NEW YORK – The Vasyl Lomachenko “Make-’Em-Quit” Tour played the Garden here Saturday night, where the headliner of boxing’s strangest and arguably most impressive act extended what has to be some kind of record by getting his fourth straight opponent to surrender rather than offer himself up for continued humiliation and physical punishment. In terms of mathematical improbability, those four straight wavings of the white flag by guys who probably came to regret agreeing to fight the Ukrainian southpaw might even surpass his totally ridiculous amateur record of 396-1, which on paper still appears to be some sort of typographical error.
If there is a difference between No. 4 and its predecessors, it’s that the fighter who sued for peace was Cuban legend Guillermo Rigondeaux, he of the defense said to be more difficult to penetrate than those presented by the 1985 Chicago Bears or the Great Wall of China. But after six rounds of finding out that the array of slick maneuvers which had bamboozled everyone he had faced, amateur or professional, since his most recent loss in 2003, was of no discernible impediment to Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs), Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs) decided his best course of action was simply to quit, citing an injured left hand.
Rigo’s disinclination to leave his stool for the seventh round was at the same time familiar and astounding, given Lomachenko’s recent history and the loser’s previously unsullied reputation.
Pundits in the press section immediately christened the ESPN-televised fight, particularly notable in that it marked the first time winners of two Olympic gold medals had squared off as professionals, as “No Mas II,” a reference to the Nov. 25, 1980, second pairing of Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in the Louisiana Superdome. In that one, Leonard, who had relinquished his WBC welterweight title on a close but unanimous 15-round decision to Duran five months earlier in Montreal, taunted and showed up the Panamanian great until he simply turned his back in the eighth round and purportedly told referee Octavio Meyran “No Mas,” which is Spanish for “no more.” Duran, who insisted he never uttered those image-damaging words, cited his reason for giving up as severe stomach cramps, although his manager, Carlos Eleta, disavowed that excuse, saying, “He quit because he was embarrassed.”
It remains to be seen whether Rigondeaux’s excuse for taking the rest of the night off is legitimate, or reasonably so. He did not appear at the post-fight press conference, departing for Bellevue Hospital to have his left (power) hand X-rayed. But fighters of similarly prestigious or even lesser stature have soldiered on through broken jaws, hematoma-disfigured eyes and, yes, broken hands, casting at least a hint of aspersion on Rigondeaux’s toughness, durability and commitment at a time when things finally were not going his way.
Reminded that he had just won for the fourth consecutive time by getting the other guy to give up, Lomachenko, who also defended his WBO super featherweight championship for the fourth time, referenced Leonard-Duran II with an impish smile. “Maybe,” he said, “I should start changing my name to `No Mas’-chenko.”
The more pressing question does not so much concern Lomachenko’s possible nickname modification – his present one is “High-Tech,” which is indisputably accurate but somehow lacking the proper verve – as it does to the pool of potential opponents for his expected move up to lightweight. Invitations will be extended to the very formidable likes of Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) and WBA 135-pound titlist Jorge Linares (43-3, 27 KOs), but being asked to a party doesn’t guarantee attendance, especially if the host has a habit of rubbing his guests’ noses in the dirt. Prior to the semi-shocker against Rigondeaux, the Lomachenko Make-’Em-Quit Tour included stops in Las Vegas (Nicholas Walters quit on his stool after the seventh round), Oxon Hill, Md. (Jason Sosa did not come out for round 10) and Los Angeles (Miguel Marriaga excused himself after round seven).
“With ESPN behind this, we have plenty of money to offer opponents who are really good fighters,” Lomachenko’s promoter, Top Rank founder and chairman Bob Arum, told reporters in explaining the quandary of having a fighter who might be too good for his own good. “ESPN wants the best, and this kid (Lomachenko) is the best.
“The guy is super-human. You guys cover boxing. When have you ever seen anything like this? Rigondeaux was not a ham-and-egger. Rigondeaux was one of the great fighters. He destroyed (Nonito) Donaire and Donaire wasn’t a ham-and-egger. Donaire was a helluva fighter, but with Rigondeaux he was nothing. He can’t hit Lomachenko with anything and he can’t stop Lomachenko from hitting him. It’s something really, really spectacular.
“Nicholas Walters was a helluva fighter and a courageous guy. Lomachenko made him quit, right? He made Sosa quit, too, although Sosa maybe isn’t in that category. Why? Because they can’t do anything with him. They’re getting hit and they’re going to get knocked out, so it’s pretty smart for them to quit.”
Smart, in a way, maybe, but taking the seemingly easy way out can embroider a big, fat scarlet “Q,” for quitter, on a fighter’s reputation. Another lefthander with a trick bag full of neat moves, two-time former heavyweight champion Chris Byrd, said no fighter likes to “get clowned,” which is his terminology for frustrating an opponent into surrendering. Better to go out on your shield than simply give up, for whatever reason.
“Nobody wants to get clowned,” Byrd said before he claimed the vacant IBF title on a 12-round unanimous decision over the never-say-die Evander Holyfield on Dec. 14, 2004. “They’d rather get knocked out than to get frustrated and embarrassed at the same time. But I’ve been doing that to people for a long time … since I was a kid. I pride myself on that. I kind of make guys look foolish.”
Garcia and Linares would be attractive options for Lomachenko, but don’t assume they’re about to appear on his dance card just because those bouts make sense and the public wants to see them.
“You gotta pay those guys a lot of money, because they aren’t stupid,” Arum said. “They’re great fighters. Garcia’s a great fighter, Linares is a great fighter. But ask them deep down if they have a chance to beat this guy and they’ll tell you no.”
Going in, did Rigondeaux think he had a realistic chance to turn the tables on the younger (29 to Rigo’s 37), naturally larger Lomachenko? Probably so. After all, he had publicly vowed to “massacre” the Ukrainian. But it became apparent early on to the sellout crowd of 5,120 in the Theater at Madison Square Garden (the big room upstairs was occupied by the New York Rangers’ 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils) that “The Jackal” was in over his head, and not just because Lomachenko, at 5-foot-7, was three inches taller. Rigondeaux threw few punches (just 178 in six rounds), did not connect on many of those (15, a dreadful 8.4 percent) and grabbed onto Lomachenko often with no apparent intention of letting go, obliging referee Steve Willis to finally penalize him a point in round six. Just where he might have injured his hand is a mystery, seeing as he never landed more than three punches in any round. One of Rigo’s cornermen theorized that it might have happened from a Loma elbow smacking into the Cuban’s glove.
Inquiring media minds no doubt will want to be furnished with medical proof, maybe the release of X-rays, to confirm or debunk the notion that Rigondeaux had indeed been reduced to trying to fight a veritable whirling dervish with a damaged paw. Dino Duva of Roc Nation Sports, Rigondeaux’s promotional company, came to the defense of his fighter, but his argument seemed to lack conviction and passion. “Rigo is one of the most skilled boxers out there,” Duva said as if he were reading from the classified ads section of a newspaper. “Once he hurt his main weapon, there really wasn’t anything he could do. If (the hand) is broken, I can understand (his not fighting on).”
Lomachenko, while acknowledging that Rigondeaux is “a king in boxing,” did not second Duva’s opinion that the Cuban had no choice but to withdraw. “You know, I fought with one hand in Macao (a 12-round unanimous decision over Suriya Tatakhun on Nov. 23, 2014),” he noted. “So it (depends) on you. If you want to win, if you want to fight, you need (to be prepared) to die in the ring.”
If there is one absolute certainty concerning Lomachenko’s career moving forward, it is that he no longer can be expected to play small rooms, even one in the city that never sleeps. No disrespect to the Theater at MSG, the site of any number of important fights in the past, but Loma being relegated to a 5,000-seat arena is or soon will be akin to Sinatra or Elvis in their heydays playing lounges. After the TV cameras had been shut off, ESPN blow-by-blow announcer Joe Tessitore asked analyst Timothy Bradley Jr., a former world champion, his thoughts as to what had just transpired.
“No mas, baby,” Bradley responded. Pressed further as to his thoughts on any possible opponent capable of solving the riddle that is Loma, Bradley said, “I don’t believe that person has been born yet.”
Then again, maybe the entity capable of taking down Lomachenko is not a person. In an informative story detailing the innovative training techniques prescribed by Loma’s father-trainer, Anatoly, and a psychologist trained in cognitive behaviorism, Andriy Kolosov, Mark Kriegel wrote that the fighter – No. 1 or No. 2 to Top Rank stablemate Terrence Crawford on most reputable pound-for-pound lists – can hold his breath underwater for over four minutes and helps build endurance with 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) ocean swims.
There are sharks in the deep, blue sea. You’d have to figure that even a fighter as peerless as Lomachenko would have to be an underdog against Jaws.
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