by Cliff Rold
This is the sort of fight hardcore fan are always calling for. They were pleasantly surprised to find out they’re getting it. From the moment Cuban defector Guillermo Rigondeaux officially won the WBA belt from Rico Ramos and began calling for Nonito Donaire, this one has been building.
Rigondeuax, arguably the finest amateur of the Cuban Communist era, says he wants it. Now he gets it. No matter the number of amateur fights, and he had more than 400, this is a massive step up in the professional ranks. His demeanor exudes focus and calm without much in the way of the butterflies a younger man might express in his first genuinely big fight.
Will he keep his cool if, when, he tastes the power of Donaire?
Let’s go to the report cards.
Titles: Lineal World Jr. Featherweight (2012-Present, 1 Defense); WBO Super Bantamweight (2012-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: IBF Flyweight (2007-09, 3 Defenses); WBC/WBO Bantamweight (2011, 1 Defense); IBF Super Bantamweight (2012-Present, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’5 ½
Hails from: San Leandro, California
Record: 31-1, 20 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 10-0, 7 KO (12-0, 8 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 10 (Vic Darchinyan TKO5; Moruti Mthalane TKO6; Hernan Marquez TKO8; Wladimir Sidorenko KO4; Fernando Montiel TKO2; Omar Narvaez UD12; Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. UD12; Jeffrey Mathebula UD12; Toshiaki Nishioka TKO9; Jorge Arce KO3)
Title: WBA Super Bantamweight (2012-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’4 ½
Weight: 121.5 lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida
Record: 11-0, 8 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0, 2 KO (5-0, 3 KO)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Ricardo Cordoba SD12; Rico Ramos KO6)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Donaire A; Rigondeaux A
Pre-Fight: Power – Donaire A; Rigondeaux B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Donaire B+; Rigondeaux B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Donaire A; Rigondeaux B
The last time Donaire was in with a fighter who seemed ready to play defense first, Donaire wound up in a stinker with Omar Narvaez. Narvaez, after some early effort, was only trying to survive which played into the ugliness. And Narvaez didn’t have the offensive weapons Rigondeaux does.
The Cuban is deliberate, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a thoughtfully explosive offense. He places punches well and his feet are almost never out of position. His body and headshots can be explosive.
However, he could throw more of them. Rigondeuax so far as a pro can be too exact sometimes. In his title win versus Ramos, he scored the first round knockdown and then never really pressed to get rid of a vulnerable foe. Sure, he won easy, but his temperament extended the fight. Against Donaire, that could cost him rounds as the “Filipino Flash” simply out throws (if not impressively outlands) him.
And then there will be the moments when Donaire does land.
Against Ricardo Cordoba, Rigondeuax was cruising until he suffered a knockdown and then he went into a bit of a shell. If Donaire tags him, how will the Cuban react? Will he get on his bike and look for a miracle bomb? He has show excellent defense so far but we really don’t know how it holds up against elite competition. It may merit an “A.” We’ll know for sure Sunday.
Conversely, what if Rigondeaux really can live up to all the talent and schooling he brings sans deep professional experience? Donaire got a bit of a test last year from Jeffrey Mathebula but a lot of that was physical dimensions and the awkwardness of the foe. The last time Donaire was in with another fighter who could really compete with him, it was Moruti Mthlane at Flyweight.
Donaire hasn’t had to think his way through a tough fight in a long time. If Rigondeaux can take, or successfully avoid, his best offense, he will need a plan B. Donaire hasn’t always seemed comfortable with that. His talent is such that he continues to do what he knows works without much variance. Against Mathebula, it worked. He showed the sort of late closing ability one wants to see in a great fighter, pulling away to make the decision clear.
Against Rigondeaux, if the Cuban starts to feel it, Donaire may have to dig deeper than he ever has to solve the puzzle in front of him.
We really don’t know yet if Rigondeaux can force that at the professional level, or even if he has the experience to pull it off at this level yet. There’s a hint of gamble on this play. Team Rigondeaux is all in.
If this thing devolves into the sort of "you lead...no, you" fight that Omar Narvaez was, Donaire can lose. Rigondeaux's offense might be spare in application but he has some and he's excellent defensively. That said, for now we know much more about Donaire as a professional and against a far higher level of professional opposition. He typically comes up big in big situations and he's still got lethal power four divisions up from his first professional title. It may not be a thriller, but it should have a thrilling end. The pick here is Donaire by stoppage sometime in the second half after a lot of early feeling out.
Report Card Picks 2013: 8-10
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]