Canadian writer and filmmaker Brin-Jonathan Butler spent more than a decade in Cuba where he examined the life-changing decision that boxing champions there face – stay in Cuba or defect to America and enjoy a huge payday?
This question, which grew out of his own search for world-class boxing training, led to the boxing memoir “The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba.”
Butler interviewed both boxers who turned down millions of dollars to stay in Cuba as well as boxers who defected to the United States. He says he realized it wasn’t that one decision made someone bad or good.
“The villain is that you have to make this choice,” he said at a Texas Book Festival panel on Sunday.
Some of the boxers who now led lives in Miami with big houses, pretty girlfriends and swimming pools, often stayed behind the walls of their mansions because they thought their new world felt dead and missed their street back home, he said.
“All these people had great stories about why they turned down the money,” he said. “I had heard what Fidel said and what ‘The Miami Herald’ said, but I wanted to hear it from the boxers themselves.”
Butler, an amateur boxer, has spent time in boxing gyms around the world. “They are a lifeline for many people,” he said. And contrary to what some may think, Butler says it’s also where you can find the most humble and gentle people.