This Saturday, WBA super bantamweight champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux will appear on the Nonito Donaire-Jorge Arce undercard. With undeniable talent and ring savvy, one wonders if Rigondeaux’s appearance in chief support of Donaire will act as a prelude to an eventual unification fight.
Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KO) elicits more fascination than enthusiasm from boxing fans and pundits. His unorthodox body bends and the way he seems to rehearse punches before throwing them are both astounding and confounding. Rigondeaux’s stunning poise is a product of advanced technical and intellectual abilities.
But after only 11 professional fights, there is one question that begs asking: Is Rigondeaux already on par with super bantamweight stalwarts Donaire (30-1, 19 KO) and Abner Mares?
Rigondeaux’s amateur background, as detailed on BoxRec.com’s encyclopedia, is one reason for optimism regarding his chances against Donaire or Mares.
Rigondeaux won two Olympic gold medals (2000 and 2004), two World Amateur Championships (2001 and 2005), was a seven-time Cuban champion and claims an amateur record of almost 400 fights with only 12 defeats.
Having last lost as an amateur in 2003, Rigondeaux is no ordinary 11-fight professional. Granted, amateur boxing is vastly different than punching for pay. That said, Rigondeaux’s background as a member of the Cuban boxing team has provided him with a wealth of experience and consistently pitted him against elite competition.
The benefits of Rigondeaux’s extensive and decorated amateur career are best reflected through his in-ring demeanor. He is calculated, poised and frighteningly precise and economical with his punches.
Thus far, as a professional, one can only admire Rigondeaux’s ascent to the championship level. In only his seventh professional fight, Rigondeaux claimed the “interim” WBA 122-pound title by scoring a split decision over Ricardo Cordoba, a fighter who was 37-2-2 at the time. Still, Rigondeaux’s performance was uneven.
And herein lies Rigondeaux’s dilemma: Will his cerebral style and meticulous approach to dissecting opponents cost him fans and a unification fight against Donaire?
Financially, Rigondeaux brings little to the table. Combining this lack of mainstream recognition with Rigondeaux’s genuine class has unfortunately cast him in the role of the classic “high risk, little reward” fighter. While beating Rigondeaux would give a fighter like Donaire deserved accolades and respect, he can’t fully be blamed for pursuing more lucrative—and still competitive—alternatives.
Since his uneven performance against Cordoba, Rigondeaux has done his best to endear himself to the public. A three-knockdown, first-round stoppage of Willie Casey followed and enabled Rigondeaux to fight for the WBA’s official title. After scoring a sixth-round knockout of Rico Ramos to shed his “interim” status, Rigondeaux has reeled off two successful title defenses.
Rigondeaux’s first defense was a five-knockdown dismantling of solid contender Teon Kennedy. Most recently, Rigondeaux was extended the 12-round distance against Robert Marroquin in a fight that offers several avenues to analyze Rigondeaux’s worth as a genuinely elite fighter.
Despite dominating the fight and scoring two knockdowns, Rigondeaux was hurt and staggered in Rounds 3 and 9 from Marroquin left hooks. While some will suggest that this might be evidence of potentially weak punch resistance, there is an alternative, positive view. In absorbing these shots, Rigondeaux exhibited poise, knew how to clinch and quickly recovered despite nearly touching the canvas on both occasions.
CompuBox numbers from the fight are even more impressive. Rigondeaux landed a precise 43 percent of his power punches (114 of 266), averaging a steady 53 punches per round, which indicates that the fight was contested exclusively at his preferred pace.
Now, consider this: Marroquin (22-2, 15 KO) was only able to land 16 percent of his total punches (54 of 342). In limiting Marroquin—a skilled, young fighter—to an average of 28.5 punches per round, Rigondeaux showed that his skills are grounded in both what he produces offensively and what he negates his opponent from accomplishing.
In their fight, the only round where Marroquin landed more than 10 punches was the third stanza when he hurt Rigondeaux with a left hook. Furthermore, in Round 9—the other frame where Rigondeaux was wobbled—Marroquin only managed to land five total punches. In fact, Marroquin landed fewer than five total punches in seven of 12 rounds.
For those who insist on pointing out that Rigondeaux hasn’t fought a truly elite opponent as a professional, others will counter that he simply hasn’t been given the chance.
Assuming Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank are unable to resolve their feud, a fight between Donaire and Mares (25-0-1, 13 KO) remains in limbo. Donaire has recently conceded that Rigondeaux is perhaps worthy of fighting, which is good news (per RingTV .com). Never one to avoid a challenge, it is reasonable to suspect that Donaire will eventually secure the fight.
Donaire-Rigondeaux could prove to be an excellent matchup and is realistic because both men fight under the Top Rank banner. At this point, the only thing preventing Rigondeaux from showing that he is on par with the likes of Donaire and Mares is a willing, elite opponent.