By Cliff Rold
No matter the strength of the bloodlines or the depth of the amateur pedigree, even the most stellar talents in boxing are brought along with care. At twelve fights, the best of them might be dipping their toe into the waters of facing contenders and veterans. Only a handful can say they’d won titles in such a short span.
Jimmy Britt, in only his twelfth pro fight, won a claim to the Lightweight title in 1904 by defeating Battling Nelson over twenty rounds. In 1986, Evander Holyfield bested Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA strap in what is still regarded as the greatest Cruiserweight scarp of them all, enduring fifteen rounds of hell to do it. Oscar De La Hoya began his trophy collection with a knockout of Jimmy Bredahl for the WBO belt at 130 lbs. in 1994.
There are others who have won titles in relatively short spans, particularly in lower weight classes. Their ranks are limited. Boxing is a tough sport and the smart money, and it is literally money being invested in fighters after all, says to be safe rather than sorry early in a career.
Right now, boxing has two tremendous talents whose records stand at 11-0 with titles already around their waists. One has already taken, and won, a unification match, is battling in his second weight class, and may be on a collision course with one of the game’s biggest punchers. The other is reportedly dotting i’s and crossing t’s for his first unification contest against a three-division titlist who many hold in high ‘pound-for-pound’ esteem.
Whether they end 2013 with their undefeated marks intact or not, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the professional ascent and twelfth fight possibilities at hand for Japan’s Kazuto Ioka (11-0, 7 KO) and Cuban émigré Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KO).
It’s harder, impossible really, not to note some of the similarities between the two.
It is the latter who has his first unification fight apparently now set for April 13th. After calling for a showdown throughout 2012, it appears Rigondeaux is set to put his WBA 122 lb. belt up against lineal World Champion and WBO titlist Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KO).
The 32-year old southpaw’s record is as limited as it is by circumstance. Reared in the legendary Cuban program, Rigondeaux was one of the finest amateurs of all time. Two World Amateur titles and two Olympic Gold Medals were the highlight of a reported close to 400 wins before a paycheck was an option. Successful on his second defection attempt, Rigondeaux has been a pro since 2009.
He faced a former title challenger, Giovanni Andrade, in his third start. In only his seventh fight, he scored a decision over rugged veteran Ricardo Cordoba to win the interim titlist tag from the WBA at 122 lbs. He knocked out Rico Ramos to lay sole claim to the belt two fights later. A win over Donaire would give him new honors and a third title defense at a dozen starts.
Including his two interim title fights, the combined record of Rigondeuax’s title fight opposition has been a steep 107-4-4.
It was a fight some didn’t think would happen this soon. Donaire didn’t sound too excited about the fight in interviews through much of the last year. A showdown with Abner Mares, likely worth more money and with the appearance of a more fan friendly encounter, made Rigondeuax look like a skew of the risk/reward calculus.
We may yet get Donaire-Mares. The skew, while not 100% finalized at this writing, seems almost certain to come first.
The Cult of Rigo can start tentatively firing up the incense and chanting for the day they asked for.
Less certain but growing more possible is a battle at 108 lbs. between Ioka and Roman Gonzalez (34-0, 28 KO). Gonzalez, a former WBA 105 lb. titlist, has held their 108 lb. belt since 2010 with five defenses. Elevation to their “Super” Champion designation allowed room for Ioka to win the vacant ‘regular’ WBA belt on the last day of 2012 with a sixth-round knockout of Jose Rodriguez.
Ioka’s belt makes him the mandatory to Gonzalez. As reported at BoxingScene on Thursday, the WBA has ordered a purse bid between Gonzalez and Ioka on February 18th if they cannot reach a deal before that date.
A lot can happen between now and the 18th. While Gonzalez has expressed public interest in the fight, it’s unclear if the Ioka side favors this fight as their best option. It would be no surprise if they show up with a bid.
It would be well in line with Ioka’s career to date.
While Rigondeaux has the greater amateur chops, it can be argued Ioka has been the more impressive professional to date and he comes from strong stock. He is the nephew of former 105 and 108 lb. titlist Hiroki Ioka, the only man to defeat Hall of Fame Korean battler Myung Wuh Yuh in Yuh’s storied career.
His rise has been as impressive as any fighter in recent recall. His only fight against a fighter with a losing record came in his pro debut. Like Rigondeaux, he bested a former title challenger, Takashi Kunishige, in his third fight. In his seventh start, he knocked out long reigning WBC 105 lb. titlist Oleydong Sithsamerchai in five, Sithsamerchai’s first loss in 37 fights. No interim designation needed. Ioka defended the belt three times, the last a unification win against WBA titlist Akira Yaegashi.
In five title fights across now two divisions, the combined record of Ioka’s opposition has been a remarkable 104-4-1.
Gonzalez’s two best Flyweight options were WBC titlist Toshiyuki Igarashi and WBO/WBA unified titlist Brian Viloria. Both have other plans, Igarashi set to defend against Yaegashi and Viloria signed to faced the man Gonzalez defeated in his last fight, Juan Estrada. Both those fights will happen in April.
That leaves the spring dockets of Ioka and Gonzalez bare for now. Sometimes, the fights that make sense in boxing don’t happen. Rooting for what makes sense between now and the 18th is worth it.
There are easier paths to 12-0 than facing Gonzalez.
The same is true regarding Donaire.
That both paths could soon be tread should please any hardcore follower of the sweet science.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]