Once again, boxer Robert Guerrero has made me think about some things.
I thought he was going to win last night. I thought he was going to be the first to beat Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I thought he was going to make history.
Ever since I landed in Las Vegas on Thursday and saw MGM Grand, the site of the fight, from my plane window; or walked up to the strip on Friday and saw Guerrero’s name and image painted all over town; or nervously paced back and forth at the top of the arena on Saturday—praying as hard as I could, fist-pumping, jumping, making the other reporters around me think I was a deranged lunatic—I’ll be candid with you and admit: I thought God was going to use Guerrero in a mighty, victorious way.
Sports are sports, I’ve always thought. Life is life. People lose and people die. Maybe that’s cynical, but I’m typically not one to over spiritualize things.
Something about this, however, felt different. I’ve entrenched myself in Guerrero’s story, and, though I know little about boxing, I guess I just kind of thought everything he has gone through led up to this. His wife’s cancer. His setbacks. His journey. His story is so unfathomable it couldn’t be scripted in Hollywood. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s the best story I’ve ever encountered. It’s undoubtedly God-authored, and I guess I decided in my mind that a perfect climax to his God-authored story would be to have the antithesis of Floyd Mayweather, Robert Guerrero, take down the undefeated, multi-millionaire—you know, standing over him after a knockout, “Acts 2:38” on his trunks, glorifying Jesus, becoming the sporting world’s next obsession: The Man Who Took Down Mayweather.
That didn’t happen. And, on boxing’s biggest stage, Robert Guerrero had his dreams shattered.
When I interviewed Guerrero a couple months ago, he told me about a fight in 2006 against Orlando Salido. Guerrero was the heavy favorite and lost. After the fight, he went to the locker room, knelt down on one knee, and gave glory to God.
On Saturday, we saw the exact same thing, just on a larger scale. After losing the biggest fight of his life on boxing’s biggest stage, ShowTime’s Jim Gray put the microphone in Guerrero’s face, and he confidently said, “Praise Jesus,” then gripped the microphone on his own and delivered sort of a mini-sermon. When he got to the media room, his message was the same.
“I just want to say, thank God,” Guerrero said. “God is great. He put me in this position. I came up short tonight, but I’m still going to praise God with all my heart. That’s what it’s about; like I said, win or lose, that’s why I’m here. My mission is to spread the gospel.”
True character, true faith, I think, is more authentic in defeat, especially in a society so obsessed with winning. Guerrero’s message he gave last night was more powerful after a loss than a win, even if it was heard by less. Honestly, it was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen.
There have been times in my life I’ve had my dreams shattered, in a sense. It wasn’t on a national stage like boxing, but I’ve made long-term investments, life-long goals, whatever it is, that have sunk like a boulder on quicksand, that have left me broken and defeated, that have left me allegorically stumbling into the ropes from a Floyd Mayweather right hook. Sometimes I’ve allowed it to strengthen my faith; sometimes I’ve allowed it to swallow it, as I look for a cure for the pain in things outside of God.
In defeat, I think we all come to a crossroads in our mind where we ask ourselves: Will this affect who I am and what I stand for, or will it make me and my cause stronger?
My favorite author, Donald Miller, came to Charlotte One, a city-wide gathering of 20-somethings in Charlotte, N.C., six or so weeks ago and talked about meaning. It was a message that, really, kind of changed the way I deal with pain. He talked about the Apostle Paul—about how he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, stoned, starving, and most likely depressed out of his mind. From a worldly sense, Paul’s testimony is one of defeat. And yet, in every situation, the gospel was proclaimed, which made his life bleed meaning. His life wasn’t easy. His life was hard. But that’s what made his message so authentic, so believable, so inspiring.
I texted Guerrero’s publicist, Mario Serrano, all of this after the match, about Paul and all, because, when I look at Guerrero, I see a life of incredible meaning. In victory, in defeat, in joy, in pain, Guerrero’s message never changes. It’s Christ.
On Friday night, the evening before the fight, I walked around Las Vegas alone, just basking in its glow and beauty. I spent the time thinking and praying and talking to my best friend, my dad, on the phone. I conjured up this poem-type thing in my head about Las Vegas and escapes and defeat:
Lights I love, Lord I know
I long for escapes
But Yours is where I go.
When your dreams are shattered, where do you go? Do you look for an escape route, or do you allow yourself to grow stronger, your message to grow stronger?
Defeat, pain, loss, I concluded, have the potential to display meaning in all of its strength.
This column appeared on sportsspectrum.com. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.