Idolo- A Road Trip with Mexican boxing champ Marco Antonio Rubio
by Christine Maynard
In Mexico, a boxer, while he is winning, is a demi-God. Machismo manifests in its purest form in the boxing gyms, rings, and coliseums where peleadors perform. Marco Antonio Rubio, best known as “Veneno,” (venom,) 31-2 with 29 KO’s, embodies this machismo, and more. He is incredibly gifted and confident, with laser-like focus and an energy level that makes him larger than life.
I joined him on a road trip from Austin, Texas, where he trains with other high ranked Mexican Nationals, (including Jesus Chavez,) to his home town of Torreon, Mexico, where he fought… and won.
Traveling with a high-profile hero, from the luxury of elitist country clubs nestled amid mountains, to street corners in Coahuila, with crowds of children clamoring for Veneno’s attention, was quite impressive. His image, along with his opponent, Leon “Ice Cold” Pearson, appeared on huge light emitting diode billboards, reminiscent of Times Square. Marco is fueled by the feedback from his fans, whom he attends graciously.
Yet the seminal event was witnessing Marco Antonio Rubio fight. I learned that fighting is noble. That fighting is real. The appeal is visceral, obviously, but on a more subtle level it touches the spirit.
The heart of a true fighter is his strength. This strength is funded by belief, which through osmosis or alchemy becomes every man’s ability to believe. This hope is primed, behind the eyes and in the hearts of the masses, when they watch their fighter. It is magic, unlike any other sport.
A fighter becomes the transformative agent for the people, capable, if he wins, of transmuting despair into hope. This redemptive power of belief in a fighter is enthralling; he is like the Host raised high, bells signaling the change. His presence in the ring creates an incendiary pandemic, spreading startlingly, in which every cell becomes more alive, animated. That’s what boxing is. That’s what boxing is about.
I first met Rubio in Richard Lord’s gym. He had twinkling eyes, with a perpetual smile one couldn’t resist returning. “A world class boxer” those who knew said, as Marco sparred on Saturdays. But there are lots of world class boxers, title holders and champions in the gym. I had no concept of his “idolo” status.
On a Tuesday in August, mid-morning, after training, we left Austin, heading west on 90 through the valley. The gorgeous, blue canopy that stretched above the straight west Texas highway was a cross between Wyoming, and an Italian Renaissance painting, in which cherubs are sucked into azure Duomo ceilings, amidst tufts of clouds. I felt as if we were bulging into a bubble of sky.
Trennice Brown, a bad-boy, black boxer from New Orleans by way of Cincinnati, slept in the back seat of Marco’s Chevrolet, as we drove past hunting ranches, with metal cut outs of wild hogs, or ducks in formation above the gates, as advertisements. In Uvalde, we pass the soon–to-open Oasis Outback. Two story palm trees at the entrance are alluring, yet the cultural dissonance of a west Texan Sultan theme fills me with prescience- expect the unexpected on this trip.
Trennice and I had no idea where we were headed, only that I was to act as his corner and that Marco had been instructed to not let us out of his sight. Trennice KO’d Jhonny Torres, in 37 second in Houston. He has a fierce left hook and incredible musculature-genetics, not discipline. He is the opponent for “Chloro” Ruben Padilla, on the undercard of Marco’s fight.
A dream catcher hung from the rear view mirror. Conversation was conducted through a translating device, out of necessity. But gestures and expressions worked best for conveying meaning.
Marco showed me photographs on his cell phone of his girlfriend, golfing, a dashing dark-suit-clad Marco speaking at a dinner, and a few pics of gyms at which we would stop, in order to train. What looked like aboriginal drumming was actually boxers with heavy hammers lifted high, then thrust down rhythmically to strengthen the arms.
When we arrived in the city of Acuna, across the border from Del Rio, I couldn’t ignore Marco’s name painted in red- large block letters- above the entrance of the gym, a white metal barn-like building. The bathrooms were stalls facing the ring, with colorful graffiti, and a pre-Jack Lalayne treadmill was missing its conveyor belt- only the wooden cylinders turned. It was easier to envision it as a reflexology device hyped in an in-flight magazine than it was to realize champions have trained on this.
Mosquitoes made speed bag work torturous; they breed in abandoned tires which punctuated the grounds outside the gym. Young boys and men trained with an intensity and seriousness that spoke- “this is the only way out.”
According to Marco’s promoter in Mexico, Hector Sanchez, his move to Austin,Texas, in order to work with Fernando “Flaco” Castrejon, has made him a different fighter. Even better. Jesus Chavez, who also trains under Flaco stated that “Marco is in the place where he needs to be-where his career can progress.”
Hector is a used car salesman who owns a compound of concrete shotgun houses and an SUV. He also promotes Baby Face, Julio Garcia. Julio is a rising star with a 30-2 record and 24 knock outs, He is only eighteen. And he is under the tutelage of Marco. They are friends, gliding through the same swath of illustriousness and paparazzi, Spartan discipline, hard training, and the single-mindedness to place boxing above everything else in the world. Always.
Marco eats organic almonds and baby carrots, snacks I brought. Trennice buys chips, twinkies, a soda and a pack of cigarettes. We stay at a Best Western where Marco is feted, favored, and later we go out for dinner. There are mariachi bands and a synthesizer. The food is good, and Trennice and I order two for one Negro Modellos- it is happy hour.
I awaken at 7:00 a.m. with eyelids swollen from mucho cerveza .The boys call, having finished a morning run, and are ready to roll. I shower, grab coffee and my backpack and we head to Hector’s to pick up his SUV so Baby Face and his father can join us on the road to Torreon.
Hector’s spare is shredded from a blow out. We have no choice except to rouse a tire man. This is tricky, and our departure is delayed. Marco appears edgy, but polite. I only later realize that a media event is scheduled for our arrival, including photo shoots of sparring. We are unable to release the rim from the underbelly of the vehicle. After many attempts, along with unloading and re packing luggage, satin fight robes, bottled waters, and respective CD cases, mandatory boxing equipment, we are cruising.
Conversation becomes more facile. We drive through areas of protected flora and fauna, in the mountains. Trennice has flashbacks from Vision Quest. The counselors told him that if he chose to run away, just over the top of the mountain he’d see Tucson. Trennice and two others left in “boxers,” with no other clothing, not even shoes. They took horse blankets and cut them up for moccasins. They side stepped snakes, jumped ravines, and were exhausted upon reaching the top where they saw mountains as far as the eye revealed, not Tucson.
Marco delights in violin overtures moving his right hand in the air, drawing the bow, when he hears strings. He plays air accordion as well, while we drive. He is an admixture of passion and childlike enthusiasm. He looks like a young Sean Penn.
At the media event, Marco warms up in a hooded windbreaker and work out pants. He shadow boxes, wearing layers in 100 degrees and no AC, alternating high forward kicks while touching his toes, with punches, hooks, jabs. The boxers pose with fists prominently displayed for photographers. Interviews followed.
We leave two hours later and check into the Torreon Best Western, which is very nice, with plenty of amenities and attentive staff. Marco has a tight Achilles tendon on his right leg from a misstep, landing on the outside of his right foot. He asks for a massage and I oblige. He skips dinner as weigh in is two days away. We drive around Torreon, making unannounced visits to gyms, and to his home.
His nephew, Jorge, was on the sidewalk, waiting for Marco. He didn’t recognize the car. When Marco rolled down the window, the ten year old was jubilant. His uncle, his father-figure, and his “idolo,” as well as the “idolo” of all his peers, was home.
Marco’s father died when he was only fifteen. His mother, Lupe, died last year. She had been on dialysis, due to diabetes. He keeps a photo of her- sleeping while in the hospital- on his phone, as a screen saver.
He had just signed with Golden Boy Promotions, and was in Hidalgo preparing for a fight, which was to be aired on HBO Latino. His mother died on Sunday. He returned to Torreon for her funeral. On Thursday, he was victorious against Jeffrey Hill.
At the hotel before the fight, Marco appeared relaxed. The electricity and water had gone out an hour before our departure time. Fighters and opponents spoke amiably in the lobby. Once we arrived at the coliseum, the only sign of Marco in the boxer’s dressing room was his red satin robe, hung on a wall, covered in dry cleaning film.
Hours later, after Julio “Baby Face” Garcia’s fight, I found Veneno, dressed, juiced, pumped. Super charged, neck snapping, flashes popping, high voltage electricity surging-it’s source, Marco Antonio Rubio. His potency was palpable. He was on his power. Yet, he continued to quip with reporters and pose with kids.
Nowhere was Marco more amazing than in the ring. He tore his opponent apart with meticulous attention to detail. His method was perfectly orchestrated and executed, like a war theatre. A war theatre with the Marx brothers as alter ego, that is. When Leon cowered on the ropes, forearms locked in front of his face, his only vestige of defense before the battering ram “Veneno,” Marco interjected humor which made the crowd go wild. At the height of dramatic tension, Marco’s gloved hand hovering, arm cocked, he exaggerated a wind-up, cartoon-like, before sending it home. He played with Leon, a cat dissecting a mouse at its leisure.
He thrills his audience. And he knows exactly what he is doing every step of the way. When Leon’s mouthpiece hit the floor, Marco pantomimed surprise, shot down to retrieve it, and popped it in Leon’s mouth like a pacifier. The fans roared.
He KO’d Leon in the fourth round. The crowd pushed into the ring. Leon and his manager, Don Hale, disappeared into a hotel van. Don had mentioned earlier that it could be rough here, recalling another fight in the Expo Gomez Palacio where bottles were thrown, and leaving the stadium was almost impossible.
Marco Antonio Rubio is spectacularly confident, and loves his life. Others love his life- and life force- right along with him. He is a champion, and he is unforgettable. There is a purity about him which makes his essence shine.
He has four boxing championship belts, but he only brought them out after showing me his Our Lady of Guadeloupe string Santos, and pictures of his family.