So it goes. Pedroza buys his-and-hers BMWs to supplement the family Mercedes; Duran announces he will take a weekend in New York. Pedroza buys a $35,000 diamond-studded Rolex, Duran orders a $500,000 sound system. Duran is clearly ahead on gold chains, Pedroza on dignity.
Indeed, Pedroza has something that Duran seems to have missed. By some immutable rule, boxers' homes are aglitter with trophies that exude a kind of exuberant vulgarity. But in Pedroza's den, pride of place goes to a series of framed photographs that show him in the company of the late president of his country. General Omar Torrijos Herrera, the champion's political mentor as well as friend. It was Torrijos who negotiated a treaty with the U.S. that would give Panama control of the Panama Canal and who improved the economy of this country of two million citizens. Like Pedroza, some of Torrijos' methods were not universally admired, but undeniably, like Pedroza, he inspired pride and a new sense of independence among his countrymen. But in 1981, four years after the treaty was signed, Torrijos was killed in a mysterious air crash. "You see I have his picture everywhere," says the fighter. "I live with his ideals. That is why people say I am shy. It is because I carry my country on my shoulders when I speak. I am not scared, but I must refine my words, I must commit no error.
"Here now, in Panama, my General would say there is no luz larga, far vision. Even in boxing I think I will be the last of the great Latin champions. To be blunt, I believe that 95 percent of the aspirants are drug addicts. They have no future. I am not really a politician but, like Omar, a realist. Panama is still elitist. Poverty is worse in this city now than when I was young."
As you get to know Pedroza better, you realize the depths of his emotionalism, how much of a facade is the dour face. Now his thoughts have led him to his boyhood in Marañón, in the tumbledown shacks built for the canal workers, and to his father ("a simple laborer") and mother, who, not uncharacteristically, hated to see him fight. He recalls his last defeat, on July 11, 1976 in Caracas, when Oscar Arnal broke his jaw in the third round, and he fought on to the sixth. "When my mother saw me with the jaw," he recalls painfully. "she said, 'Leave the fighting, for God's sake, leave it.' She made soup for me to suck through a straw. My jaws were closed, wired up. She would give it to me very quickly and then leave. One day I followed her into the back of the house. I saw her sitting there, crying."
And then, suddenly, Pedroza's own head has dropped into his hands, and he is sobbing convulsively. When he recovers, he repeats that yes, yes, when he retires he will go into politics full-time. "I know," he says. "I am not so foolish as to think that all those votes in the last election would have come to me if I had not been champion. But I will show the people I have a warm heart for them also."
The phone rings. Panamanian President Nicolás Ardito Barletta wants to know if there is a firm date yet for the McGuigan fight. As the champion speaks to him, reality returns. Politics will have to wait, he agrees when he hangs up. Six thousand miles away, a deeply committed, explosive young Irishman is waiting for perhaps the last of the great Latinos. He is not concerned in the least about the next election day in Panama.