I enjoy an action-packed, back-and-forth brawl as much as any boxing fan. But I’m also a big fan of defensive boxing and technical skill. I’ve spent enough time sparring in rings to fully understand just how difficult it is to hit an opponent without letting him hit you back.
To be able to do it against high-level, championship caliber fighters is astonishing. So I’ve never been sympathetic to boxing fans who have criticized Guillermo Rigondeaux’s 2013 masterpiece against Nonito Donaire. At the time of that fight, Donaire was universally ranked in the pound-for-pound top five. He’d spent 2012 earning the 2012 Fighter of the Year award. He was one of the most dangerous offensive fighters in the sport.
And Rigondeaux completely neutered him, in just his 12th professional fight. To be sure, Rigondeaux used masterful control of tempo and range to slow down the fight and limit Donaire’s opportunities to get into an offensive rhythm. But anybody who would accuse Rigo of running in that fight needs to take another look at Donaire’s face after it was over.
It’s much tougher to defend Rigondeaux after his performance last weekend on the Miguel Cotto-Saul Alavarez pay-per-view. Fighting a badly over-matched opponent, Drian Francisco of the Philippines, Rigondeaux looked to be fighting at about 50% of his effort. The bout made Floyd Mayweather’s glorified sparring exhibition with Andre Berto last September look like the fourth chapter of Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.
I don’t think boxing fans have the right to expect fighters to unnecessarily risk their health, just to provide violence and blood. But it’s not unreasonable to expect the winning fighter in a match to land more than seven punches a round, which is what Rigondeaux averaged against Francisco.
Rigondeaux is a product of the vaunted Cuban national boxing team. He’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the greatest amateur fighters of all time. But it appears to be built into his psychology to view boxing exclusively as a sport. Winning is all that matter.
However, in the professional ranks, boxing is part show business. A very small percentage of fans enjoy or appreciate the the finer points of the sweet science enough to buy tickets or tune in based purely on their desire to see who can win. The rest of the crowd wants action.
But here’s the enigma: Guillermo Rigondeaux remains one of the finest pound-for-pound talents on the planet. Any sport loses credibility when one of its greatest practioners is ignored.
So what is needed is some credible opponents for Rigondeaux. At least three are available. His fellow Olympic great, Vasyl Lomachenko, holds a world title at bantamweight. A fight between the two would be the first-ever showdown between a pair of two-time Olympic gold medalists.
There are also two intriguing opponents who might move up. Japan’s Naoya Inoue is a world champion at 115 pounds and two-division champion with less than 10 fights.
Flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, undefeated and a three-division world champion. He’s a brilliant offensive fighter and if he can get close enough to Rigo’s 122 pounds, it would be as intriguing as Rigondeaux’s showdown with Donaire.