Small Man, Giant Potential

Portland Press Herald – Date Unknown - Steve Solloway

Jorge Abiague knows the thrill of victory in the ring, and the sense of belonging outside it. Having his hand raised in victory is a moment Jorge Abiague could not explain fully even if English were his first language. The power of the moment. The deep satisfaction, knowing you beat your opponent with your mind, your heart and your fists.

“It’s a feeling like no other,” said Abiague after a workout at the Portland Boxing Club Wednesday night. “I know that.”

He knows because the feeling is at odds with the rest of his life. Abiague is a 27-year-old Cuban who left his country some 10 years ago, when his grandfather asked for political asylum. No, they didn’t escape by boat to Key West. Abiague, his grandfather and father, flew to the United States by way of Cancun. The details aren’t clear. Abiague shrugs when he’s asked. He’s here. That’s what matters.

What matters more now is that he’s supposed to fight Saturday night at the Stevens Avenue Armory. A team of Portland Boxing Club amateurs is matched against a team from Montreal with a few fighters from elsewhere in New England filling the gaps.

“I hope I have a fight,” said Abiague. “But I don’t know for sure.”

Abiague is a flyweight and he’s very good. USA Boxing ranked him 10th in his weight class in its most recent ratings. But in this corner of the country, 112-pound amateurs are frequently boys. Abiague is a man. A child-like man, when you look at an unblemished face that grins easily, but a man.

In four years, Abiague has had fewer than 30 fights. By his count, he’s lost about four or five times, usually at national tournaments to opponents with much more experience from other parts of the country. A ?????? ????? national Golden Gloves tournament and lost. Dennis had 149 fights to Abiague’s 14.

Abiague can deal with that. It is when he trains for weeks or months only to learn on fight night that there will be no opponent. Then his frustration feels like a low blow.

He’s about to turn pro and wanted a last, amateur fight in front of his adopted hometown and the adopted family that is his Portland Boxing Club team.

“My father asked, ‘Where is a good place to live in the United States?’ Somebody said, ‘Maine is a very good place.’”

But Abiague’s father returned to Florida. After Abiague walked into the Portland Boxing Club, trainer Bobby Russo became his lifeline. In a short time, so did the other fighters, who helped him navigate as his English improved.

He got a job at Rachel’s, a Portland restaurant where the hours can be flexible. He’s carved out a new life even as he remembers his old one.

???? mother, who was left behind. And his uncles. It’s the price of freedom and he understands.

He grew up in Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city on the southeast part of the island, some 500 miles away from Havana. He played a little baseball, but boxing grabbed him. His hero was Teofilo Stevenson, three-time Olympic gold medalist who retired before Abiague was born.

Abiague smiles when I point out the irony. His hero was not a small man, but the biggest. Stevenson was Cuba’s answer to Muhammad Ali.

“Jorge is super fast,” said Russo. “He has great, great speed and instincts. It’s just a shame we don’t appreciate the little fighters in in this country. They’re so much fun to watch.”

Abiague shoulders his gear bag. It’s nearly half his size.

“He asks for so little,” says Russo. “He’s such a great kid.”

No. He’s a man.

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