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On Hard Work, True Talent and the Road of Andrew Cancio

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Hard work beats talent.

 

While that may be debated, it was preached as gospel in my household.

One that made its family principles off of, well, preaching the gospel.

A mother that was abused and a product of the streets was always quick to tell her children, “The A students end up working for the C Students because the C students end up having to learn what hard work actually is.”

A successful father who often told us he started at the bottom, putting parts in cardboard boxes before selling the planes those boxes were shipped on.

These were key principles and lessons in my household. Giving less than 100% was not acceptable. We could fail. We may succeed. But we would never quit. And the only way we ever could classify quitting was by asking ourselves- “did I do everything I could to succeed”.

As I progressed in life, I found myself falling short of that high bar, both in my profession and in the mundane aspects of the day to day. I think most can say they have come to the same place. Realistically, it’s impossible for someone to give everything they have to everything they encounter.

The place this can sting, however, is when it comes to our dreams. One of the biggest frustrations that we have with ourselves is the overwhelming feeling that we have passed on our dreams at some point in our progression. Whether it be in lieu of what is easier, what avoids failure, or what we at the time feel is more realistic for our life’s trajectory. We convince ourselves that our dreams aren’t realistic. We allow grace as we label our laziness for logistics.

It’s the same reasoning as to why we love the heroic stories that come from the sport of boxing. Time and time again we as fans tie ourselves to the careers of those that have overcome in order to achieve their goals. We envy the backdrop in a sport so brutal. We revel in the tales of places that we were unfamiliar with ourselves, drawing a mythical parallel as if to remind ourselves that if this guy could do it, so could I. No matter the cards that have been dealt in this poker game, you can win because the ace up the sleeve is out-working someone else in order to achieve.

But boxing is not a game. And stories are not always a fairy tale. For most, no matter how hard they work, the ultimate goals and dreams are not realized. Absent of acclaim, belts, championships and dollars, often fighters realize that their stories are to be written sans the gloves and trunks, only taking the beatings and bruises with them as lessons for their next chapters.

For those who harnessed their hard work and make it to the pinnacle of pugilism, a rude awakening awaits. The hunger that drove them to greatness now being supplanted by the pulling of contractual obligations, sponsorships and limelight. Out of the shadows of the loneliness found in the 4 am roadwork and into the bright lights documenting each step of their training for the fans. Long gone the raw eggs and top ramen, the constant cameras chronicling their caloric consumption by their personal culinary cultivator.

Many a champion are blinded by said lights. Their hard work ethic taking a backstage to a belief that the gifts that life has given perhaps coming because they themselves are gifted. Perhaps it wasn’t hard work that granted them the talent to win. That they should begin to believe what others are beginning to tell them. They are their destination. They are the talent.

And so it goes the groundwork for a fall begins. Their hunger being filled by the deposits they make in their bank accounts instead of the breadbaskets of those they face. The allure of playing the role of champion taking over the contrarian thought processes that got them there. Marvelous Marvin Haggler famously oft-quoted- “It’s hard to get out of bed at 5 in the morning to do roadwork when you’re sleeping in silk pajamas.”

Just as fans have traditionally attached themselves to the stories of those that came from the bottom and reached the top, there is now an equally verbose enjoyment displayed when champions are dethroned.

Empowered by social media outlets that allow a much uglier side to be voiced without a face behind it, fans are quick to relish in what would seemingly be the inability of those that rose to the top to remain there. At no time recently has that macabre celebration been more visible than when Anthony Joshua was waived off in Madison Square Garden.

Immediately, speculation regarding if the fight was taken lightly by the taller, leaner, more gifted Joshua. Was he not taking his opponent seriously? Or had the temptations of South Beach caused the spartan to soften his one-time steel resolve? Perhaps the talent had forgotten the hard work. Perhaps he wasn’t talented at all.

One has to wonder if these questions serve a dual purpose. The answers granting a certain amount of peace to those with that nagging thought they had missed out their own destiny because of its difficulty. Showing that even those champions who seem to have everything can too, opt for an easier path. And in doing so lose out on their goals and dreams. After all, it’s impossible to give 100% to everything, especially when you seemingly have it all.

The downside of many a career story is the acceptance that boxing was a chapter in your life and not a canon. One of the hardest conclusions one can make is that their talent may not meet others’ and that the phrase regarding your hard work did not reign true.

Finding himself at a fork in the road, a stall in his progression and feeling the fabric of the ring on his face one too many time, Andrew Cancio could all but succumb to a voice that he blocked out every day since he first picked up a pair of gloves. A voice familiar to all who that volunteer in the noblest of sport.

Its call rings louder than the 4 am alarm clock, reminding him he still had a full day as a construction technician ahead. A voice reminding him that the sparring after his labor could easily be avoided if his career took a knee. An all too familiar tone resonating in his mind, coaxing him that he indeed had done enough, that his dreams need to give way to reality. This is too much. Stop. Retire.

At no point could this had been any louder than in early February as Andrew looked down on the canvas in Fantasy Springs. Drowning out the noise of upset family members as his gloves rested on his quads, staring at hands that tallied till 10.

Louder and Louder. You were an underdog. You should have retired. You had a great run. You went out against a talented champion. You have worked hard enough. No need to rise again.

This is where perhaps the most important talent lies. The ability to shut out the voices urging you to sacrifice resolve to embrace rest.

Coming to his feet and standing above the sound, Cancio found success. The only noises heard were the groans from a champion who himself would find the canvas himself three times at the expense of his freshly beaten liver. And a roar from an author who just wrote his story.

A dream revealed. An idiom quantified. El Chango. The Champion.

A story like so many others we had loved and lauded.

But it is the epilogue that makes this story unlike most.

When I asked Andrew what has changed since that magical night, his answer was exactly what you would want to hear. And simultaneously challenging the quiet conclusions you’ve made about what is feasible when it comes to yourself.

“No, I’m still 40 hours a week. I’m still Monday through Friday. I still have to use my vacation for any boxing activity. I’m still going to work, on my drive home, I’m talking to you media guys. I guess the only thing that has changed is I’m World Champion. Otherwise, I’m still on my grind.”

An anomaly. His hard work gained him talent. Talent and hard work made him a champion. But unlike so many before that have come to rest on their laurels, Cancio has accomplished something that ascends beyond boxing and sport. A story that shows hard work is not a discipline to be achieved for just an accomplishment or accolade. That possessing talents rewarding you a title does not mean your job is done.

This is no fairy tale. Wins and losses will come. But Andrew Cancio has already accomplished his greatest success and passed his greatest tests only to continue along a road that won’t be defined in the ring, but by what he has become out of it.

Tomorrow at 4 am, the talented “El Chango” will begin to give 100% to everything he does in his day. Just as he did before he had the belt. Running down the same road that has helped him become Champion. Realizing that running that same road will take him to places few champions have been before. And simultaneously stirring us all to reflect on what is possible if we challenge ourselves to work on continuing to pave our own roads.

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