The Cuban.

The Cuban

I’d seen him fight the Cuban. He was coming off two losses, but they had been sensational wars. The boxing scribes judged them Panama’s best fights of the year, and in a place like Panama where great fighters were as common as bright light, that meant something. They gave him an award. People adored watching Agua battle in the square ring.

I travelled to the fight on Panama’s new subway. It was held in a shopping mall in the suburb of Los Andes, but you had to travel through San Miguelito, Panama’s wild east to get there. The place was the murder capital of the city. It had rivals, but if you read the papers, took note of the bodies, it held the title. When I got to my destination, three police officers, more out of amusement I think at seeing a gringo alone in the crowd, escorted me to my destination. They were going there anyway- Security.

Agua had him in the fourth round. The Cuban was in a corner, reeling, out on his feet, but Agua’s adrenaline was marching. He wasn’t placing his punches: his distance and angles were controlled by a wild heart. Agrazal was jumping up and down, swinging a towel about in an aggravated expression of frustration, growling at Agua to pick his punches, give himself space: bang them in clean. Agua slowed, his usual limitless strength diminished, and that I found strange. He lost on points, a unanimous decision. He needed that win.

I spoke to him afterwards.

Comi pizza antes de la pelea,’ he complained. ‘Creo que me envenaron. Estaba vomitando.’

Poisoned pizza? Agua could always find a reason for a loss that had nothing to do with his performance, otherwise his formidable belief in himself might waiver, and then what was he. But he did vomit, he did slow, and that was out of character.

‘How old are you?’ I asked.

Treinta y dos,’ he answered.

Thirty-two…? I had already checked, he was thirty-five. The loss after a ten-year professional career brought his record to seventeen wins and thirteen losses. He had reached a stage in his calling where some of the fight fraternity had come to see him only as a trial horse: someone who could put their younger, up and coming boxers to the test. But I sensed this was madness because Agua not, withstanding his age, remained a formidable opponent. He was a virtuoso professional: never drinking alcohol, training as if his life depended on it-and in a sense it did. He had managed the natural loss of his body’s elasticity, his resiliency was still strong, reflexes good, legs powerful. He could still take a punch. He was a warrior.

I suppose that’s when the notion started forming. I knew he was living illegally in Panama, and as such was being taken advantage of by the fight promoters, paid only a few hundred dollars for a fight that should have been in the thousands, a pittance for a man of his calibre: somebody who could bring in the punters. I’d watched him sweat for hours a day, take the bangs and knocks of battle preparation unblinkingly, starve himself to make weight until he resembled winter birch. It wasn’t right.