I should have been at the Barclays Center last night to watch the two supposedly-39-year-old Cuban fighters in the twilights of their careers.
The pairing does make me wonder how Al went about throwing bones Showtime sheriff Stephen Espinoza's way after signing the Fox deal: "So Mayweather has his guys -- you know the BTB Team -- Broner-Tank-Badou. You've got them. And the Cubans. We'll give you the Camaguey Kid and Gitmo Split (he never gets unanimous decision, never). The more añejo the better, no?"
Man, life is crazy. Espinoza learnt the game from his Mexican grandfather in the border town of El Paso. Went to Stanford -- hell, when the school hits up his class of '92 peers for money, right before they reach out to Espinoza, they call his former peer Ralph Ermoian, who only treats pediatric brain tumors at the University of Washington now.
If that seems weirdly unrelated to everything, I'm just saying, we're all pinballs bumping against each other, making momentary contact, only to ricochet in myriad directions we cannot quite predict in advance.
Now Espinoza is overseeing the professional end days for two defectors from a flaking, pastel humidor of an island. Who are no one's consolation gift. Who'll always carry themselves with a certain stoic professionalism -- that stogie-strong whiff of a game-learnt-unmercifully-young from slight men in second hand tank-tops (and maybe a couple wrinkled old-heads in guayaberas).
There's something lyrical about them riding off into sunset under the gaze of the El Paso Kid. One of them -- Ortiz -- this advocate for rare disease research, his 10-year-old daughter, Lismercedes, afflicted by epidermolysis bullosa, a condition that lets skin blister and burn at the slightest touch.
Journalists like when athletes do unimpeachably good work -- fans, too -- it gives us unusual certainty that someone's case should be adopted -- that a man or clan can be rooted for wholeheartedly -- in age when TMZ tempers that enthusiasm too often.
But I bring up the case not to elicit those sorts of sports sympathies but because it actually didn't strike me as so improbable when I first heard the Ortiz tale. Enter FOP -- whose neat acronym belies just how utterly fucked the ailment is.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva: In this mother of a malady, you're born with muscles that, upon contact with outside objects, turn into bone -- muscles that therefore become eventually a second skeleton, one that effectively locks you into your first, so year-by-year you wind up able to move body parts less and less. Until you can't move at all.
I learnt of that disease by chance, while in college, because the world's only expert on it, Dr. Frederick Kaplan, a man whom Newsweek called one of "15 people who make America great," ran his lab on campus.
Though Kaplan discovered the gene whose errancy causes FOP, he has yet to find a cure.
Skin that reddens, burns, slips off, when you press it; skin that hardens into bone when touched. These were -- are -- to my mind associated scourges, even if they share no biological basis.
There are easy lessons to be taken from the side-by-side look -- for one, don't think for a second that medicine yet grasps fully elements even as basic as skin.
Not to mention that that cancer doc whose name appears just before Stephen Espinoza's alphabetically on Stanford fundraising materials for the class of '92 -- the abovementioned Dr. Ermoian -- his office, at the University of Washington, exists alongside one called the Miller Lab, specifically dedicated to understanding and curing epidermolysis bullosa, the skin condition that afflicts Luis Ortiz's daughter.
All I wanna say, by way of stoner-esque non-conclusion, is that we're pinballs, a bunch of colliding dreidels -- unaware of the effects today's pinging against one another will have tomorrow. Thin, admittedly. But this is all I had as I stayed up not by choice for 30-straight hours despite ingesting sedatives sufficiently strong to put down a Shetland pony.
Betrayed by my own wired-but-tired brain in the run-up to Showtime, I missed the boxing...but not completely.
I did spare moments in my zonked state to consider the possible free agent status of heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Yes, you can be a hurt game degenerate and rare disease advocate simultaneously (just listen to Teddy Atlas rightly rail against a fix and also any one of the number of sicknesses his charity helps fight).
And I realized: Whether Top Rank knows it or not, if Deontay is free, it's because Arum's lawyers enabled it three years ago -- in a lawsuit they lost.
A California court dismissed a suit Top Rank filed against Haymon during that initial wave of anti-PBC litigation, in 2016, but only after Haymon Sports waived a provision of its contracts in May of that year.
The canceled clause?
"If during the Term hereof, Fighter desires to enter into any promotional agreement or bout agreement to which Fighter is not then bound, selection of the promoter shall be at the sole discretion of the Manager."
Yup -- Top Rank's challenge of the larger PBC structure was obviously unsuccessful -- but three years later, what may have seemed a meaningless victory in a larger lost war may yield Arum a Deontay-Fury sequel under his own corporate umbrella -- because Al legally no longer can determine the promoters his boxers choose.
I'm reminded of the battle in "I Heart Huckabees" between the philosophers trying to convince Schwartzman and Marky Mark everything's connected and the French foil whose mission is to prove none of it means anything, each event a Sartre-separate look into the void.
Embarrassed too much by my absence to watch the full card, I did nevertheless tune in briefly to the preliminaries on the Showtime Facebook channel. Who signed on to watch a moment later (and yes, Facebook tracks and reveals even this sort of personal info)?
None other than Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman.