People used to believe in America.
Oh sure, maybe some of us were more interested in making sure we had our nachos and soda purchases complete than that we were ready to stand erect when the national anthem played before our favorite local sporting event started.
And maybe we only sort of cared about what our political leaders said and did on national stages and we only dipped our toes in the sphere of politics every four years or so when everything was stripped down into nice little sound bites for us to digest so we could make certain we could wear those fancy “I voted” stickers they give out during presidential election years.
Okay and maybe we weren’t even really all that sure what the difference was between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and where exactly the Bill of Rights fit into everything.
But we believed in the American Dream. Right?
If you or I was good enough at something—if we worked hard enough and had the gumption to pull up our boot straps or writing pens or whatever we had to pull up that day and really got after it, we could make it big.
We could prosper greatly because we’re in America.
WBA junior middleweight champion Erislandy Lara probably heard how awesome America was when he was languishing away in Cuba. It’s what motivated him to defect from that socialist regime and dare a harrowing escape from the small island to America, the supposed land of plenty and home of the brave and great.
In fact, Lara seemed really excited when he attained citizenship earlier this year. Via press release, Lara exclaimed how fortunate he felt to finally call himself a United States citizen.
“When I arrived in the United States in 2008, my main goal was to become a citizen of this great nation,” said Lara. “It brings me great joy to know that I am now a legal citizen of the United States of America.”
And Lara seems genuinely thrilled with his life right now. He walks around with money in his pockets. He drives a nice car. He lives in an affluent suburb of Houston with his wife and two children. They all wear nice clothes and don’t have to worry about those pesky rising healthcare costs that don’t seem to do anything but get more expensive no matter what party has control of the House and Senate.
And I don’t really know if Lara watches NFL football and where he stands on the whole “to kneel or not to kneel” debate, but I don’t really care all that much because Lara seems happy.
“Living here in the States has been a tremendous blessing to me and my family.” Lara said. “With hard work, and the help of many good people around me, I've been able to provide for my loved ones. My goal is to continue my boxing career with my core team, and someday, God willing, become a boxing Hall of Famer.”
That’s a far cry from fading from existence in a boat full of strangers—dehumanized into being a box of cargo while he was floating around in the ocean wondering if he was closer to the freedom of death than he was to the freedom of America he had dreamt about.
“Being on the sea, not knowing whether I was going to live or die—whether I’d make it or not… I’m grateful to God I was able to pass that stage of my life and now that is why I work so hard in this country to make the most out of my life. I believe that God put every human being on this planet for a reason.”
He’s really come so far from so little. But does the American Dream have a ceiling in boxing? Is Lara not connected to the right management or television networks or perhaps national brand to actually make good on his enormous potential?
Plainly said, should Lara have defected to Mexico first so he could cash in on being a Mexican fighter?
Because Lara, age 34, is running out of time to make his boxing dream come true. It’s hard to make a Hall of Fame case when you’re fighting the likes of Yuri Foreman and Delvin Rodriguez on throwaway cards no one cares about.
And it’s hard to get your name on pound-for-pound lists when no one good enough to get you on them wants to fight you.
Hell, it’s hard to become great if everybody you fight is just average.
Lara did have one golden opportunity in boxing, but he’s deserved many. Lara fought Canelo Alvarez in 2014 and suffered a controversial loss. Lara’s punches were more clean and crisp, but Alvarez was the star fighter who was just aggressive enough to be awarded a split-decision without too much media fallout.
Besides, since when does the boxing media give a damn about Cuban fighters?
And of course, there has been no clamor for a rematch. Alvarez and Golovkin fight a draw and both sides are bending over backward to make the second fight immediately. But Lara’s disputable loss? In a fight he probably should have won?
Nah, let’s just move on down the road.
Here’s the plain truth of the matter, and maybe it should make you cringe a little bit. Lara might be too good a fighter to make it big in America. He’s too crafty. He’s too dangerous. And he doesn’t have enough clout within boxing’s at times crooked political complex to get the fights he deserves.
How else can one explain the dearth of quality opponents Lara has been forced to stomach since the Alvarez fight?
Why else would a serviceable but unspectacular young fighter like Terrell Gausha, who has pretty much done nothing in his career to warrant the shot he gets at Lara’s WBA title on Saturday night at Barclays in Brooklyn, be Lara’s most interesting opponent over the last two years?
Something in America is broken right now. The evidence is everywhere you turn. People are fighting each other in the streets over national protests about police brutality instead of just sitting down together and talking about it.
News reports have become op-ed blasts. Social media has become the bane of leading a reasonable existence. And people too often judge you solely based on what news channel you watch rather than the content and quality of your character.
No one knows what America is supposed to be anymore. I’m not even sure we know how to ask the right questions.
Whatever the answer is to that larger issue, we for sure know in boxing that the idea of fairness and justice doesn’t exist. A fighter like Lara, a man who put himself into harm’s way to secure his title shot at the championship of American prosperity has been given only a fraction of the opportunities his talent and skill deserve.
Sorry, Lara, you’re just too good to become great.
So here he languishes in obscurity, an A-plus fighter facing B-level opposition on a C-plus card on Showtime in October. That isn’t to say the fights aren’t interesting. They are, but nothing that happens on Saturday night means a damn thing in the sport of boxing other than fights happened and there were winners.
Fittingly, Lara is the main event attraction for all this. Here, Lara, go defend your title against this guy now and stay out of our hair while we make bigger bouts between lesser fighters for more money.
That’s not the American Dream, folks. That’s just plain bullshit.