Boxing is ending 2017, a terrific year already, with maybe the best confrontation of the year. That occurs this coming Saturday night when unbeaten Guillermo Rigondeaux 17-0 (11) moves up two weight divisions to challenge WBO super featherweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko 9-1 (7) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Rigondeaux and Lomachenko, both two-time Olympians and gold medalists are without question two of the five best fighters in the world. Sadly, because they’re both so sophisticated stylistically, their matchup doesn’t have the panache of Canelo-Golovkin and will not be appreciated by quasi boxing fans.
Rigondeaux-Lomachenko is a dream fight in the mind of a boxing purist and a lot of the sublime things they’ll be doing or trying to do will go unnoticed by half of the audience watching – and that’s not a shot at the viewers as much as it’s a compliment to the fighters. Both are dynamic and win by demoralizing their opponents; they just go about it a little differently. Rigondeaux is more structured in that everything he does is done with more of a purpose, opposed to Lomachenko who is a little more bouncy; some of his moves and gyrations are more for show than they are purposeful.
The athleticism of both fighters is off the chart and when coupled with their speed, intuition, acumen and ring aptitude, it doesn’t take an educated eye to see what sets them apart from other elite fighters. Like most bouts pitting two uniquely great fighters it always comes down to which one can carry out his game plan. Rigondeaux is the better boxer and needs to catch and hopefully hurt Lomachenko in the midst of Lomachenko’s useless movements. Conversely, Lomachenko is going to try and wear down Rigondeaux and tire him out by imposing his weight and presumed strength. Rigondeaux is a great counter-puncher and his footwork, like Lomachenko’s, is outstanding. Footwork and balance will be more of a factor for Rigondeaux because he’ll be looking for positioning, whereas squaring up will be more beneficial for Lomachenko due to his advantage in applicable ring strength.
Rigondeaux knows when to cut loose with a return receipt. More importantly, he has a little Sugar Ray Leonard in him in that not too many of his opponents punches go unanswered. That should go a ways in helping him keep Lomachenko off balance, making it a little trickier for Vasyl to rough Rigondeaux up. This will be the first time in Lomachenko’s career in which he’ll have to be more fighter than technician or boxer, mainly because Rigondeaux can answer his trickery and deceptions. I’m just not positive Guillermo negates Vasyl’s strength advantage.
When breaking down the match-up, both fighters are creative and capable of leading and countering effectively. Their athleticism and unorthodox styles have demoralized their opponents, but against each other that’s more than likely a standstill. The pressure is on Rigondeaux to make Lomachenko unsure of himself regarding his freelancing without being touched up more than he’s used to. Usually when the smaller fighter moves up to fight the bigger man, the smaller man is quicker and more skilled, but this time it’s very close, and that hurts Rigondeaux.
With their skill-set being so close this fight is going to come down to physicality, maybe more-so than in any big fight between quality opponents in recent memory. Rigondeaux isn’t a full-fledged 122 pounds and there’s serious talk of Lomachenko moving up to 135 sometime in 2018. I’m in the minority in that I believe Lomachenko is driven more by his athleticism than his ring prowess and technical proficiency. Too many fans and observers confuse unique movement and bouncing with technical precision. Fundamentally, Mikey Garcia is a better technician than Lomachenko.
The time will arrive when Lomachenko, if he’s still fighting, isn’t as fast as the wind and then we’ll see him get hit more in much the same way Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones did when their reflexes dulled. However, I believe Lomachenko has more applicable ring strength than he gets credit for; because he moves so smoothly it has been overlooked. Aside from Orlando Salido, he’s never been out-muscled, and by the time that fight ended Lomachenko had nearly turned the table.
In making a pick there are three things that bother me and prevent me from siding with Rigondeaux even though I think he’s the better overall fighter, the first being that Lomachenko is only 29 and clearly in his physical prime. He spent his formative years as an amateur fighting three round bouts. Due to his style, his fights are seldom taxing physically and that has helped preserve him even more. Rigondeaux is listed at 37. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was older and perhaps even over 40. His career hasn’t been taxing as a pro, but there are a lot of years on those legs and if Lomachenko pressures him they’ll be under more strain than they’ve ever been before.
Another huge factor is the size disparity. Some may scoff and say it isn’t a bridge too far to fill between 122 pounds and 130 pounds. I know there is a clause in the contract that says that at 9am on the day of the fight Lomachenko cannot weigh more than 138lbs. Whomever decided that the last weigh-in is to be on the day of the fight was smart to do so, and that may shade some of Lomachenko’s advantage, but not nearly enough as far as I’m concerned.
If Wilfredo Gomez during his prime were to move up and fight Floyd Mayweather when Floyd was the champ at junior lightweight, I wouldn’t give him a smidgen of a chance due to the strength advantage in favor of Mayweather. Sure, Gomez could go rounds with Mayweather, and he’d even score and land some clean punches – the problem is he couldn’t hurt Mayweather nor make him do anything he didn’t want to. And eventually Mayweather’s weight and clean punching would overwhelm him — something I see being a factor and playing out regarding Rigondeaux. I have no doubt Rigondeaux will find Lomachenko during some exchanges as the bout progresses. I could even see him forcing Lomachenko to break the exchange a few times, but not enough to swing the fight in his favor.
At some point they’re both going to get off with their feet planted, and if that happens I believe Rigondeaux will be the one that more often gets the worst of it. And once they’re close and fighting inside I believe Lomachenko’s legs and core strength will enable him to out-muscle Rigondeaux and probably slow and tire him down the stretch. Rigondeaux is the better technician but until I see it I don’t believe he’s physically strong enough to out-box Lomachenko for 12 rounds and that will be the difference.
Lastly, I must take into account the business of boxing. I know that gets tiresome to read and hear, and when it’s no longer a factor it’ll no longer be addressed, but that day hasn’t arrived. Lomachenko is an emerging star and those looking to strengthen their case that he’s the number one pound-for-pound fighter in boxing believe victory in this bout clearly pushes him over the line. Lomachenko has been packaged better from a promotional point and he’s much more of a draw than Rigondeaux who has been excoriated for his style, which requires a smarter eye to fully appreciate. Lomachenko is definitely better eye candy and it’s no secret that a win by him would be much better for boxing.
When it comes to the scoring, I believe Rigondeaux will have to do much more to earn rounds from the judges. It was said in this space that if Gennady Golovkin didn’t beat Canelo Alvarez inside the distance he wouldn’t win a decision and the same applies here. If the bout goes the distance, there’s no way Lomachenko will lose.
The way I see it, because he’s clearly the B side and not even a capital b, Rigondeaux can only win by knockout and I don’t see that happening. My sense is Lomachenko wins inside the distance due to his greater size, weight and overall physicality.
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