ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – When you stop and think about it, boxing fans are no different than moviegoers that have to decide which flick they want to see on a given night out. Whether you’re heading to the arena or your local cinema, the choice sometimes has to be made between The Fast and the Furious and Driving Miss Daisy.
No one can dispute that Guillermo Rigondeaux (13-0, 8KOs), who successfully defended his WBA and WBO super bantamweight championships here Saturday night with a typically efficient unanimous decision over Joseph Agbeko (29-5, 22 KOs), is a defensive genius. Most opponents can barely touch the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Cuba when he is in peak form, and the 33-year-old southpaw certainly appeared to be at or near the top of his game against Agbeko, a former two-time world bantamweight titlist from Ghana who would have preferred to turn the fight into a pugilistic demolition derby instead of another mostly uneventful drive down safe streets by the man known as “El Chacal.” Judges Ron McNair, Eugene Grant and Robin Taylor all had Rigondeaux pitching a 120-108 shutout.
Really, how we get our entertainment is a matter of personal preference, and there are those who will always prefer a screeching, high-speed ride on the wild side to someone expertly demonstrating the proper way to parallel-park.
Count Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, who promotes the Miami-based Rigondeaux, among those who would like to see the master technician add a bit more pizzazz to his exquisite displays of ring generalship. Like a lot of people, Arum has a fondness for guys who go down in the trenches, to spill a little blood, even if some of it is their own, and score dramatic knockouts.
After Rigondeaux’s nearly flawless unanimous decision on April 13 over Nonito Donaire, the Boxing Writers Association of America’s 2012 Fighter of the Year, Arum – who also promotes Donaire – reacted to the outcome as if he’d just found a roach floating in the punch bowl at the party he was throwing. He complained that Rigondeaux was not a TV-friendly kind of fighter, and that “every time I mention him (to HBO Sports executives), they throw up.”
The suits at HBO, which televised three of Saturday night’s bouts in the Adrian Phillips Ballroom of Boardwalk Hall – super welterweight slugger James Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) weathered an early assault from Glen Tapia (20-1, 12 KOs) to score a brutal, sixth-round technical knockout and two-time former world title challenger Matthew Macklin (30-5, 20 KOs) scored a 10-round, unanimous decision over Lamar Russ (14-1, 7 KOs) in the others – apparently suppressed their gag reflexes long enough to give Rigondeaux another high-visibility shot at winning over viewers who worshipped at the altar of the late Arturo Gatti. Suffice to say the jury is still out as far as future projections regarding Rigondeaux’s ability to ever produce the kind of thrills and high Nielsen ratings Gatti so routinely delivered.
“I wouldn’t blame HBO for never putting Rigondeaux back on,” longtime HBO analyst Larry Merchant said after the Cuban, who defected to the United States in February 2009, had clinically dissected Donaire. “I think Rigondeaux is a talented, beautiful boxer, but prizefighting is about entertainment. You want a fighter that can excite.”
For his part, Rigondeaux – who believes he is a better all-around fighter, pound-for-pound, than Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Andre Ward – isn’t disposed to do much tinkering. What’s that saying? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“I fight my own way, my own style,” Rigondeaux said a couple of days before he schooled Agbeko. “I do what I need to do to win.”
And what of Arum’s occasionally unflattering critiques of Rigondeaux’s obviously successful but comparatively bland style?
“Bob Arum is not the one doing the fighting,” Rigondeaux said. “If he’s not pleased with me or how I fight, maybe he should consider letting me out of my contract. I’m sure there are other promoters who would love to have Guillermo Rigondeaux fighting for them.”
Upon further review, as NFL officials are wont to say, Rigondeaux softened that stance somewhat. Hey, Arum is still signing his paychecks.
“I understand Bob Arum has a job to do,” he said. “I’m very appreciative that Bob Arum has helped me make some money. I have nothing bad to say about him.”
Of course, Rigondeaux would like for Arum not to have anything bad to say about him, either. Telling it like it is, or how you think it is, is a knife that cuts both ways.
“In the ring, I always feel that I can do whatever I want, that I’m in total control at all times,” said Rigondeaux, who added that his punching power is often underrated by media know-nothings who see only his impenetrable defense. “Anybody can beat anybody else on a given night, right? That’s what they say. So let the others think they have a chance to beat me. Line them up. I’ll fight anybody. But the problem is that nobody wants to fight me.”
Agbeko might have wanted to fight, but he spent 12 rounds pawing at the empty air that Rigondeaux had just vacated. The punch stats were, action-craving spectators, abysmal: Agbeko landed just 48 of 349 (14 percent) to 144 of 859 (17 percent) for Rigondeaux. Both finished below the dreaded Mendoza Line.
“It was just hard to get to him,”Agbeko said. “He’s very fast and he has great foot movement.”
For his part, Rigondeaux was hardly dismayed by the sporadic boos and catcalls that rang out in the last several rounds.
Buoyed by a crowd that was very vocal in its support for him, Tapia, a resident of Passaic, N.J., who sold over 1,000 tickets to family members, friends and supporters, came out winging in the first round against Kirkland. By the time the bell rang to end the stanza, Kirkland had a mouse under his left eye and the understanding he probably was in not in for the easiest of nights.
But electing to stand and trade with Kirkland, one of boxing’s more damage-inflicting hitters, is probably a dubious strategy, as Tapia soon came to realize. Kirkland began to get far the better of the exchanges and by the end of the fifth Tapia looked ready to go – more than ready, in fact. Referee Steve Smoger appeared inclined to stop the bout then, but ring physician Blair Bergen looked Tapia over and, with some hesitation, gave the OK for him to continue.
“I did (think about stopping it), but the doctor told me it was all right for (Tapia) to continue,” Smoger said. “I was on the verge of doing it a couple of times, but then the kid returned fire.”
Tapia, however, was only on the receiving end, all but defenseless, when Smoger wrapped his protective arms around him 38 seconds into Round 6.
Kirkland, who landed 305 of 644 punches – 287 of the connects were power shots – lauded the bloodied Tapia, who was quickly taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, for the courage he had displayed.
“It was a real war,” Kirkland said. “I told everyone it would be this way. We traded some good shots. I came in with a game plan and I stuck to it. I had to be a warrior, and I was.”
Macklin, who was able to impose his superior strength on Russ and wear him down a bit more with each succeeding round, immediately called for a rematch with Germany’s Felix Sturm (39-3-2, 18 KOs), who dethroned IBF champion Darren Barker (26-2, 16 KOs) on an emphatic second-round stoppage Saturday in Stuttgart, Germany. When they met on June 25, 2011, Sturm retained the WBA 160-pound crown on a split decision.
“I feel good,” Macklin said after he had handed Russ his first professional defeat. “I was a little impatient in the beginning, trying for the knockout. I relaxed later and felt more comfortable.”
In non-televised bouts of note, super featherweight Toka Kahn Clary (9-0-1, 6 KOs) scored a six-round unanimous decision over Ramsey Luna (11-1, 5 KOs) in a battle of unbeatens; super middleweight prospect Jesse Hart (11-0, 10 KOs) continued to impress with a first-round stoppage of Tyrell Hendrix (10-3-1, 3 KOs), and Russian middleweight Matt Korobov (22-0, 13 KOs), who was wobbled in Round 1, seized control thereafter, dropping a game Derek Edwards (26-3-1, 13 KOs) three times in all before Smoger stepped in 28 seconds into the ninth round.