Guillermo Rigondeaux is a fighter either too good for his own good, or one whose ego is too big for his own benefit. There is a fascinating divide when it comes to the prodigious Cuban; either he’s loved to the point his followers argue tooth and nail on his behalf, or hated so much his detractors close their eyes and ears at the mere mention of him while repeating the phrase “See no evil, hear no evil.”
What is not debatable is that he is a gifted boxer. We’ve known how good he is from his days as an amateur in the Cuban boxing system, from his Olympic gold medals, and from his highly anticipated pro debut, but being merely “good” is underachieving when it comes to Rigondeaux and he knows it.
Since clowning Nonito Donaire and Joseph Agbeko a few years ago, Guillermo has had an extremely difficult time securing a meaningful fight, despite his going to extreme lengths to get one. Along the way he’s suffered some serious setbacks. Rigondeaux had to sever ties with Top Rank, survive a blacklisting effort from HBO Boxing, and he had his WBA title belt stripped for inactivity.
It does seem that “El Chacal” is just another victim of the harsh business of boxing, a fighter fated to live out the rest of his career buried on undercards and lamenting about the injustices the sport has brought upon him. But before that happens, perhaps it’s time to consider how the Cuban champion got in this position to begin with.
First we need to assess the handling of his career by Top Rank and, later, by Roc Nation Sports. Rigondeaux’s early momentum was a bit of a shock considering how little Bob Arum regards tactical-minded boxers, but “The Jackal” moved through the ranks and won his first world title in his ninth fight against Rico Ramos. He then made it clear he wanted to take on Donaire, the Filipino champion racking up a series of wins that established him as one of the best of champions and a proven box-office success.
Rigondeaux was featured on some of Top Rank’s most prominent cards, such as Pacquiao vs Bradley I and Sergio Martinez vs Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., though he didn’t exactly turn in scintillating performances, but Top Rank still planted the seeds for Rigondeaux vs Donaire before the eventual clash materialized in 2013. In a masterful performance, “The Jackal” handed Donaire a defeat so authoritative and demoralizing that he was never the same ever after.
But the result left Arum in an awkward situation. In a sense he had just traded Donaire for Rigondeaux and while it’s one thing to have a pound-for-pound best fighter on your roster, it’s another thing if he is incapable of entertaining or inspiring fans to buy tickets and Arum was aware of that. Post Donaire, Arum lamented his struggles with Rigondeaux by saying he would have to put forward the “best promoting job I’ve ever done” to make him a successful attraction.
A poorly conceived match with an overly-timid former champ in Joseph Agbeko dissolved what remaining patience Arum and HBO Boxing had and it would prove to be the last time for nearly three years that Rigondeaux would appear on the network in any capacity. Despite the fact that the HBO boycott occurred at the same time that the network began dramatically downsizing their boxing product during the Ken Hershman/Peter Nelson regimes, it was clear Rigondeaux just was not a fighter they were looking to focus their resources on in the near future.
After his time with Top Rank finally came to an end, Rigondeaux was picked up by an emerging Roc Nation Sports, the company signing him around the same time they signed Andre Ward and Miguel Cotto, his fans hoping a new company and a change of scenery might bolster Guillermo’s stagnant career. However, Roc Nation is still struggling to get a real foothold in the industry, a fact underlined by the the disappointing returns from their Ward vs Kovalev pay-per-view shows and the recent departure of Cotto.
But even if Rigondeaux’s situation is further hampered by his being signed to one of the lesser promotional outfits, that doesn’t fully explain why he isn’t involved in any big fights. Over the course of the past few years, Rigondeaux has called out the likes of Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz and, most recently, Vasyl Lomachenko, with very little in way of response. That isn’t surprising considering the risk each of these fighters would be taking for a paltry reward compared to other match-ups, but Rigondeaux’s career decisions up to this point suggest another reason for his rivals’ collective disinterest.
Let’s remember that outside of Donaire and Agbeko, the super bantamweight division was and is a dead zone with no big names or intriguing fights to be made. Frampton, Quigg, Santa Cruz and Abner Mares all compete at featherweight now, not to mention Gary Russell and Lee Selby, but Rigondeaux stayed behind and has not once tried to move up in weight.
When it comes to Lomachenko, Rigondeaux floated the idea of a catchweight fight at 124 pounds with a rehydration clause of 134 pounds, which would have been reasonable if Lomachenko hadn’t already moved up to super featherweight and was about to receive a big payday against Nicholas Walters. Even now, Rigondeaux continues to call Lomachenko out as the possibility increases of “Hi-Tech” moving to lightweight and putting more distance between them. However, a career-defining run at featherweight is still on the table for “The Jackal.”
Rigondeaux is in position to challenge the top names in that division and that is what he needs to do. A featherweight reboot may not lead to Lomachenko, but putting himself in the mix will lead to more opportunities as some fighters may feel their advantage in size can compensate for his advantage in skill. The Cuban could take his act on the road for fights with Quigg or Josh Warrington in the United Kingodm, and could potentially snatch Lee Selby’s IBF belt before turning his attention towards Russell, Frampton or Santa Cruz. If not, he could ward off the challenges from the division’s upstarts like Joseph Diaz or Oscar Valdez and could then maybe land the truly big fight he is seeking.
Of course, his continued insistence to stay at 120 makes this a moot point and emphasizes the fact that his frustrations are largely the result of his own decisions.
Being feared does not mean being invisible. Winky Wright, Paul Williams, Erislandy Lara and Gennady Golovkin all got their time in the spotlight but had to take chances to get there and all of them were better for it. We shouldn’t be overly sympathetic to Guillermo Rigondeaux as the truth is this is a fighter who has spent his professional career playing it safe one day, then calling for danger the next, and hoping to sucker somebody in to fight him, and that’s not what builds a legacy.
As Gary Elbert put it so beautifully in his piece “Mere Anarchy: The Sad Plight Of The Jackal” last March: “The story of Rigondeaux thus far is the story of thwarted talent, the triumph of business over sport and the tragedy of conflicting human values. And it is very sad.”
True. But while the business of boxing has given Rigondeaux more lumps than any of his opponents, it’s still the self-inflicted wounds he keeps re-opening that are the ones preventing him from achieving the greatness he appeared destined for. There’s still time to turn it all around, but until Guillermo decides to take some risks and make some bold moves, it’s not going to happen. And the truth is that’s on no one but him.
— Danny Howard