By CHRISTINE MAYNARD
Originally published Jan. 9,
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
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
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 “idola” 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
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
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
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.
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 “idola,” as well as
the “idola” 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
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
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
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.