by Cliff Rold
31-year old Cuban import Guillermo Rigondeaux of Miami, Florida, needed two attempts to successfully flee the rule of Fidel Castro. He needed only nine fights and six rounds to win his first major professional title.
Scoring a knockdown in the first, Rigondeaux (9-0, 7 KO) waited out 24-year old WBA Jr. featherweight titlist Rico Ramos (20-1, 11 KO) of Pico Rivera, California, before finding a sensational left to the body to end matters in the sixth on Friday night at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Rigondeaux weighed in below the division limit at 120 ½ lbs. while Ramos came in spot on at 122. The referee was Joe Cortez.
Coiled like a rattlesnake, Rigondeaux held his arms high and tense, waiting for opportunities to level straight southpaw lefts. He found room for them to the head and body but one at a time in the first two minutes. He found room for something better in the final minute, a left scraping across the forehead of Ramos and sending him to the ropes. Rigondeaux followed and Ramos was shortly on the floor.
Ramos beat the count on shaky legs and Rigondeaux was warned for not going to the neutral corner, buying Ramos critical seconds. Rigondeaux attacked with lefts but couldn’t land a finishing blow and Ramos made it to the corner.
More relaxed, and coming forward almost with disdain, Rigondeaux stalked a moving target in the second. What punches landed came from the Cuban but he had a visibly shaken man in front of him and wasn’t doing much to force the issue. The inaction from both continued in the third, Rigondeaux winning the round with straight lefts to the belly and the crowd letting loose with boos at the bell.
Rounds four and five were no better. Ramos tried occasionally to come forward but rarely punched behind the pressure. Rigondeaux, patient, simply laid in wait, his posture indicating he would take the counter when it came.
That moment arrived in round six.
Ramos threw, and missed, a right hand, the two fighters falling into each other. A hard clash of heads followed, and then came a quick left underneath by Rigondeaux. Ramos stood up holding his right glove towards his temple as Cortez separated them, turning his back and leaning over the top rope in pain. Cortez gave him a moment to recover and Ramos came back into the fray.
Sensing he had his man hurt, Rigondeaux suddenly opened up and went for the kill. Launching hard lefts to the head, Ramos retreated to the corner with his guard high. Rigondeaux exploited the opening with a vicious left underneath to the ribs, Ramos collapsing to his back, eyes blinking as he searched for his breath. Rolling onto his side and curling up at the count of eight, Cortez completed the count and Rigondeaux went wild with celebration at 1:29 of the sixth.
For Rigondeaux, the journey from amateur to professional champion was complete in less than ten paid outings. The two-time Olympic Gold Medalist may well have been the finest amateur the sport saw following the incredible unpaid career of eventual professional Hall of Fame Jr. Welterweight Kostya Tszyu. Rigondeaux failed in an initial attempt to defect before making his way to the free world and beginning a professional career in 2009.
Speaking through a translator, Rigondeaux stated he’d like to receive bigger opportunities in 2012. With unified Bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire arriving at 122 lbs. later this year, Rigondeaux made clear he’d like to face his Top Rank stablemate. There aren’t many bigger opportunities than that.
Fans who wanted a war for their money had already gotten their wish one fight prior.
A delightful battle of undefeated Jr. Lightweight prospects provided three knockdowns, dozens of heavy blows, and a questionable stoppage over seven thrilling rounds. In the end, 19-year old Joel Diaz (7-0, 6 KO), 129, of Palmdale, California walked away with his hand raised. Despite his first defeat, 22-year old Guy Robb (7-1, 3 KO), 128 ½, of Sacramento, California, could join Diaz in leaving with his head high.
A heated first round saw both young men throw, and land, big shots. Of the two, it appeared Robb took the worse of it, his legs made unsteady a couple of times by snapping rights. Undeterred, Robb continued to press in the second, committing to the body and flirting with the beltline more than once. He used the bodywork to set up a critical shot, digging to the ribs with the right and then coming over the top to send Diaz to the canvas. Diaz beat the count and roared back in the final minute with some sharp rights and a memorable, rocking left hook.
In round three, it was Robb’s turn to experience the floor. Twice. A Diaz right did the deed the first time, hurting Robb and followed with a flurry that ended with Robb taking a knee. Diaz’s right probably deserved the credit for the second drop as well. Rocked badly, Robb covered up and survived along the ropes but, his legs still shaky, fell to the floor off what appeared a blocked left hand and lost balance.
Robb was back on the attack early in the fourth, a left rocking Diaz and a right sending an explosion of sweat into the front row. Battered along the ropes for much of the first two minutes, a Diaz counter left hook returned the favor, blasting a bloody snot rocket from the nose of Robb into the masses. Well behind in the round, Diaz rallied with right hands in the final thirty seconds.
The action stayed intense in rounds five and six even if both men, wearied, looked to have lost some of the snap on their punches. Robb, refusing to let off the body, walked through some big lefts and rights to the head from Diaz and a purpling around both eyes.
Given what both men had given to then, the finish is round seven was unbecoming. In yet another close round, Diaz started to unspool his jab in the final minute, targeting the blood flowing from Robb. Sensing a wounded man, Diaz opened up and shook Robb with a right hand. Robb went on the defensive, covering up, bobbing and weaving, and blocking much of the incoming. Despite keeping his feet, referee Vic Drakulich opted to halt the action at 2:20 of round seven.
Both men should be welcomed back by any fight fan going forward.
In the televised opener, 25-year old Jr. Bantamweight Matthew Villanueva (7-0, 7 KO), 115, of Burbank, California, used a steady stream of blows to break down and stop 22-year old Michael Ruiz Jr. (8-2-1, 3 KO), 114 ½, of Fresno, California, in the seventh round. The referee was Russell Mora, receiving his now tenth assignment from since making a debacle of the first Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko Bantamweight title contest in August 2011.
It looked like it might not make it that long. In round two, Villanueva repeatedly hurt Ruiz with right hands, finally dropping him in a corner near the thirty-second mark. Ruiz beat the count and battled gamely from there. In the seventh, the volume of offense simply became too much for Ruiz. Wobbled and taking heavy fire along the ropes, Mora stepped in to halt the action at 1:04 of round seven.
The card was televised in the U.S. on Showtime as part of its “ShoBox” series, promoted by Goosen Tutor.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com