WHERE IS GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX? — That’s the question racing through my mind last weekend as I finished watching Vasyl Lomachenko’s easy-breezy boxing exhibition against Nicholas Walters. As expected, Lomachenko’s combination of fluid movement and fast-twitch muscle movement was way too much for the hard punching but outgunned Walters. The fight wasn’t even close.
Lomachenko looks unstoppable. At least, he looks unstoppable by the myriad of opponents to be thrown his way over the course of the next couple of years. Translation? Don’t expect to see Lomachenko in the ring with someone like Manny Pacquiao or Terence Crawford anytime soon. I don’t care what Bob Arum says about it, deep down he knows it would be silly to throw such a small fighter in with those two men before another couple of years pass, especially one not far removed from being taken to the woodshed by Orlando Salido.
Yes, Salido came into the fight overweight. To suggest he did it on purpose, by the way, is ludicrous. I knelt beside Salido to interview him for the Boxing Channel after the weigh-in. I told him I was Catholic, so I was used to the pose. He laughed. But the man could hardly stand after failing weight because he had done so much to try and make the limit that night. I’ve seen fighters not care about making weight. Salido isn’t one of them.
But Salido used more than girth to defeat Lomachenko. He used deception. He used guile. He bent the rules the way all good professional fighters should, and he won the fight. Period. Pacquiao and Crawford are bigger, stronger and all-the-way-around better fighters than Salido. They’re better than Lomachenko, too.
But there is a fighter Lomachenko could face to prove he deserves HBO Max Kellerman’s praise as probably the best fighter on the planet. Kellerman has long held the belief that Lomachenko was No. 1 in the world. When I ran into him at the third Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado bout in January 2015, Kellerman told me he thought Lomachenko was the best fighter in the world right that second.
I asked him the same thing I’m asking you now. What about Rigondeaux?
Rigondeaux is at least 36 years old. He’s wasted much of his professional career by either making poor choices or letting someone else make the poor choices for him. After he embarrassed Nonito Donaire in 2013, he was suddenly too good for Top Rank promotions. I don’t know what happened. Maybe Arum had just viewed Rigondeaux as someone to build up until he could feed him to Donaire’s perceived legacy, but Rigondeaux punked the popular Filipino star. He was just too good. Split decision? What were the judges thinking? Rigondeaux dominated him.
Since that fight, Rigondeaux has pretty much languished in obscurity. When I was on social media, every once in a while the fighter would post something about how he was going to move up in weight soon. If you go through his Twitter timeline right now, you’ll see him re-tweet posts from others about the topic all summer long.
But has he? Where is Rigondeaux?
Rigondeaux is the lineal junior featherweight champion of the world. That should mean something. But it doesn’t. He rarely fights, and when he does, it’s usually not that interesting. That isn’t to say there aren’t interesting fights out there for him. There are plenty. But other fighters seem to have smart enough managers and promoters these days to avoid him. Fighting Rigondeaux is all risk and no reward. There is not a junior featherweight in the world who can outbox Rigondeaux, and everyone knows it.
But there might be a fighter just a couple of divisions up: Lomachenko.
Rigondeaux is the epitome of the classically trained Cuban fighter. Where others have shades of Cuban brilliance, the most notable as of right now Erislandy Lara, Rigondeaux is pure masterpiece. He has everything: timing, speed, power and economy of motion. He knows where he is inside the ring at all times, pivots and strikes better than any other fighter alive and is clearly—even at age 36 (or older depending on who you ask)—one of the top three of four fighters in boxing today.
But Rigondeaux needs fights. Right now. He’s needed them for a while now. At this point, it doesn’t matter why he’s not getting them. Do television networks balk at his genius? Do his promoters not have a clue in such matters? Is everyone else in the junior featherweight division just plain scared?
Where is Rigondeaux?
The junior featherweight division is stacked. Donaire still campaigns there, Scott Quigg, Jessie Magdaleno and Jonathan Guzman all would make interesting fights against Rigo. Does no one want to try and wrestle the true junior featherweight crown off his royal head?
Other divisions have potential, too. Bantamweight has a boatload of name fighters who should have incentive to face Rigondeaux. One of my colleagues at another web site recently included Shinsuke Yamanaka among his pound-for-pound top ten list. Would there be a better way to prove his elite status than gunning for Rigondeaux? And Rau’shee Warren, Juan Carlos Payano and Jamie McDonnell would be noteworthy fights, too. Rigondeaux would easily be the most ambitious endeavor of their careers.
There was talk some years ago about matching Lomachenko against Rigondeaux. Obviously, it was just talk. Lomachenko has now moved up two weight classes, leaving little room for any kind of serious negotiations to take place.
But imagine for a minute the elite-level bout that would be Rigondeaux vs. Lomachenko. The latter has gotten much publicity lately. His promoter, Arum, even suggested Lomachenko, just now at 130 pounds, could soon face welterweights Crawford and Pacquiao.
Lomachenko may someday be a welterweight, but it seems silly at this point to match his skill level against the likes of Crawford and Pacquiao. Here’s the key difference: power. Those guys have it. Lomachenko, as stern a puncher as he is at his weight, is nowhere near elite in the power department. When he defeated Walters, it wasn’t his power so much as his defense that left his opponent befuddled. Walters was simply no match.
But Rigondeaux is.
People say they get tired of watching Rigondeaux fight. He’s labeled a “runner” by some. While it’s true Rigondeaux shortens rounds by moving his feet to keep his opponents from launching assaults in any kind of rhythm, if you watch film of him fighting, he most certainly is not running away from anything.
Rigo is a fighter.
Rigondeaux’s wide stance precludes such, and it is also why one might falsely accuse the fighter of inaction. The short way to say it is this: people don’t attack Rigondeaux because he can knock them out with one punch and he is absurdly accurate, too. One test of his power leaves opponents tentative to engage, so he ends up picking them apart from a distance. His wide stance gives him an extended length on his punches that shouldn’t be there, and it allows him to generate a tremendous amount of power to boot. His opponents are in a lose-lose scenario, so most of them do the logical thing. They lose without being concussed.
HBO commentators Jim Lampley and Kellerman heaped an abundance of praise on Lomachenko last weekend. It’s warranted. But if there is any fighter from junior featherweight to junior lightweight who could demolish Lomachenko—not just defeat but demolish him—it most assuredly is Rigondeaux.
Lomachenko is an excellent boxer. He enters his attacks on angles and retreats from them in the same way. But there is no better fighter in boxing at keeping his opponent where he wants him than Rigondeaux. Rigondeaux has more power, faster hands and he’s a more accurate puncher.
People tell me Rigondeaux is too small to move up to 130 pounds to fight Lomachenko. But don’t we demand such amazing jumps in weight from our greatest fighters? Who among you predicted Pacquiao’s success at 140 and above? How about Ray Robinson’s challenge of Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight crown? Boxing is the last sport where the unfathomable can truly still happen.
Rigondeaux’s potential, even as the twilight of his professional career approaches, is as great as any fighter of the last 30 years. Why not take the chance of a lifetime and go after Lomachenko? Rigondeaux-Lomachenko would surely be the highest level of boxing we’ve seen two competitors enter into since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard in 1980.
Our sport does not simply ask for great fighters to do great things. It demands it. It’s why Floyd Mayweather, as tremendous career as he had, will never be listed among the likes of Robinson, Duran or Muhammad Ali. He didn’t test his limits. Instead, he focused on making money and keeping his losses to nil.
Besides, Rigondeaux defected from Cuba in order to live up to his full potential as a fighter. There was nothing for him in his homeland but amateur glory, and a greater amateur fighter you will never find. But his professional career has not lived up to its full promise. Not even close.
Time is running out now. Deadspin’s Charles Farrell opined last year he believed Rigondeaux was in his early forties already. He might as well be a hundred if he never dares to test his limits. The table is set for such with Lomachenko, and while Arum very likely underestimated Rigondeaux when he made the Donaire fight three years ago, one would think Lomachenko’s superb quality, big weight advantage and overall judge-approved aggressive style would give him just enough reasons to make the fight.
Where is Rigondeaux? He’s an active fighter. Right? He’s one of the best overall boxers in the sport. Yes? But time always has the last say, and soon we won’t be asking where he is but where he was.
By then, it will be too late. And all people will remember is that perhaps the greatest Cuban fighter ever never tried to prove it as a professional. He simply languished in obscurity.
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