It seems that for many boxing fans it’s fashionable to hate on Guillermo Rigndeaux, but I don’t understand why that is. Seriously, what is there to dislike about this fighter? For one thing, the guy has done more damage than people give him credit for, having dominated every opponent he’s faced, scoring 11 stoppages in 17 wins. Let’s also keep in mind that the Cuban-American is a walking, talking skill set. In terms of technical ability, he’s in very rarefied air, on the top tier, no question.
But the man has a reputation for being boring and therefore he’s despised. Yes, there’s times when his performances are not exactly must-watch entertainment, but the same can be said for any number of excellent fighters, past and present. To me, the level of dislike is puzzling, no matter how many dominant but less-than-thrilling performances Riogondeaux gives us. Floyd Mayweather was never exactly “Mr. Excitement.” Neither were Pernell Whitaker or Willie Pep. Still, such men are greatly admired, and rightfully so. Why doesn’t Rigondeaux get similar acclaim? I can see why the Cuban exile isn’t a fan favorite. A fan villain, though? That makes no sense.
But at least those of us who admire Rigondeaux can rest easy knowing that finally, the technical wizard who was shamelessly ducked by guys like Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz, is about to get a high-profile bout worthy of his rare talents. Because on December 9 the undefeated super bantamweight champ is moving up to challenge boxing’s latest golden child, super featherweight kingpin Vasyl Lomachenko, at The Theater in Madison Square Garden. Word is this stellar match-up is already close to being sold out, and with good reason. This is one hell of a showdown and, for me, the winner is the best boxer, pound-for-pound, on the planet.
Now make no mistake about it, Rigo’s up against it here as Lomachenko has already proved he is everything we were told he was. Even more, perhaps. If there’s ever been a boxer who employs angles the way Lomachenko does and with the same vicious efficiency, it would be news to most boxing fans. The Ukrainian wunderkind is aggressive, ruthless and doesn’t lack for a mean streak either. Don’t let Max Kellerman fool you; the kid enjoys belittling his opponents in the ring and is so dominant he can get away with it, fight after fight.
But at the same time, Loma is facing the biggest challenge of his career thus far too, the kind of talent he’s never seen before. The seeming simplicity of Rigo’s tactics is part of the reason his detractors find him so maddening. He can be hit, sure, but it’s extremely difficult to land on him with any regularity. He’s patient and precise and has the skill to break you down methodically and the power to cripple you. Don’t believe the critics; “El Chacal” is anything but “feather-fisted.”
But that said, the question of this match is whether the smaller and older man can handle the rising 29-year-old Ukrainian phenom. Judging from his Twitter account, Guillermo, who is 37, isn’t losing sleep over that question but instead is coming across as out-spoken and totally confident in his abilities. Indeed, fight fans have been seeing a new Rigo as of late via social media. The man once considered aloof and unmarketable has taken it upon himself in recent months to make his presence felt online and let everyone get a glimpse of his inner “Louisville Lip,” a side of Rigondeaux’s personality that’s brash, cocky and not lost for words.
And that in itself might have helped make the Lomachenko match possible. Some fight fans may not be crazy about Rigondeaux, but it’s easier to sell this bout if the man some fans love to hate is willing to step out and raise his profile, take some shots on Twitter and make himself more visible. After all, while Guillermo has his critics and his haters, the bottom line is all fans of fisticuffs truly love to see the best fight the best.
And clearly that’s what this duel represents. When Lomachenko and Rigondeaux step inside the ring on December 9th, there’s no doubt we will be seeing one of the best matches the sport has to offer right now. Will the result be thrilling? Perhaps not. Will the bout be one-sided? Maybe, assuming Loma, the naturally bigger man, has his way. Will it be intriguing? It definitely will for this fan of The Sweet Science, and no doubt many others. After all, boxing is a sport of skill and courage, and these are two of the most capable and intelligent athletes in the entire world right now.
And more to the point, Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux is a match and an opportunity that the genius of “El Chacal” warrants. A little while back one of my colleagues on this fine site wrote a poignant lament regarding the fact that the Cuban master’s “thwarted talent” was going untested and unfulfilled as so many champions and contenders avoided him. I can only assume that Mr. Elbert is as thrilled as I am that “the rare gemstone of balletic pugilism that is Guillermo Rigondeaux” is going to get a chance to shine again on the big stage, in front of a big crowd. It’s overdue and, win or lose, it’s the kind of showcase both Rigo and fans of highly skilled, technical boxing, deserve.
These are two virtuosos of boxing, and while I generally like my fisticuffs more on the frenetic, swashbuckling side, I can appreciate high-level skill when I see it. My hope is both men are inspired by the challenge in front of them and we see more deking and ducking and creative moves than at a Soul Train reunion, hopefully with a little blood and guts mixed in during the late going. Bottom line: true boxing fans don’t have a hate on for either of these ring marvels and the fact this match, one that so many thought would never happen, is going down in a scant six weeks or so is just another reason why 2017 is one of the best years in recent memory for “The Sport Of Kings.”
— Robert Portis