By Paul Mason (@KOBoxingSets)
Unfortunately, Amateur standout Guillermo Rigondeaux is now in a race against time for greatness, after a largely frustrating paid career thus far. The Cuban has been a professional for just over nine years, and has only had seventeen fights in this period. Injury, promotional problems and shows falling through have been just some of the reasons for his career stalling. With a bit of luck, hopes are high that a good performance in his WBA (Super) Super Bantamweight Title defence against Moises Flores this Saturday on the big Kovalev v Ward II bill, will lead to Rigondeaux’s career finally taking off.
Quite simply, Guillermo Rigondeaux is one of the best amateur boxers in the history of the sport. He won back to back Gold Medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympic Games, as well as Gold in the 2001 and 2005 World Championships. He also picked up the Cuban National Title a record seven times. He finished his amateur career with a reported astonishing 475-12 record. As with many Cuban boxers before him, Rigindeaux, along with fellow team-mate Erislandy Lara, failed to show for their bouts at the 2007 Pan American games in Brazil. It was expected that Rigondeaux would turn professional alongside fellow Olympians Odlanier Solis, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Rances Barthelemy, who defected earlier in 2007. As with the other Cuban defectors, Rigondeaux signed a promotional deal with Arena-Box Promotion. However, later the same year, Rigondeaux and Lara were taken into police custody in Brazil, stating that they wanted to return home to Cuba. Cuban leader Fidel Castro then stated that Rigondeaux and Lara could not box again for the Cuban team. In February 2009, Rigondeaux defected again via Mexico City to Miami, and eventually signed with Arena Box-Promotion.
Rigondeaux was announced to have defected and was now residing in Miami and being managed by Irishman Gary Hyde. He had to leave behind his wife, a 7-year-old son, and a 17-year-old stepson in Cuba, in order to follow his dreams of Boxing stardom. He made his professional bow in May 2009 in Miami Beach, Florida, stopping Juan Noriega in the third round of a four round contest. After five more wins (four by stoppage) Rigondeaux was thrust into an interim WBA Title fight at Super Bantamweight against Panama’s Ricardo Cordoba. This was good exposure for “Rigo” as the fight took place on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito at Cowboys Stadium, Dallas, in front of 70,000 people. Rigondeaux knocked Cordoba down in the fourth round with a body shot, but was judged to be knocked down himself in the 6th, in what appeared to be a slip. Despite appearing to win clearly, the fight was judged a split decision, with Rigondeaux coming out on the right side of the verdict.
Rigondeaux followed the win up by travelling to Ireland to take on Willie Casey in defence of his Interim belt. It was all over inside a round, the Cuban far too good for Casey to handle. The full version of the WBA Title was then obtained when Rigondeaux knocked out Rico Ramos in six in January 2012. He fought a further two times in 2012, stopping Teon Kennedy in five in June, and outpointing Roberto Marroquin in Vegas in September.
Rigondeaux then unified the division with a dominant performance in beating pound for pound contender, Nonito Donaire in New York. “Rigo” recovered from a knockdown to take a unanimous decision, and capture the WBO, lineal and Ring Magazine Titles in the process. His WBA Title was also upgraded to “Super” status. Rigondeaux didn’t back this impressive win up though, as he won every round in a real sleeper of a fight against Joseph Agbeko to retain his Titles. He then travelled to Macau to defend against Sod Kokietgym, and won by first round knockout as Kokietgym tried to touch gloves following an accidental head-butt and Rigondeaux took the free shot invitation to win via knockout.
Next up, Rigondeaux retained his World Super Bantamweight title against Japan’s Hisashi Amagasa in Japan. Rigondeaux was down twice in the seventh round and Amagasa was down in the 9th. Referee Mike Ortega stopped the bout after Amagasa failed to get up off his stool after round 11 in a wild fight. Rigondeaux returned to the USA and outscored Drian Francisco in a one sided fight, where he looked to be going through the motions. Due to his diminishing popularity in America, Rigondeaux raised eyebrows by announcing his intention to come to the UK to fight British Champion, James “Jazza” Dickens. The fight was scheduled for March 2016, but Visa issues for the Cuban scuppered this. He did eventually fight dickens four months later in Cardiff. Unfortunately UK fans didn’t get to see the genius of Rigondeaux, as he broke Dickens’ jaw with his first meaningful punch in the second, forcing the Liverpudlian to retire from the fight. This was the last time we saw Rigo in the ring, and eleven months on from the Dickens win, he meets Interim WBA Champion and 25-0 Mexican Moises Flores this Saturday.
It is vital that Rigondeaux looks good in beating his challenger, as, at the age of 36, time is rapidly running out for him to be remembered as one of the greats, and to cement a legacy within the sport. The logical thing to do would be to move out of the division. His main rivals in the division have since deserted it, and there are no big money making fights to be had at Super Bantamweight. Last year names like Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton were touted as opponents, but they now reside in the Featherweight division. Leo Santa Cruz (WBA), Oscar Valdez (WBO), Gary Russell Jr (WBC) and Lee Selby (IBF) are all attractive match ups in the division north of where Rigondeaux currently operates. The fight the purists crave is of course a match with the other amateur superstar, Vasyl Lomachenko. The Ukrainian is already a two weight World Champion in only nine fights and has looked every inch a superstar. This would also pit two of the most successful amateurs of all time against each other. At this stage the holdup is the weight. Rigondeaux has stated as recently as late last year that he would be willing to meet “Hi Tech” at a catch weight of around 126lbs, but nothing has yet come of this offer.
One thing is for sure, that Rigondeaux needs to fight well and often in order to fulfil his massive potential, and I hope this begins on Saturday night against Flores.
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