by David P. Greisman
It would be fair to say that there is no love lost between junior-featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux and promoter Top Rank. But that cliché has always seemed as if it should mean the opposite of its actual definition.
Let’s keep it simple, then: There is no love between Rigondeaux and Top Rank.
Rigondeaux, who won gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and later defected from Cuba, is considered to be among the best professional boxers in the sport today.
What he seeks is attention commensurate with his position.
What he’s learning is that winning isn’t everything.
HBO, one of the two biggest networks airing boxing in the United States, isn’t overly interested in having him back on its broadcasts, not after the way his last fight performed in the ratings. The other major network, Showtime, doesn’t have a working relationship anymore with his co-promoter, Top Rank.
Rigondeaux’s biggest win came in April 2013, when he topped Nonito Donaire, out-boxing, out-classing and out-pointing an opponent who had been considered one of the best at 122 pounds, and who had just days before received an award from boxing writers naming him the best fighter of 2012. Yet it was Donaire who had a return date on HBO before Rigondeaux.
And the head of Top Rank, longtime promoter Bob Arum, didn’t mince his words when it came to explaining why.
“Every time I mention him [Rigondeaux to HBO executives], they throw up,” Arum told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com this past July.
“I think Rigondeaux deserves to be back on television. I just hope he fights a more fan-friendly fight,” Arum told this scribe in October. “In order to be desired by television, you have to have the people who are watching [be] entertained. That’s what it’s about. It’s not like a baseball game, where if you win, you win. In boxing, you got to win and you got to entertain.”
“Out of all the elite fighters I’ve worked with, I can’t think of one more difficult to promote,” Arum told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated in December. “He’s so skilled. [But] If you look at his style, it’s not the most scintillating.”
That latter interview came just before Rigondeaux’s last fight, when he shut out former 118-pound titleholder Joseph Agbeko on all three judges’ scorecards. The ratings for that fight were quite low: Rigondeaux-Agbeko averaged 550,000 viewers, dropping more than 23 percent from the 718,000 that had been tuned into HBO beforehand for the undercard bout between James Kirkland and Glen Tapia.
Arum took note of this, piling on with exaggeration.
“[With] Rigondeaux, I have a problem,” Arum told BoxingScene’s Keith Idec in a recent interview. “And you can’t really blame the network. The rating for the Kirkland-Tapia fight was almost double Rigondeaux’s rating. People walked out [of the arena]. If people don’t want to watch, what do you expect a network to do? I don’t care how good we say he is, which he is.”
Rigondeaux’s manager, Gary Hyde, has stood up for the fighter in interviews, responding to Arum with retaliatory fire. He recently told Mike Coppinger of RingTV.com that it was the promoter and the network who chose Agbeko — and that Agbeko was more to blame than Rigondeaux was for that bout being so dull.
“Bob Arum has failed in many respects to promote my fighter,” Hyde later told BoxingScene via email. “One of his duties as a promoter is to influence the TV and the public to appreciate Rigo's unique sublime skills. People respect Bob Arum’s opinion, and when he knocks his own fighter for beating up every fighter he has faced, the fans listen to him.”
As is often the case in boxing disagreements, there’s plenty of blame to go around, with both sides being somewhat right and somewhat wrong.
Rigondeaux’s win over Donaire was significant, but it was not the most enthralling. Rigondeaux’s success is based in large part on his style, on his being a master boxer. There are exceptions in which fans flock to those boxers who value discipline and safety. Rigondeaux is not one of those exceptions. He has not yet built up a sizable fan base.
That could be because of several contributing factors. Cuban boxers have by and large not caught on with American audiences. Rigondeaux doesn’t speak English in interviews, nor does he exude the kind of charisma that could help make up for that. Rigondeaux hasn’t been promoted in his adopted home of Miami, where there is a sizable Cuban population. He’s fought there just twice, both times coming earlier in his pro career.
“Cuban defectors have never enjoyed an audience in Florida,” said Brin-Jonathan Butler, who featured Rigondeaux as part of a documentary. Butler wrote to this scribe in a chat featured on Reddit.com’s boxing message board.
“They simply aren't willing to throw money at defectors despite those athletes being of vital importance when they're in Cuba,” Butler said. “Once they arrive, they just aren't able to get support from a fan base over there. It's a bizarre situation.”
And the potential of a wider appeal has been limited by Rigondeaux’s approach in the ring, and by his refusal to alter his ways.
“I don’t think I need to change anything. I’m a champion. I’m a champion for a reason. That’s not going to change,” Rigondeaux said this past August on an episode of BoxingScene Radio. “I am just going to keep doing what I am doing and that has been working for me.”
In many ways, Rigondeaux had the odds stacked against him when he faced off against Agbeko.
He was fighting in New Jersey. Glen Tapia, a local attraction appearing on the undercard, had drawn in a majority of the fans in the arena — a common promotional tactic when the fighters in the televised main event are not big attractions at the box office. Tapia lost to Kirkland that night, and the audience had even more reason to walk out when they realized that Rigondeaux-Agbeko might not be worth sticking around for.
That night, Agbeko quickly recognized that he had little hope of hitting Rigondeaux, and also felt that he’d likely get picked apart if he tried to push the fight. CompuBox credited Agbeko with throwing just 29 punches on average per round, and landing just four per round.
Rigondeaux’s figures did indicate activity; he threw a total of 859 punches on the night, or more than 71 per round. Most of those were jabs, though; he landed 53 of 637, or just 8 percent. The power punches came less often but were more accurate; Rigondeaux landed 91 of 222, a 41 percent connect rate.
Some fighters will seek to blast through a tentative or defensive opponent. Others, however, will take only what is given to them, scoring points and working toward the win, all while being careful not to fall into a trap or walk into a counter shot.
Rigondeaux took more grief for his shutout win over Agbeko than Donaire did following his shutout win over Omar Narvaez.
Part of the difference may be because Donaire-Narvaez was seen as an exception, and both HBO and Top Rank were firmly behind Donaire. It also seems as if last year’s fight between Donaire and Rigondeaux had been set up in hopes of giving Donaire a major victory, with the contingency plan being that perhaps Rigondeaux could be pushed should he get the win.
Any such plans soured quickly. It’s possible that Arum’s comments on Rigondeaux afterward served dual purposes — to try to get the fighter to be more entertaining, but also maybe to paint the marketplace in a certain fashion so that the fighter and his team would accept less favorable terms.
“Rigondeaux has two fights remaining under the Top Rank contract, and they will pay substantial purses,” Hyde had told Coppinger last August.
HBO did end up buying Rigondeaux-Agbeko and placing it in a main event slot. That card aired opposite a Showtime broadcast. The main event on Showtime was Paulie Malignaggi’s win over Zab Judah, which pulled in an average of 640,000 viewers.
Combine those two numbers — 640,000 plus 550,000 — and you come just short of the 1.2 million mark that has often been the average number of viewers for an HBO boxing broadcast on nights when Showtime isn’t putting on a competing card.
For comparison’s sake, the Jan. 29, 2014, cards on Showtime and HBO had their main events air at similar (though not simultaneous) times. Showtime’s main event had an average of 402,000 viewers, while HBO’s had an average of 829,000 viewers, according to BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan. Those numbers combine to about 1.23 million viewers.
Nevertheless, Arum doesn’t seem interested in talking up Rigondeaux to try to build up his appeal. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy if fans refuse to watch a fighter because the promoter talks about how the fighter isn’t worth watching. The same can be said for Golden Boy Promotions’ relationship with junior middleweight Erislandy Lara.
It’s still incumbent of the fighter to recognize the situation before him — and to make damn sure that people take notice.
Agbeko going into his shell in December didn’t help.
Despite the ratings math, and despite Agbeko’s role, HBO likely looks at the numbers from December and sees little reason to bring Rigondeaux back.
Without HBO, and without Showtime, that leaves Arum’s pay-per-view undercards for Rigondeaux. You won’t see Rigondeaux fight in a supporting bout to this April’s broadcast of the Timothy Bradley-Manny Pacquiao rematch, however.
“Rigo is owed one more fight from Top Rank, which guarantees a substantial purse,” Hyde said via email.
The budget for such a bout isn’t there on pay-per-view undercards.
Top Rank doesn’t seem interested in putting Rigondeaux in with other name fighters in its stable — particularly not featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko, who like Rigondeaux is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. There’s little reason for Top Rank to risk its investment in Lomachenko when it might have no partnership with Rigondeaux afterward.
Other top 122-pounders, meanwhile, including Carl Frampton and Kiko Martinez, are based overseas and likely do not have enough name recognition to convince HBO to pay for a match.
What that leaves, then, is a situation in which Top Rank and Rigondeaux aren’t making each other happy. A long-term relationship lacking in love isn’t worth maintaining.
Rigondeaux’s contract with co-promoter Caribe Promotion continues until 2015, according to Hyde. Yet for all of Rigondeaux’s talent, it was Top Rank’s pull in the boxing business that helped Rigondeaux get the main event spots and the larger paydays. Unless the rift can be repaired, Rigondeaux might soon be left hoping that Golden Boy has some interest in signing him.
The end of any long-term relationship can bring the pointing of fingers and the lobbing of accusations, but it should also bring self-reflection and the potential for self-improvement.
It might not seem fair to Rigondeaux that Top Rank fell out of love with him. It might not be fair, either. There’s nothing he can change about the past, but there are changes he can make for the future.
He can’t just expect suitors to come out of the woodwork, though. He’s going to need to attract them.
The 10 Count
1. Gennady Golovkin stayed busy with a seventh-round technical knockout of Osumanu Adama this past Saturday, putting Adama on the canvas three times. Though Adama had three previous losses, this was the first time he failed to see the final bell.
As for Golovkin, this makes 16 fights in a row for him that have ended early. Only three of his 29 wins have been by decision. And only one fight — his 2011 battle with Kassim Ouma — has gone beyond the eighth round. Golovkin-Ouma ended in Round 10.
The obvious storyline is for Golovkin to challenge middleweight champion Sergio Martinez before the year is out. Alas, if Martinez is to face Miguel Cotto this June, then that means “GGG” will need to stay busy.
My top four picks for opponents, in alphabetical order, and with the consideration that bouts involving Golden Boy fighters likely cannot be made: Daniel Geale, James Kirkland, Martin Murray and Felix Sturm.
2. The Boxing Writers Association of America has announced its awards for 2013, with the official ceremony to come on a date still to be announced.
The winners are:
- Fighter of the Year: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
- Fight of the Year: Timothy Bradley UD12 Ruslan Provodnikov
- Trainer of the Year: Freddie Roach
- Manager of the Year: Al Haymon
- Long and Meritorious Service: Lee Samuels (who does public relations for Top Rank) and broadcaster “Colonel” Bob Sheridan
- Excellence in Broadcast Journalism: Paulie Malignaggi
- Good Guy: Jimmy Lennon Jr.
- Courage in Overcoming Adversity: Paul Williams
A couple things to note:
- There was a packed slate for Fighter of the Year voting, with an unprecedented nine names on the ballot (instead of the usual five), and with multiple good choices, as compared to previous years in which there’s one guy truly head and shoulders above all of the rest.
- Someone can win an award without getting a majority of the votes and being the consensus winner.
3. Here were my votes, and the other candidates on the ballot:
- Fighter of the Year: Adonis Stevenson
- Other candidates: Timothy Bradley, Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Floyd Mayweather, Ruslan Provodnikov, Guillermo Rigondeaux
- Fight of the Year: Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov
- Other candidates: Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios 2, Giovani Segura-Hernan Marquez, Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner-Marcos Maidana, Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa
- Trainer: Javon "Sugar" Hill
- Other candidates: Angel Garcia, Floyd Mayweather Sr., Freddie Roach, Abel Sanchez
- Manager: Egis Klimas
- Other candidates: Cameron Dunkin, Al Haymon, Vadim Kornilov
- Long and meritorious service: Margaret Goodman
- Other candidates: Lou DiBella, Lee Samuels, John Sheppard (of BoxRec), Col. Bob Sheridan
- Excellence in broadcast journalism: Paulie Malignaggi
- Other candidates: Seth Abraham, David Dinkins Jr., Marc Peyton, Mauro Ranallo
- Good Guy: Sergio Martinez
- Other candidates: Dave Diamante, Tami Kotel, Jimmy Lennon Jr., Keith Sullivan
- Courage in overcoming adversity: Anthony Dirrell
- Other candidates: Orlando Cruz, Mauro Ranallo, Mike Tyson, Paul Williams
4. The great film “Groundhog Day” had its lead character reliving the same day over and over again. This year, Punxsutawney Phil — or at least the version of the famed groundhog quoted nearly every year by creative boxing publicist Fred Sternburg — is predicting that the rematch between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao won’t be a repeat of the original.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, Bradley is going to get iced — Manila Iced — when he faces the Pacquiao Polar Vortex,” wrote Sternburg, who referred to Punxsutawney Phil as the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound quadruped. “Pacquiao is going to Arctic blast Bradley off his world championship throne. Can Bradley win the rematch? He has a better shot of making it across the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee in one day.”
We’ll see if Sternburg’s groundhog remains an accurate prognosticator.
In 2009, Punxsutawney Phil correctly predicted that Vic Darchinyan would beat Jorge Arce.
In 2010, he correctly predicted that Manny Pacquiao would beat Joshua Clottey.
In 2011, he correctly predicted that Miguel Cotto would beat Ricardo Mayorga.
In 2012, he predicted that Nonito Donaire would beat Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., and then said Donaire would be champion for six more years. The latter portion of that prediction didn’t foresee a certain opponent named Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Last year, Punxsutawney Phil was more like Punt-sutawney Phil, refusing to pick a winner in the Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado rematch, but rather just saying that the fight “will be the early winner for being the 2013 Fight of the Year.”
We can forgive him for those most recent follies. It’s still better than the headline from 2006 that no doubt was responsible for the groundhog going into hiding for a few years:
“Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Lacy Victory.”
That was ahead of the Joe Calzaghe fight.
5. My thoughts on a couple “Friday Night Fights”-related news items:
- I was glad to see that the International Boxing Federation overturned Rances Barthelemy’s late-hit knockout of Argenis Mendez into a “no contest.” Here’s hoping that a rematch can be made, that Mendez gets a second chance, and that Barthelemy also gets another shot at winning the world title, this time without controversy.
- The show’s lightweight and middleweight tournaments, set to air over the course of five broadcasts between Feb. 21 and May 23, won’t create a new champion or titleholder, nor will it produce a top contender. But it will at least provide an interesting storyline for those who watch the show regularly, as we go from eight fighters to one winner in each division.
I don’t know how much of a draw the tournaments will be in terms of ratings, though. Years ago, prior to the “Super Six,” Showtime did a super middleweight tournament featuring prospects and which ended in a draw. And while Anthony Hanshaw went on to be an opponent to the comebacking Roy Jones Jr., it’s still fair to say that the tournament didn’t do much to enhance the careers of either Hanshaw or fellow finalist Jean-Paul Mendy.
With that said, these ESPN2 tournaments don’t need to produce anything other than competitive and potentially entertaining match-ups.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Kelly Pavlik was supposed to have a pretrial hearing this past Friday on minor criminal charges, but Pavlik “made a grunting noise and then collapsed” in the courtroom before the hearing could begin from what may have been a seizure, according to the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator.
Pavlik allegedly refused to pay a taxi driver $25 after a ride home from an Ohio bar in September. He is facing one count of theft of less than $1,000. His attorney informed the Vindicator that Pavlik was supposed to plead that day to a lower charge of disorderly conduct.
He also has a pretrial hearing scheduled for March 17 in a separate case, one in which he’s accused of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated this past December, according to online court records.
The 31-year-old retired last year after a planned fight with Andre Ward was postponed due to Ward suffering an injury in training camp. His last bout was in July 2012, a decision win over Will Rosinsky. That brought his record to 40-2 with 34 knockouts.
7. Pavlik had said last year that seizures were why he retired.
“I had three of them in the last four months,” he told Alec Kohut of MaxBoxing in May 2013. “I don’t know what commission would pass me even if I did want to fight. … There’s no reason for me to fight. I got two little babies. For me to go fight again with the problems that I have would be totally ignorant and selfish.”
Then again, Pavlik also told his hometown newspaper something different.
“Pavlik told The Vindicator he had one not several seizures and that it played a small part in his retirement decision,” wrote reporter Joe Scalzo last year. “He said the retirement was due more to Ward’s cancelation, combined with fewer opportunities for high-profile fights in the immediate future.”
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: British light heavyweight Justyn Hugh has been sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to supply cocaine, according to British tabloid The Daily Mirror. Prosecutors accused Hugh of heading the group. Five other men received sentences ranging from four years and eight months, to eight years and four months.
Hugh, 29, turned pro in 2008 and went 11-2-1 with 4 knockouts. He captured the British Boxing Board of Control’s “Welsh Area” light heavyweight title in July 2012, according to BoxRec.
Hugh’s two losses came in his past two fights. His last appearance was in February 2013, when he dropped a referee’s decision in a four-round bout against Nathan King, who had a record of 12-18 (1 KO).
9. Victor Ortiz has long been one of those fighters that boxing fans love to hate, mocking him and celebrating his failings, as if he is our version of the awkward kid in high school that everyone made fun of.
In some ways, it’s understandable. He was pushed to the moon while still a young prospect, and then came his loss to Marcos Maidana, which included a post-fight interview that raised questions about his mentality in the ring. There’s something that seems off about him, be it what he says or even how he says it. Even his business interests, including a cosmetic product called Face Lube, have been understandable targets for mockery.
He gave us a great war with Andre Berto, only to follow it with his meltdown against Floyd Mayweather. Then came an upset loss to Josesito Lopez in which Ortiz fought with a broken jaw.
Ortiz returned last week after 19 months out of the ring, headlining a Fox Sports 1 show against former welterweight title challenger Luis Collazo. In the second round, Collazo landed a perfect right hook to the chin that staggered Ortiz badly. Ortiz soon went to the canvas and remained there for the full count, his comeback attempt abruptly over.
“I'm good,” Ortiz was quoted as saying in a post-fight press release. “I got caught. No big deal. It happens. I put my heart out there.”
It might just have been a perfect shot from Collazo. Or it might be that Ortiz’s surgically repaired jaw just doesn’t hold up well anymore to a solid punch. It’ll be up to Ortiz and his handlers to look back at this bout, look forward at what this result will mean for his career, and then decide whether it’s in Ortiz’s best interests to continue fighting.
“Ortiz has a decent business team outside of boxing,” noted observer Michelle Rosado on Twitter. “He's launched his own cologne, face care, movie appearances, and was on Dancing with the Stars. He's good.”
Responded longtime boxing matchmaker Rick Glaser: “Shame he didn’t have a good boxing team so [that he] wouldn’t have been fighting Collazo, [but instead would’ve] been fighting a soft touch.”
10. Blow-by-blow announcer Barry Tompkins had a couple accidental slips of the tongue during portions of the Fox Sports 1 broadcast preceding Collazo-Ortiz, referring to Ortiz as “Vincent.”
It happens to the best of us, though we with keyboards fortunately aren’t on live television and thankfully have the benefit of the backspace button.
But in a way, “Vincent” is rather understandable. After all, it’s been a long time since Ortiz has been a victor…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]