of rest is a great companion to the solitary soldier."
Recalling that quote from Che, before embarking on this piece as a point of reference for how to "write" about smoking a Cuban (a fighter that is), provided a cool contrast of sorts.
If relaxing in elegant reflection while assuming a state of ambiance is the key to burning a quintessential cigar of Cuban origin, then actually smoking one in the ring of combat requires something completely different.
You cannot relax, reflect or assume anything, unless you want to get your ass kicked or be summarily embarrassed in the process. Don't believe me? Fine. Ask Nonito Donaire how he felt after encountering perhaps the greatest fighter in the storied history of Cuba, the Olympic legend and pound for pound star in reigning WBA Bantamweight champion"El Chacal", Guillermo Rigondeaux.
"Now that's a Cuban I don't know if I could smoke or not, but I sure would like to light him up and see."
Muhammad Ali, on Cuban heavyweight great, Teofilo Stevenson
Now there is a match that would have been made in fistic heaven, one that tragically could not be made for truly historic purposes, because of political divide (which brings to mind another match-up that falls into this category, but we won't go there)
The land made famous by Fidel Castro is an island clad in as much intrigue as it is despair. No more glaring is this apparent than when you consider its legendary boxing program.
Of the roughly 99,000 or so athletes in Cuba, about 19,000 of them are boxers, which includes around 80 or so who show enough Olympic promise to be considered among the final 12.
To be the best of the best and truly stand alone, now means you must face the daunting prospect of what you must do to truly measure and define your worth.
This happens to be something the aforementioned Rigondeaux understands all too well with the plight of Stevenson - and all that was lost - in his memory.
His brave departure from Cuba gives us a chance to see how his prime holds up against the world's best in his class. We know that extreme success in the amateur ranks (take Vasyl Lomanchenko's recent turn of events against Orlando Salido into consideration, though he will be great) doesn't necessarily spell ring immortality professionally.
The Cubans are inexorably tied to the style they hone so well as amateurs, but they are often handcuffed as pros because of it. They're either too boring, too defensive, too slick, too polished, or just too risky to fight. All scary prospects to promoters or elite fighters tied to major networks such as Showtime or HBO.
Beyond Rigondeaux, this also applies to Erislandy Lara.
Lara is a real talent with a penchant for running. He is not especially keen on engaging and neither is the vastly more talented defensive scientist Rigondeaux. I would have to agree with my old cranky friend Larry Merchant, who gets somehow visibly annoyed as you listen to him calling their fights. They're a pain in the ass to watch.
It is the extreme pressure fighter of will that will beat them both. In Lara's case, the Canelo Alvarez I saw in the opening rounds basically maim Alfredo Angulo would wear down and stop him.
If he were to fight Floyd Mayweather, he would probably fair a little better - that is, until Floyd stopped him. I'm reminded of Pernell Whitaker vs. the slick Cuban Diabolis Hurtado when I think of this fight. Lara would irritate an older Floyd into becoming a tyrant in there.
As for the great Rigondeaux, I think I've seen enough of Carl Frampton and (most especially) Leo Santa Cruz to know that they both possess the acumen and the arsenal to doom "El Chacal". Rigo is a crisp enough puncher to warrant caution, but the fighter to "smoke" him will throw caution to the wind and assault him without relent.
Just as the only way to defeat Floyd is with volume and constant pressure (hey, real skills won't hurt either, shout out to Ricky Hatton), the same applies to Rigondeaux.
Until that time comes- like when Showtime and HBO get off their asses/collective high horses and force the obnoxious Golden Boy and Top Rank brass to be actual businessmen, we won't really know. The Frampton fight should most definitely happen in the meantime for Rigondeaux, who is beyond ready to engage in trench warfare befitting of his prodigious ability.
And I've just reached my cue to take Che's advice.