by Cliff Rold
Maybe Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes were fortunate that Teofilo Stevenson stayed in Ciba after all.
Joel Casamayor has, in this generation, been the strongest argument that the best of the long-dominant Cuban amateur program had the potential to find wild professional success. Casamayor never quite had a win like Guillermo Rigondeaux did last Saturday.
Make no mistake: that was a complete undressing of one of the most accomplished fighters of the last six years. Those who wondered if Rigondeaux, at 11-0, was taking too big a step up in competition saw that thinking turned on its ear.
It turned out the step up was Donaire’s.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Donaire A; Rigondeaux A/Post: A; A+
Pre-Fight: Power – Donaire A; Rigondeaux B+/Post: A; A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Donaire B+; Rigondeaux B+/Post: B; A
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Donaire A; Rigondeaux B/Post: B; A
There have been some catcalls about a boring fight over the weekend. This corner of the universe disagrees. There was a dry section of the fight, specifically rounds 5-9. They were outweighed by an incredibly intense first four rounds and an even more intense final nine minutes.
And, let’s be clear, the reason the fight was dry in the middle was not Rigondeaux.
Donaire’s approach, and inability to adapt to the man in front of him, sucked the life out of the fight.
Rigondeaux befuddled Donaire early, even rocking him solidly at one point. He made Donaire wary. Rigondeaux wasn’t holding early on when they were close. He was outfighting him. When he realized Donaire was already resorting to looking for miracle bombs, he used the ring and Donaire let him. He wasn’t running any more than Donaire was using a jab or attempting combinations.
Donaire eventually did land one of those big bombs. Rigondeaux responded by dishing an absolute shelling from then out.
That’s what made the fight so entertaining from this seat. There is something about seeing a talent exceed expectations and come into its own. Rigondeaux had built a solid cult following but there was still reason to be skeptical about the obvious pedigree and talent. Boxing is a rough sport. It’s hard to know until proof is seen.
Rigondeaux showed he could beat Donaire not just by moving and pot shotting but also in the trenches. He came off the floor in the tenth, shook it off, and won the rest of the round fairly decisively. Knockdowns count as lost rounds almost automatically, but if one wanted argue Rigondeaux battled to even in the frame there would be a case.
As an aside, Rigondeaux took more than enough hard shots in the early rounds along with the recovery in the tenth to show that he’s got the chin an elite talent needs. It was the biggest question mark about him.
Then Rigondeaux closed the show, winning the eleventh and nearly closing the eye of Donaire in the final round to add the WBO and lineal World 122 lb. titles to his WBA strap.
There will be those who discredit Donaire for losing to a guy who only had eleven pro fights. It’s an unfair assessment. It doesn’t matter how many fights he had going in. Rigondeaux proved that he belonged.
Frankie Genaro is one of the great Flyweights of all-time. So is Fidel LaBarba. When they squared off in a big fight in 1925, Genaro already had almost fifty fights. LaBarba had ten. LaBarba won. He was already that good.
Rigondeaux is just already that good.
Donaire is still really damn good too. There are few fighters below 130 lbs. right now he wouldn’t be favored strongly over despite losing what, to these eyes, was a 10-2 decision on rounds. He might be able to make a go of a Rigondeaux rematch eventually.
Time will tell.
For now, the focus is where it should be and the Cult of Rigo can officially begin aggressive expansion. They have a hell of a testimonial to fall back on.
At 32, Rigondeaux may not get to have to sort of extended career we ask for from a great fighter. He’ll have to compact a lot into what time he has unless he turns out to be some Hopkins-like freak of nature.
In that sense, what we might have here is the boxing equivalent of Roy Hobbs. Hobbs, the hero of Barry Levinson’s “The Natural” (we’ll ignore the Bernard Malamud book with a less than heroic ending), had the talent to be better than Babe Ruth. Instead of a serial killing crazy dame shooting him in the gut, Rigondeaux lost his possible professional youth to the restrictions of Communist Cuba.
Hobbs had one season with the fictional New York Knights to let the world know what might have been.
The season of Rigondeaux truly began on a New York night he made his own.
Report Card Picks 2013: 8-11
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]