Citi Sports editor Nathan Quao recounts his time with the team of the Argentine boxer, Fernando David Saucedo, as their official interpreter when he came to Ghana to face Emmanuel “Game Boy” Tagoe to the Bukom Boxing Arena.
I really need your help.
That was the message from the CEO of Baby Jet Boxing Promotions, Sammy Anim on January 25 and I knew that I was set for adventure whose end I did not know and even if I did, I was a little antsy about.
The help needed was of a translator’s strand. I was going to the intermediary between Fernando Saucedo and his team and the people on Emmanuel “Game Boy” Tagoe’s side.
All communication was going to rely on me. That was huge.
The interaction between Sammy Anim and me went on and on until we settled on what was due me and what I had to do for them between Thursday and the end of the bout on Saturday or on Sunday since it was surely going to go beyond midnight.
I headed out to meet everyone at Alisa Hotel and I knew that the journey down the rabbit hole had begun.
As I waited for Anim, I met one member of the Saucedo camp; Marcelo. Average height. A little chubby and we started talking. I then realised how fun and tricky the job would be at the same time.
Spanish-speaking South Americans have very interesting accent and ways of speaking. They have the tendency to either swallow or not pronounce the last letters of certain words.
For instance, while the people in Spain will say “Tenemos” which means “we have”, South Americans will articulate this same word as “Tenemo” to mean the same thing.
In addition, they have certain unique words for every day objects.
For example, while ‘el coche’ is generally accepted for the ‘car’, most South Americans will say ‘el auto’.
I had learned in in my undergraduate studies at the School of Translators to speak Castellano which is what is spoken in Spain and so, the differences were always going to be struggle.
The other challenge was the speed of their speech. No matter how well you learn a language, you can almost always never beat a native when it comes to the pace of speaking. It was more natural to them and that meant I had to quickly grasp what was being said and that was no joke.
After a few pleasantries with Marcelo, I met the members of the team. Gustavo, Fernando’s coach/ trainer and brother and Sebastian Sidra, the third member of the team. He seemed to have a very strict air about him especially when it came to matters of the general well-being of their boxer.
I totally understood him. Being paranoid with a measure is a good thing. Your senses are awakened and in the sport of boxing, nothing should be left to chance and when you are fighting away from your home country, you need to be wary of what you eat and drink, where you sleep and even the air you breathe.
24 hours to the bout, the official weigh-in took place at the Bukom Boxing Arena. The advertised time of 8am was not respected and that was no surprise at all to many of us but for my clients, the Saucedos, it was very uncomfortable.
They had to endure a 22-hour trip from Buenos Aires through Sao Paulo and Johannesburg to get to Accra and so, they needed to make time for Fernando Saucedo to rest and recover.
But the weigh-in was dragging and their recovery time was being eaten away.
They would often come to say “Nathan, porque la gente no quiere terminar eso muy rapido? Es necessario que Fernando se descanse.”
Meaning: “Nathan, why are these people taking so long to finish this? Fernando needs to rest.”
I had to be shuttling back and forth with the message and response until the weigh-in happened.
And when it was about to start, fans of Tagoe streamed into the arena amid singing, shouting hurling abuse at the Saucedo camp. Of course, I could not tell the Argentines all the unpalatable things being said about them.
I am positive they could guess what was going on. Marcelo and Sebastian were worried while Fernando was generally calm.
Eventually, the weigh-in was done and taken off the activity list.
Fight night strolled into focus and by 6pm, I was at the hotel to take them to the Arena. The time to do my work was now.
We got to the venue and at almost every turn, our driver and I had to keep reminding security of our identities very regularly. When that hurdle was cleared, parking space became an issue. None had been reserved for the people who were the co-stars of the evening.
We finally made it to the dressing room. What followed was a blur.
I had to coordinate requests for ice, vaseline, water and buckets and I also had to witness the bandage wrapping processes for both Tagoe and Saucedo.
Here I was watching the full process unfold. It felt surreal but whatever wonder and amazement I felt had to be put away quickly since I had to earn my wage.
The big moment was now upon us.
As I made the walk to the ring, I realised that while Fernando Saucedo was on his way to face Tagoe, I also had my own opponent waiting for me.
Stage fright was its name and it could possibly deal a very strong hook to leave me floored live on cable tv with the rest of the continent watching on.
The bout started and the rounds blew by. Referee Roger Barnor had to call me a few times to talk to the team in relation to Saucedo’s conduct in the ring.
The Argentine was very upset that Tagoe was punching him in the back of the head. That was very apparent to most people but the Argentine did not help himself by pushing the referee and generally failing to keep his cool.
The bout ended in the 10th round with Saucedo losing via a technical knockout decision. The team was disappointed. I have to admit that I felt sad for him. Spending time with them had rubbed off.
It was now my turn to go for my fight. Saucedo had to speak on the bout. He did not understand my initial explanation of the ring announcer’s question on what happened in the ring.
Stage fright had hit me with a jab. I had to recover. I then remembered something from a 2005 edition of the World Soccer Magazine. It was an article on John Terry and the player said that his coaches always told him ‘Simplicity is genius.’
So, I went down that route and spoke to Saucedo again.
‘Estabas no contento en el ring y hablabas con el referee en la palea. Porque?’
‘You were unhappy in the ring and you were speaking with the referee during the bout. Why?’
He gave his answer. He went on to answer the question of a possible rematch and said that he was hampered by the heat and travel time in the build up to the bout. He added that he would like a second shot, he would watch the video clip again and prepare better.
I relayed his answer to the crowd. Everything Fernando Saucedo said was so clear and easy to understand and I delivered. I knocked out stage fright and won my own title bout that evening.
We returned to the dressing room and spoke for a while. My work as the translator was done and I was back to my day job; sports reporting so I grabbed Fernando and interviewed him.
Other media houses trooped in to speak to him and I had to take up the translator’s coat again.
On our way back to the hotel, the team members especially Gustavo was very unhappy with the loss and he had to be calmed by Marcelo. Marcelo highlighted the fact that sport always held two cards for its followers: wins and losses and whatever one was given needed to be accepted graciously.
Even though I had heard this so many times, the fact that it was coming from a member of the losing team struck me in a profound way.
All this settled down and I got home at about 2 on Sunday morning.
My mind was beat and my body was at its limit.
But my spirit was happy. The journey had been one of learning and re-orientation.
I had faced one of the most daunting tasks in relation to what I had learned in school and trained for.
Did I do it well? The audience is the best judge.
What I know is that I gave everything I had to the cause. I was honest to myself and I was open to guidance and support.
I do not know if I will ever meet the Saucedo brothers again but whatever happens, they need to know that I am very grateful for the great cooperation they gave during their stay in Ghana.
The funny and light-hearted Marcelo, the passionate Gustavo and the eagle-eyed Sebastian. Three great men.
I need to thank the Baby Jet Boxing Promotions for believing I could do a great job for them.
Another opportunity will present itself and like Fernando Saucedo, I will be ready for that one too.
Hasta la vista!!!
Catch me on Twitter @nathan_quao