Boxing’s entertainment value can be augmented when humanity joins violence on stage. It was perhaps with this pairing in mind that Casey Guerrero’s triumph over Leukemia was written into the backdrop of husband Robert Guerrero’s foray into the welterweight division last Saturday. Guerrero’s challenge of Selcuk Aydin was intended as a showcase for the fighter out of Gilroy, California, an opportunity to gain the diluted decoration of “titlist”, and announce Guerrero’s arrival in the lucrative division. Showtime’s pre-fight vignette, however, focused not on the fighter, but on his wife.
To be fair, Guerrero’s story as a fighter is inextricable from his role as husband: Casey Guerrero’s battle with Leukemia helps explain her husband’s successes and stumbles as a prizefighter. And so it should. The potential loss of a loved one—especially a loss that thwarts traditional chronology and ruptures a family—is liable to have a resounding impact on all facets of a person’s life. Casey Guerrero’s recovery is indeed cause for celebration. The question is whether this deeply personal and private event should serve as bedrock for the Guerrero public relations strategy.
In drawing more of Guerrero’s personal life into the spotlight, those in the Guerrero business have recourse to a seemingly unassailable explanation for the odd progression of his career; an explanation that resonates not only with boxing fans, but with those who have endured similar ordeals. People enjoy both the feeling of empathy and the recognition that they are capable of it, they enjoy finding an opportunity to explore their own hardships through others, and they enjoy the miraculous (even if the miraculous is just the unlikely, romanticized). The Guerrero story then, is liable to touch even the most calloused observer. Moreover, it is a vehicle for bringing awareness to Leukemia, and Leukemia sufferers: a recent press release from Guerrero’s publicist, Mario Serrano, closes with an exhortation from the fighter that people register for the national Marrow Donor Program and donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. There is value in this awareness that extends beyond the sport. Still, Guerrero would be wise to shift the focus of his public relations to his ring exploits.
Admittedly, a shift in focus would have been difficult to do in the build up to Guerrero’s fight with Aydin. Having spent 15 months away from live fire—and having his rotator cuff repaired during this absence—there was little momentum for Guerrero to build on. This lack of momentum was exacerbated by the fact that a knockdown at the hands of aged Cuban Joel Casamayor comprised perhaps the most striking moment in Guerrero’s recent fights. The story of Casey Guerrero, a foolproof angle for generating interest and support, was employed to help combat the doldrums in her husband’s career. The efficacy of such a tactic in this instance cannot be questioned.
However, if Guerrero is indeed pursuing a fight with Floyd Mayweather (and he has stated as much), the only relevant lobbying occurs between the ropes. Only if he is a compelling fighter does Guerrero’s chimerical pursuit retain any possibility; and it is only as a threat (however minimal) to Mayweather, or as the pick of a dwindling litter, that people will care to see these two men meet. Boxing is a business—perhaps no active fighter understands this better than Floyd Mayweather—and Guerrero has yet to make business sense as an opponent.
There are other reasons to take the spotlight off the Guerreros’ personal lives. In resorting to the personal too often, Guerrero runs the risk of cheapening the experience in question. The sacrosanct may become hackneyed, the emotive become meagre. One wonders whether commodifying their personal lives will affect the family’s perception of what happened, if the language with which it is recounted will not lose some of its import when repetition begets a script.
A similar shift could occur among viewers. How do we feel about a fighter resorting to personal tragedy because professional intrigue is absent? If we are again invited to connect to the fighter and not the fight—which can be an implicit request to temper expectations of violence or competition—will we become cauterized to the Guerreros’ story? How might the Guerreros feel if their story becomes threadbare in the eyes of desensitized viewers?
Perhaps it is best to leave questions of psychology aside, but the window for such inquiry remains open as long as Guerrero fails to distract with his fists. This may be unfair, but to his credit, what is “unfair” has yet to undo Robert Guerrero.