Guillermo Rigondeaux's Next Fight: Ranking the Best Potential Opponents

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2014

Guillermo Rigondeaux's Next Fight: Ranking the Best Potential Opponents

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Guillermo Rigondeaux made a statement on Saturday evening at the Cotai Arena in Macau, blasting out the woefully overmatched Sod Kokietgym in just one round to retain his unified super bantamweight championship.

    The 33-year-old Cuban proved once again that he is an immense talent who is capable of producing exciting moments, but questions linger about whether or not this performance will return him to the good graces of his promoter Top Rank and the major television networks.

    Rigondeaux's victory was not televised live on American TV—HBO won't even show it on tape delay despite picking up the other main bouts on the card—but it has been picked up by Spanish-language station UniMas, which will replay it later on Saturday. 

    The aversion to televising Rigondeaux has largely been due to his safety-first style, which has helped produce some real stinkers over the past couple of years. That wasn't a problem on Saturday in Macau, but few are likely to be excited about the blowout of an overmatched opponent, especially when you couldn't see it live.

    But still, Rigondeaux does possess two world title belts at 122 pounds, and that makes him attractive to potential opponents. And if he can't find someone willing to try and take those from him, he recently expressed a willingness to move up in weight.

    All that said, these are the five best options for his next fight.

5. Nonito Donaire

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    Rigondeaux and Donaire met last year in one of the most highly anticipated lower-weight showdowns in recent memory. The fight was a dud, and the need for a rematch might not seem apparent, even if both parties have expressed a desire for one.

    The Cuban outboxed—albeit in safety-first style—Donaire, making him look like an amateur for large segments of the affair, and he deserved the unanimous decision, albeit by wider scores.

    Unfortunately for both fighters, the long-term consequences of their fight have not been good.

    Rigondeaux has become persona non grata with Top Rank and HBO, who televised the fight, and Donaire just hasn’t looked like the same fighter, struggling against Vic Darchinyan and Simpiwe Vetyeka in his last two fights.

    Losing to Rigo has seemed to zap the Filipino's confidence, and that's often hard to get back.

    By hook or by crook—spoiler alert: it’s by crook—Donaire currently holds a world title one division up at featherweight. He has challenged Rigondeaux to a rematch before—prior to moving to 126 pounds—and seems to have a strong desire for redemption.

    Rigondeaux, on the other hand, might struggle to find another high-profile fight available to him. His technical, tricky, defense-oriented style, combined with his lack of drawing power, makes him boxing’s ultimate high-risk, low-reward opponent.

    One knockout of an overmatched foe isn't going to change that perception.

    If Donaire comes knocking, Rigo should answer the door. 

    But it's doubtful that he will.

4. Kiko Martinez

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    Kiko Martinez might not be—for lack of a better word—the sexiest option available, but the Spaniard does—for now at least—hold one potentially valuable piece of hardware. And Rigo seems to be well-aware of that fact, calling out Martinez—among other 122-pound champions—for not having the guts to face him and prove they're the best.

    Since being stopped by rising Irish star Carl Frampton in early 2012, Martinez has reeled off four straight wins, capturing the IBF Super Bantamweight Championship with an upset knockout of Jhonatan Romero last summer.

    Martinez will defend his title against Frampton this August in Northern Ireland, and should he score the upset, a unification showdown with Rigondeaux would make a fair bit of sense.

    It would be an opportunity to put three of the four 122-pound titles in one place, and given Martinez’s attacking style, it could provide Rigo with a chance to engage in a compelling fight that would draw in fans and maybe networks.

    Martinez is relentless and underrated. Both of those qualities could make him an interesting challenge for the Cuban wizard.

3. Carl Frampton

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    Frampton is a rising star across the pond, and he seems like a pretty good bet to once again knock off Martinez and capture his first world championship in August. The two engaged in a scintillating contest in 2012, with the Northern Ireland product becoming the first—and to date only—man to stop the rugged Spaniard.

    The 27-year old, who ironically shares The Jackal nickname with Rigondeaux, has a few recognizable names on his ledger—Martinez, Hugo Cazares and Steve Molitor—but nobody the caliber of Rigondeaux.

    Rigo and his team have been chasing a Frampton fight for a little while now—they even offered to stage the contest in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland—but his team has expressed reluctance about whether or not their man is ready for that fight.

    And, again, the issue all comes down to risk versus reward.

    Rigondeaux is widely considered the best fighter in the division—he holds two belts—and even if Frampton does secure one against Martinez, his team is almost certainly to look for other more lucrative and less risky options.

    You can call that ducking, but it’s just the reality of the sport these days.

    Would it be a compelling fight? Probably.

    Is it a good option for Rigo?

    Frampton is certainly more high-profile than Martinez, though less likely, and more compelling than Donaire, though more probable, but don’t bet the farm on the bout happening.

2. Vasyl Lomachenko

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    Vasyl Lomachenko is quickly turning into what Top Rank hoped it would get from Rigondeaux.

    Both men are highly decorated amateurs—some consider the Ukrainian to be the greatest amateur of all time—and each captured two Olympic gold medals for their home nations at the Summer Games.

    Just three fights into his professional career—a record-tying feat—Lomachenko easily dispatched the previously undefeated Gary Russell Jr. to capture a featherweight world title. This was the Ukrainian fighter’s second attempt at gold, having dropped a narrow decision to Orlando Salido earlier in the year.

    It took Rigo a relative eternity to capture his first world title—he won an interim belt in his seventh fight—and it would be an interesting match to see the two former amateur champions get it on as professionals.

    Lomachenko is clearly the more offensive-oriented of the two fighters, while Rigo prefers the Cuban style of using movement to confound a foe, punching when necessary and taking very little in return.

    It’s an interesting style matchup, and Top Rank might be willing to go along with it in the hopes that Lomachenko dumps Rigondeaux off its hands. That said, it's also a very risky bout for a fighter who seems on the path to stardom.

    Lomachenko has expressed being open to the fight in the past, and Rigo's management team has said it's one it wants.

    Will the fight happen?

    That all depends on Arum and whether he wants to put his rising star in with a tricky fighter who is known for making people look bad. But Lomachenko only recently left the amateurs, and that could give him advantage in terms of sorting out Rigondeaux's style. 

1. Leo Santa Cruz

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    There is only one real option if you’re talking about super-bantamweight supremacy, and that’s Mexican dynamo Leo Santa Cruz.

    He is young, undefeated and already a multiweight world champion. He fights with tremendous energy, throwing punches in bunches for every minute of every fight, and his excitement value blows all other fighters on this list out of the water.

    He will return to the ring against an opponent to be determined on the Mayweather vs. Maidana 2 undercard on September 13 in Las Vegas, and he has been gung-ho about the idea of fighting Rigondeaux, should promotional issues be solved.

    This might be the one fight that would force Rigondeaux—who can be dangerous and aggressive when pushed—to come out of his defensive shell, engage and make a decent scrap with a world-class opponent.

    If Santa Cruz can pressure him effectively—a big if—and force him to fight—another big if—then this one could turn into a barnburner.

    It features the two best 122-pound fighters in the world, would be for three of the four titles at the weight and would give Arum and Oscar De La Hoya a great opportunity to show their mended fences can actually lead to significant fights.

    Nobody loses here, and this is the fight that fans seem to want.

    Given the Mexican's commitment to a fight on a major pay-per-view stage later this year, it would seem that early next year would be the earliest possible time for the match. That's fine. Let it percolate for a little.

    It's the best possible fight for Rigondeaux—you can debate if it's best for Santa Cruz—and it presents a compelling style matchup. So why not make it happen?