Leadmego

Quotes by Brin-Jonathan Butler

Quotes by Brin-Jonathan Butler

‘What comes next?’ is the constant question I’m asked by outsiders eager to travel to the island. During the eleven years I traveled to Havana, very few Cubans I met on the island ever bothered to verbalize this question.
A profoundly disturbing thing you discover very quickly traveling in Cuba is that the most dangerous person for Cubans isn’t the police or even the secret police; it’s their neighbor. Anyone can report you for anything ‘outside’ the revolution – even if you haven’t done it yet.
Ali vs. Stevenson would have served as a symbolic battle between the United States and Cuba, capitalism and communism: Castro’s values instilled in his boxers pitted against the values of ‘merchandise’ boxers from the rest of the world.
An offer to fight Muhammad Ali came after Stevenson won his second Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976. Stevenson was at his peak. The world had never seen a heavyweight with the tools Stevenson brought into the ring.
Anyone can see why an elite athlete would want to leave a small, impoverished country where their skills were effectively uncashed winning lottery tickets. All they had to do was wash ashore almost anywhere else in the world and cash in. Yet the vast majority of Cuban boxers – and Cuban athletes in general – despite that incentive, stayed.
As far as cities go, Havana is a festering treasure chest, a primary color.
At a certain point, Mike Tyson and I reacted to violence a little differently. I was afraid to leave my house for three years while he became the heavyweight champion of the world. The thing was, at first, we reacted to it the same way, and our cowardice and trauma defined us.
At the heart of all romanticism is suffering.
Both for Havana’s beauty and decay, it’s very hard to restrain yourself from staring everywhere you look.
Boxing distills and illuminates the essence of an athlete. There’s nowhere to hide. Boxers live and perform at the extremes. They provide us with answers about a given contest, but more important, they ask us fundamental questions about human narratives. What does this person really stand for? How far will he go to defend it?
Bullfighting is every bit as ghoulish and savage as its critics warn, but it is equally as powerful and moving as its supporters insist. Perhaps the most vexing aspect about it is that neither group is wrong: they are both telling the truth.
Castro always used the boxers as a symbolic war against American values to demonstrate that they fight for something more than money.
Castro branded Rigondeaux a ‘traitor’ and ‘Judas’ to the Cuban people.
Castro was always using his athletes as a way of symbolically defeating the United States in the ring, and after these Cubans defeated Americans in the ring, they were turning down exorbitant sums to leave the island.
Cuban athletes represent the most expensive human cargo on earth. They are sitting on over a billion dollars of human capital if these boxers and baseball players would come over to any other field or ring in the world and begin to ply their trade.
Cuban eyes often look close to tears. Tears never seem far away because both their pain and their joy are always so close to the surface.
Exploring Castro’s pawns in Cuba and exposing anything negative also makes you a pawn to all his enemies 90 miles away. Both sides don’t have much of a track record for nuance of opinion.
Galileo wasn’t put in prison because he was wrong about anything he discovered looking through his telescope; rather, he was incarcerated simply because he saw what others didn’t wish to see.
He’s the best practitioner I’ve ever seen of the Cuban style. But I think that what Rigondeaux sees as an immaculate performance has no corollary to what fans see as a perfect performance. In his mind, to make an opponent look terrible who has been lauded as exciting or favored against him gives him satisfaction.
How much abuse is a fighter expected to endure before he can be allowed to show some concern for his own welfare? Anyone who has been around fighters knows they all share the same secret: They are more afraid of embarrassment and humiliation than injury. Do fans and writers use this fact against them in what we celebrate or criticize?
Hundreds of years ago, the most beautiful women of Havana were only glimpsed stepping in or out of carriages on this street. The first foreign writers who arrived and saw this could never get past just how incredibly beautiful their feet were.
I have a dirty little habit of distilling every city I’ve ever visited into the historical person I’d have most wanted to meet and share a cigarette with.
I have no arguments to defend how brutal and disturbing a ritual the corrida is. Like all tragedies, no matter the beauty created, there are no happy endings. If it is indeed an art form, bullfighting is the most disturbing I have ever witnessed.
I think the beauty and mystery of boxing is just the immediacy of how it reveals people unlike anything else.
I traveled to Cuba with the intention of speaking with boxers who had turned down enormous offers to leave. When explaining my project to people, again and again I was met with amusement and skepticism.
I was told before my first trip that no city in the world offered the dreams you could have sleeping in Havana. But nobody warned me that Havana also always feels like an exhausting nightmare that never quite fulfills the promise of what it’s threatening you with.
I’d never seen Rigondeaux’s face without it being obscured by headgear or a photograph of Fidel he was holding up after winning a tournament. Finally I saw him, only to recognize the saddest face I’d ever seen in Cuba.
I’ve been going to Cuba since the Elian Gonzalez affair.
In Old Havana, the names of the streets before the revolution provided a glimpse into the city’s state of mind. You might have known someone who lived on the corner of Soul and Bitterness, Solitude and Hope, or Light and Avocado.
In film or on stage, in reflecting life through art, an actor has a second take or another day with his or her performance if something goes wrong. Bullfighters are spies crossing into enemy lines. Any mistake, no matter how minor or trivial, is potentially fatal.
In the United States in the 20th century, every major event that America was going through, there was a boxer who seemed to symbolically represent it, from slavery to the Vietnam War to the Depression – all the way along, you just seemed to have boxers that carried the narrative.
In the documentary ‘Facing Ali,’ nearly half the fighters involved required subtitles despite speaking English, their speech slurred by the physical toll of their ring lives. This was their reward for testing their furthermost physical and mental boundaries.
In the summer of 2007, two-time Olympic champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and his teammate, Erislandy Lara, had been arrested in Brazil after going AWOL from the Cuban team during the Pan Am Games. The defection attempt made international news and quickly became a national soap opera, regularly appearing on Cuban news and round table discussions.
Is Duran’s ‘No Mas’ a more defining moment in his career than his victory over Sugar Ray Leonard in their first fight? For many, it is.
Love is junk.
Many of the greatest Cuban boxing champions since the revolution triumphed on the island resisted the temptation to leave Cuba and, in some cases, defied any suggestion they were tempted in the first place. Most famously, Teofilo Stevenson rejected multi-million dollar offers to leave his island to fight Muhammad Ali.
Maybe the real subject of every interview is how you really can’t learn much of anything about anyone from an interview.
Mike Tyson notoriously looked for a way out against Evander Holyfield when it was clear Holyfield had his number. Suddenly, Tyson’s cowardice in gnawing off Holyfield’s ear overshadowed nearly everything he had accomplished as a fighter.
My documentary ‘Split Decision’ examines Cuban-American relations, and the economic and cultural paradoxes that have shaped them since Castro’s revolution, through the lens of elite Cuban boxers forced to choose between remaining in Cuba or defecting to America.
My mother left Hungary as a refugee, and she is not nostalgic for the life that she had back in Hungary, and yet Cubans certainly want the economic opportunity in the United States, but they’re desperately homesick for the culture that they left behind.
On June 27, 1988, a 21-year-old Mike Tyson made in excess of 21 million dollars for 91 seconds of work. It took him just over 14 seconds to pull in more money than Michael Jordan, in his prime, made for an entire season of work that year.
On the flight over to the Gulf of Mexico, I wondered about how they say you can never go home again, but maybe an equally expensive reality is how many people, regardless of how many years or miles they put between themselves and where they were born, are never truly able to leave home.
Punching your weight is one of boxing’s most sensible rules. It’s a handy one to abide by whether your battles lie in or out of a ring.
Rigondeaux was Cuba’s answer to Bobby Fischer who transformed into a kind of Lee Harvey Oswald traitorous creature in that society. He escaped on a smuggler’s boat and toppled one of the best fighters in the world in 2013 with his obliteration of Nonito Donaire at Radio City Music Hall. He made it look so easy, his career has never recovered.
Teofilo Stevenson won his first Olympic gold medal in 1972 and his last world amateur championship in 1986. He won 302 fights and once went an unbelievable 11 years without a loss. Had Cuba not boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics, many think Stevenson would have won an unmatched four gold medals in boxing.
Trejo is one of the oldest boxing gyms in Cuba; it’s outdoor, and every great champion the country has produced has passed through and was forged in the open air.
Trusting the world is a risk, while not trusting it is a guarantee you’ll be left with nothing.
We’re a long way away from someone like Willie Pep winning a round without throwing a punch.
Weddings have always spooked me.
When Castro was put on trial in 1953 by Batista’s government and asked who was intellectually responsible for his first attempt at insurrection, he dropped the name of the poet Jose Marti.
When I first asked my boxing coach, two-time Olympic champion Hector Vinent, what made the Cuban style of fighting distinct from the rest of the world, he smiled and told me to sit on a bench in Prado and watch the Cuban women walk.
When Mike Tyson was only 18, his managers used to market him on posters, reminding you that if your grandfather had missed Joe Louis, or your father Muhammad Ali, don’t you miss Tyson.
Where the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion failed, undoubtedly the tourist invasion will succeed in forever changing the landscape of island. What comes next in Cuba? The answer is that many Cubans aren’t waiting around to find out.
While Fidel Castro used to deliver his marathon seven-hour speeches in Havana, Cubans used to joke that if Spanish lacked a future tense, their leader would be speechless. He was only fluent in broken promises, they lamented.
With all of the people in Cuba who I met – many of them hugely heroic figures – I found learning about their complexity and richness and contradictions just really fascinating, and it was fulfilling to be able to offer a different side to them, to be able to have some kind of unique takeaway from the official narrative.
You can’t learn to take a punch. Whether you have a glass chin or you don’t, the only way of finding out is having it land.

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