Romanza On My Mind

By Johnathan Lee Iverson on September 26, 2017
Romanza On My Mind
The gym is the grand laboratory of Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain. (Felipe Luna)

Devastated by yet another catastrophic earthquake I couldn’t help but think back to my time at the Romanza Gym in Mexico City…

It was the summer of 2013 when I ventured south of the border into Mexico City. Preparations for the venture would prove to be more harrowing than the actual trip. The manner in which my colleagues and I were prepped before entering the country, left everyone concerned. Inundated with every kind of precaution cast Mexico as a hotbed of dread and death. I recall how ridiculous I felt upon entering the country, actually experiencing it, and discovering that quite the opposite turned out to be true. There was nothing to fear. Of course, as well traveled as I was, I should have known better. 

At least, in my experience, I enjoyed a welcoming country and a friendly people. “Primo!” the vendors who I’d become familiar with from the local farmers market would shout, as I gladly purchased their goods almost on a daily basis. It was eye-opening and quite nurturing to rediscover what fresh and undiluted vegetables and fruits taste like. La Parrilla de Don Juan, I remember with great fondness. A family chain of restaurants in Mexico City—the food was fantastic. The owner and his family couldn’t have been better hosts. Don Juan, the patriarch, was as charming as they come and had an amazing story. As I understood it, he built his family business from a corner taco stand.

It was at the Teotihuacan Pyramids that I discovered my love for tequila. It was a divine happenstance. I wasn’t feeling too well. In fact, a number of colleagues and I weren’t feeling our best. Some virus was circulating I guess. It was halfway through our outing, having climbed the pyramids and trekked through the grounds when we came to the gift shop and found deliverance. A kind guide after having lectured us on the famed beverage, among other things, then allowed us to partake. Not even thirty minutes had passed before whatever was ailing me was no longer ailing me; and I wasn’t alone, others who’d been under the weather found relief as well. It was my personal miracle, that’s how I’d like to remember it, and until this very day my liquor cabinet is never without a bottle of Don Julio 70.

I remember the pride I felt having quickly acclimated my body to the altitude. The much vaunted altitude, which has been a vital component in the crafting of a great many Mexican champions. It was then I was reminded of where I was: Mexico City, home of one of boxing’s most revered pugilistic sanctuaries, the Romanza Gym, the grand laboratory of Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain. The structure itself is very modest, but the spirit of its grand history lingers heavily. The eye of the tiger I came to find was not mere Hollywood phraseology, but a very real thing, indeed. Everyone seemed to have it. From the caramel skinned female contender mauling the heavy bag to the two fighters sparring in the adjacent ring, one of whom would end up bent over by a clever body shot from his opponent, to the resident elder sage, Rafael Garciá Roca, though small in stature, the respect paid him was enormous, to the multitasking head trainer, dripping with sweat, who welcomed us with a wide smile, all the while barking instructions to various fighters, to a prospect from Brooklyn who relocated to Mexico City to hone his craft at the Romanza Gym, down to this wonder kid named Cainn, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. Ironically, it was his glorious singing voice, not his fists that caught my attention. There he was, hands wrapped in the middle of his boxing lesson and he broke out in song—stopped the inhabitants of the gym in their tracks. It was his gift to his American guests.

In that intersection of wide-eyed fans and practitioners I discovered that boxing is, in fact, a universal language all its own.  Its intangible principles have no borders. So much was gleaned from our time together at the Romanza, between my broken Spanish and my newfound friends’ accommodating English. It was quite humbling to know I was the outsider, yet I felt so very welcomed. I suppose kindness crosses cultural boundaries too.

Devastated by yet another catastrophic earthquake I couldn’t help but think back to my time at the Romanza Gym, Mexico City, and the beautiful people I became acquainted with. I managed to reach my friend Cainn and his dad who were, thankfully in another part of the country. I can only hope others I came to know were as fortunate. As we all know, Mexico is a nation of gallant champions and I can only hope that in the coming days the country will be able to rise once more, as all champions do.

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  1. No Comprende 08:05am, 09/27/2017

    Oh sure, there is nothing to fear in Mexico. I’ll remember to tell that to the guy that had his toenails yanked off with a pair of pliers and beaten to a pulp by the drug cartels down there. Oh and the cops were the drug cartel.

  2. Korla Pandit 10:42am, 09/26/2017

    What about the Romanza Gym….still standing?.....damaged?

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