Sunday 10 December 2017

Commentary: Rigondeaux Gave Away His Heart

Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux

Last night’s clash between Ukrainian world super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban-born super-bantamweight champion was a long awaited date of this year’s boxing calendar. Although it was not contracted as a “catchweight” contest so as to narrow the disparities in both men’s weights, it was eagerly anticipated by aficionados of the fight game because they are two of the greatest amateur boxers in recent history. Each man won two consecutive Olympic gold medals and each had well over 300 amateur contests with Lomachenko losing only once and Rigondeaux on twelve occasions. So while ever mindful of the boxing maxim that a “Good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un”, many felt that the level of skill possessed by the smaller man would diminish the significance of weight and make it an even contest of sorts. However, what transpired was a stunningly one-sided contest which ended with Rigondeaux quitting on his stool.

I thought that many ‘neutral’ people would be for Guillermo Rigondeaux in the lead up to his clash with Vasyl Lomachenko. What not to root for in a man who was punished for attempting to defect from Castro’s Cuba only to make good his escape in a subsequent effort and begin a professional career in the United States?

But in America, he fell foul of his despotic promoter Bob Arum, and even though he became a multiple champion, he was avoided by scared opponents who used the innovative excuse that he was “too boring”. Getting on in age and acutely aware of the need for a payday, Rigondeaux chased Lomachenko for a marketable fight between two of the most talented figures in the history of amateur boxing who as professionals are feared champions.

However, instead of a catchweight contest, Lomachenko -guided by a shrewd and unforgiving Arum- insisted that Rigondeaux jump two weight divisions and recieve the lower end of the available purse monies: Rigondeaux is reputed to have earned $400,000 to Lomachenko’s $1.5 million. To compound things, the WBA announced that Rigondeaux would lose his title if he lost to Lomachenko even though the fight was not scheduled for that weight.

As Virgil Hunter, the trainer of Andre Ward, said, “it’s borderline criminal”.

This is why I would have expected most to have been rooting for “Rigo”. While the odds continued to be stacked against him, many felt that by fighting at his efficient weight and utilising his slick skills, Rigondeaux might have had enough to neutralise Lomchenko’s split-second changes in ‘angles’ with his own brand of athletic agility and that his explosive one-hit power could be as effective against a bigger opponent.

Yet, while the disadvantages of weight, age, as well as Rigondeaux’s comparative lack of bouts over the past few years must be factored in to explain his poor showing,  many onlookers are convinced that Lomachenko’s unique brand of boxing skills which utilises a complex geometry of foot movement and a high punch rate was the decisive factor in Rigondeaux’s physical and psychological unravelling. He succeeded in forcing Rigondeaux to quit much in the manner that Sugar Ray Leonard outboxed Roberto Duran into saying the notorious words: “No Mas”. It is unlikely that any x-ray slides or photographs purporting to corroborate Rigondeaux’s alleged hand injury would displace this opinion.

Teddy Brenner, a legendary matchmaker at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, once said of the great Nigerian boxer Dick Tiger as he fought in his twilight years having moved up to the light heavyweight division: “He always gives away height, weight and reach, but he never gives away heart”.

I thought that was going to be a fitting accolade to Rigondeaux’s challenge to Lomachenko, but apart from the fact that Rigondeaux had a reach advantage over his taller, heavier opponent, it appears that Lomachenko took away his heart.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula

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