Donaire was a hot fighter in 2012, going 4-0. Can he continue the momentum with a win over Cuban ace Rigondeaux April 13? (Chris Farina-Top Rank)
They are the best two junior featherweights in the world quite likely, and on April 13, we will see if Nonito Donaire is No. 1, and Guillermo Rigondeaux is No. 2, as most seem to say.
The April 13 Radio City Music Hall clash between the 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year and maybe the best amateur the world has ever seen has been on again off again twenty times in the last couple weeks.
The issue of drug testing–will it happen? who will administer it?–has been the sticking point, and that issue hung over the press conference at BB King's in NYC Thursday which almost didn't happen, because Donaire was irked that Team Rigo was dragging their feet in agreeing to do random testing as administered by VADA.
And guess what? The plug almost got pulled on the presser before it kicked off, right before the principals were to take the stage, because Team Rigo got to the site with a new demand: we want USADA to do the testing, not VADA.
VADA, USADA, really only some dogged journos and hardcore fight fans know the difference between those outfits and can tell you why it maybe matters which one of them takes the samples. But the distinction was meaningful to the Rigo crew, who put out this demand in front of promoter Bob Arum, and Melvina Lathan, the chair of the New York State Athletic Commission.
A Rigo spokesman said no USADA, no deal. Arum answered that if that's the case, then this press conference is over before it started. The Rigo crew, assessing his face, determining that he wasn't bluffing, convened, and whispered, and countered. How about we do the VADA testing, but we also have USADA do testing? Arum nodded in agreement, Donaire manager Cameron Dunkin nodded yes, and it was agreed that rider would be added to the contract addendum outlining testing protocol.
The Rigo crew told me that they don't trust VADA, thinking that VADA is a favored tester of Victor Conte, who is a fitness-supplement advisor to Donaire. VADA, they told me, might overscrutinize their guy. USADA, they said, tests Olympians, let's have them level the playing field.
Leveling the playing field, that is what this is all supposed to be about. Good, I say. Besides giving folks like me intimate access to inside baseball drama as it plays out, the PED tug o war tells me that at least boxing is doing something in this realm. Dunkin agreed with me. “How often do you think the biggest stars are actually tested in baseball, football and basketball,” I asked him. “Yep,” he said, nodding.
OK, it's something of a silly sidelight, a distraction from the fight, which should be at the least a high level chess match between two technical wizards and if we're lucky, will be a chess match which has sections of beautiful violence embedded into it. But I reiterate, the PED wars are in the end a good thing, because at least it tells me some people haven't given up, haven't conceded that all the good ones are doping, hell, all of them are doping, even the so-so ones. And in this case, it is to the credit of WBO champ Donaire, who since last summer has agreed to year-round random testing, to be a leader in that realm, and pushes for his foes to undergo strict testing.
Donaire, I admit, is my favorite pound for pound ace. He has a humility I enjoy, and unlike some other guys who maybe get overtaken by the star trip, the entourages, or have a showy side of self righteousness in their character, Donaire doesn't give off that vibe. At BB King's, I asked him when he'd fight again after this scrap, and he said that he might fight again, towards the end of the year, but he is more so concentrating on the birth of a baby boy, due the third week in July, with wife Rachel. “I want to give all my attention to that,” he said. Forgive the repetition, I have written this before, but this stance shows leadership qualities and sets a great example in an America which puts too much concentration on work, and not enough on family.
More from Donaire:
—He told me that he respects WBA champ Rigo, and that any trash talk he has heard, about him running from Rigo, and such, mostly comes from his crew, not him. Yes, he has heard that Rigo talked some smack, but wasn't surprised that the Cuban didn't repeat it at the presser. Not because he thinks he is a coward, but rather that he feels Rigo is more comfortable in the ring. He hasn't fashioned his outside-the-ring persona as yet, the BWAA FOY told me.
—Donaire noted that Rigo averted his eyes during the staredown, but again, he doesn't think that means he is fearful. It could be shyness.
—Asked if going in, he thinks Rigo is the best man he's faced as a pro, Donaire said no. He doesn't have the professional experience, at 11-0, and based on the limited tape he's watched, no, he can't say that. Someone who did impress him was Toshiaki Nishioka, who really made him work.
—Fans hope that the best Rigo comes to fight, that he doesn't slip into robot gear. Donaire hopes so too. He knows New Yorkers were bummed when the last guy he fought in NY, Omar Narvaez, came to survive rather than thrive. Donaire wants to give the fans some rumbling this time, he said. We shall see if Rigo will comply, he said.
—No, he doesn't assume Rigo uses PEDs, he said. He just wants to make sure anyone he faces is clean..though, he admitted with a laugh, he'd be fine with fighting a dirty fighter, because it will mean that much more when he beats them.
—Donaire brought up the fact that he doesn't want the expense of USADA testing to come out of his pocket. I informed him that Team Rigo told me they will pay for the USADA testing for both fighters. I was happy be useful!
—USADA, Donaire said, has a history of being “maybe corrupted,” so obviously he's a VADA guy. He said that testing by the state commissions, usually urine tests, simply isn't as reliable as the testing done by VADA.
—Might he fight Abner Mares next, and what about that public offer by Mares' promoter Golden Boy for a three million dollar pot for a Donaire-Mares fight? Donaire dismissed that as “BS,” saying that such an offer should be sent to his promoter and manager, and not tossed out on Twitter. That $3 million offer, he said, doesn't seem realistic, besides, given that the pot for Donaire-Rigo isn't in that ballpark. But, he said, he would like to fight Mares.
I also chatted with Rigo manager Gary Hyde. The Irishman has been deluged with emails and calls the last three days, as the PED issue put this presser and maybe the fight on the brink. He said he would be signing a VADA contract with Rigo, in front of the NYSAC when chair Melvina Lathan arrived at BB Kings. The testing would start in a few days, he said. There were no specifics of how often the fighters will be tested, he told me, except that the number of requests for samples wouldn't be “unreasonable.”
He told me flat out that Rigo is clean, and with his God given talent, doesn't need PEDs.
Hyde said no, he didn't want trainer Pedro Diaz to replace Jorge Rubio, so close to fight time, but Rigo and Diaz worked together when Rigo was about 17, in Cuba.
There is no rematch clause, Hyde told me, so if his kid wins, Rigo will have leverage with Donaire.
Hyde said Rigo will be switched on, that, yes, sometimes he can look robotic, but only because he's bored. With a high value target in front of him, Rigo will be fired up, and ready to rumble.