Yup, I’m one of them, a Guillermo Rigondeaux fan. A Guillermo Rigondeaux defender. A Guillermo Rigondeaux supporter. Not that long ago, when I was just starting off in this fight writing racket, I wrote a piece defending the Cuban great in the face of blistering criticism that the man was “boring.” Man, did I take heat for that one. Here I was, a rookie fight writer, and a New York Times best-selling author actually wrote a hit piece on me for backing Rigondeaux. Talk about a baptism by fire.
Generally speaking, those of us who write about boxing have to try to keep our personalities out of the things we write. In this case, though, I’m going to step up and take my medicine. There’s nothing more unseemly than a flighty fan, after all, so it’s time for those of us who supported El Chacal to go down with the ship.
First, though, let’s get a few things straight. Guillermo Rigondeaux is/was a genuinely great boxer. One simply doesn’t cruise past the likes of Nonito Donaire and leave that elite-level fighter forever diminished without being in possession of some serious skill and talent. All a truly interested fan has to do really, is check out some pre-Lomachenko clips of “El Chacal” on YouTube to see how amazing the guy can be. Talk about the ability to hit without getting hit in return. Rigondeaux is slick, ice cold, and seemingly hypnotic to his competition, who he lulls into a kind of trance. All that said, the guy can indeed be boring. Brutally so.
But let’s also call a spade a spade: Rigo was so good that he was ducked. Over and over again. Carl Frampton, while riding high, wanted nothing to do with him. Either that or Barry McGuigan didn’t. It was infuriating to see a guy like Frampton slip away from Rigondeaux in order to further his popularity and wallet. The same holds true for Leo Santa Cruz, who, if memory serves me correctly, once stated outright he was willing to face Rigo in the ring but, as we all know, talk is cheap. The bottom line is some of the best fighters out there acted like total pansies when it came to Rigondeaux. And now, after last night’s debacle, they are in no position to say “I told you so.”
Let’s get back to the boring charge, for a moment. While it’s true Rigo could be a snoozer, George Foreman was right when he claimed that boxing is like jazz – the better it is, the less people like it. And just because we fans love to be entertained, we should also keep in mind that boxing is a sport, not just a form of entertainment. The blood and guts stuff carries a wide appeal, but it’s not what pugilism essentially is. There are rules and conventions and ever since James J. Corbett took John L. Sullivan to boxing school back in 1892, every boxer has had to learn the basic techniques. If mastery of such technique can lead to such dominance that matches become tedious, should we not still be able to appreciate a boxer’s skill and ring brilliance?
Which brings us to Vasyl Lomachenko. The Ukranian himself stated after Saturday’s battle that size did, in fact, matter; that Rigo essentially had no chance against him due to elements outside the Cuban exile’s control. With all due respect to Lomachenko, he couldn’t be more wrong. Rigondeaux is a truly great fighter, but Loma proved himself a better one, at least at this point in time. And after last night, I’m not sure even a prime “El Chacal” could prevail against the astonishing combination of athleticism, inventiveness and talent that is “Hi-Tech.”
Having said all this, it’s time to face the ugliest aspect of Saturday night’s fight: Rigondeaux’s “no mas” moment. Seriously, what the hell was that? Sorry, but I’m not buying the injured hand excuse. After all, there are too many examples of great boxers fighting through pain and injury, answering the bell despite broken bones or sustained beatings. Even if Guillermo’s hand was injured, that doesn’t excuse what he did. But more to the point, I just don’t believe that’s why he surrendered. The harsh lesson Loma was teaching Rigondeaux last night is, in my view, the real reason “El Chacal” stayed on his stool when the bell rang for round seven.
And, if my conclusion is correct, that’s just pathetic. It’s not like Rigo had taken a tremendous amount of punishment, or had been staggered or cut. But then again, it’s easy for fight fans and pundits to condemn the boxer who surrenders, while most of us have never even laced up the gloves and stepped into the square circle. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing. How many fighters now have bailed after a few rounds with Lomachenko, have chosen to exit in shame instead of letting things proceed to their logical conclusion? Perhaps we’re seeing something unique here, a boxer who is so brilliant and dominant that he breaks the wills of some of the toughest and iciest champions. If this keeps going, it could be almost unprecedented.
But Lomachenko’s talent and prowess doesn’t excuse or obscure the fact that Guillermo Rigondeaux chose the most self-debasing kind of exit possible. And, looking objectively on Rigondeaux’s tough life, accomplishments and incredible skill set, that’s truly saying something. — Sean Crose