Shawn W. Smith
While Miguel Cotto and Saul Alvarez have dominated boxing headlines heading into their middleweight clash tonight, there’s another interesting storyline brewing just below the surface.
On the undercard of Cotto and Alvarez is the fourth ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world and two-time Olympic gold medallist, Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Fresh off signing a four year, $10-million contract with Jay Z’s Roc Nation, Rigondeaux looks to put his managerial issues behind him and get back to being one of the sport’s most dominating figures. On Saturday night, he’ll face Drian Francisco in what should serve as little more of a tune-up fight for the potential major clashes ahead.
Boxing Monthly caught up with Brin-Jonathan Butler, author of A Cuban Boxer’s Journey: Guillermo Rigondeaux, From Castro’s Traitor to American Champion to discuss Rigondeaux’s return to the ring, what makes him special and a potential showdown against two-time Olympic gold medal rival, Vasyl Lomachenko.
Saturday night will mark Rigondeaux’s first fight since December 31 when relatively unknown super bantamweight Hasashi Amagasa twice dropped the Cuban fighter before succumbing to Rigondeaux. Since then, pundits have questioned the chin of “El Chacal” and what’s left of the 35-year-old fighter.
"I thought he (Rigondeaux) fought a very interesting fight, he was really trying to take the fight to Amagasa,” Butler said. “A couple of times he left himself open. The first knockdown looked like a flash knockdown but the second one he definitely had Rigo hurt.”
From Butler’s perspective, it’s a minor miracle that Rigondeaux’s hardships haven’t impacted him between the ropes.
"All of the circumstances outside the ring, I'm totally astounded they haven't caught up to him; leaving the family behind, his mother dying, his son being sick and not being with him and he still went into the ring and beat his opponents soundly, as well as all this endless litigation with his management."
At 35, the time is now for Rigondeaux’s to reclaim his WBO and WBA world championships, both of which he lost through inactivity. Now the (15-0, 10 KOs) super bantamweight is without a world title for the first time since his seventh pro fight in 2010.
Rigondeaux has averaged two fights a year throughout the last four years of his career, and his Saturday night bout against Francisco will mark his first bout of 2015.
"Age has definitely adjusted his style,” Butler said. "Even if you go back to the second Olympics he won in 2004, he's a fighter on his toes. (Today) he's a little more calculating and reserved in his output, he's selective in his punches more than he used to be. There are flashes of the footwork and the offense, but he's much more inclined towards counter-punching now."
There’s little question that Rigondeaux’s legal battles with former managers have slowed his career and potential. And while he’s done little to help his cause, it should also be said that other super bantamweights have done their part to avoid the technical mastermind.
Fighters around Rigondeaux’s weight class have avoided facing him due to his unappealing style and lack of pay-per-view presence. If opponents are going to get beat in a boring fight, they at least want to get paid for it.
Outside of his bout against Nonito Donaire, Rigondeaux has been relegated to the sidelines, facing fringe opponents and waiting for the big names to step up to the challenge.
Despite only 15 professional bouts and an inability to secure the big fights, Butler doesn’t believe a hall of fame bid is out of the question for Rigondeaux just yet.
"I think if he wants to underline his career, if he could get the winner of (Scott) Quigg and (Carl) Frampton, win that fight and beat Lomachenko, I almost think he could make a case for a hall of fame career if you consider that it's an abridged career."
Of course, it should be taken into consideration that Rigondeaux was unable to turn professional at a young age, unlike most other boxers. It wasn’t until 2009, at the age of 27, he was finally able to escape and begin a professional career.
The most compelling and marketable bout left for Rigondeaux would be the showdown against Lomachenko. The two combatants make up two of the best amateur fighters to ever compete on the world stage, and seeing them compete on a professional stage would result in a marketable, intriguing spectacle.
With age and size on Lomachenko’s side, it’s likely he would enter the fight as a favourite, which would make a Rigondeaux win all the more impressive.
"Lomachenko is a more active fighter with a higher punch output, but the flip side is that Rigondeaux wants you to be active," Butler said.
"Donaire was an active, busy fighter with arguably the most dangerous left hook in the first and Rigo completely nullified it.
“I think what will be very interesting is if Lomachenko comes out aggressively, thinking maybe he can exploit Rigo's chin. If he can get to it, I think Rigo's in some serious trouble. People have managed to drop him. On the other hand, the worst game plan to fight arguably the greatest counter puncher who has ever fought is to come at them aggressively. Rigo's greatest skill is to create fresh angles and distance where he can exploit aggression."
Butler’s new book, The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway’s Ghost in the Last Days of Castro’s Cuba is out now through Picador. It is available on Amazon and in most bookstores.