by Cliff Rold
For fans in other parts of the world, title time is already underway in the 2012 boxing season. For U.S. fans, it starts this Friday. Rescheduled from what was supposed to be a December date, one of the great amateurs in the history of boxing will attempt to win his first major (non-interim) title as a pro.
It is only his ninth fight.
He’s favored to win.
This, of course, is not the amateur ranks. The pro game has proven in the past a difficult bridge for men who dominated the unpaid field. Guillermo Rigondeaux was the sort of talent who figured capable of sailing over. Winning all but a dozen of some 400 starts for the Cuban national team, Rigondeaux won Gold at the 2000 and 2004 Games along with World Amateur titles in 2001 and 2005.
His first paid step up left room for doubts about his suitability for the pro game. Matched with rugged veteran Ricardo Cordoba for the interim WBA belt at 122 lbs. in 2010, Rigondeaux built a strong early lead, punctuated with a knockdown in round four.
Then he hit the deck in the sixth and the wheels came off a bit. Perhaps more correct would be to say they came on. Staring at his first twelve round fight, Rigondeaux went into a shell, moving and rarely engaging down the stretch. He hung on for the win but left fans unsatisfied. The clamor to see him again was nil.
Was the reaction too harsh? Despite his amateur achievements, it was still only his seventh pro outing while Cordoba had gone to scratch more than forty times. Friday night, he has the chance to put Cordoba behind him and give fans a new point of entry into his career.
WBA titlist Rico Ramos, who came from well behind to stop Akifumi Shimoda for the belt with a single punch last year, will attempt to block the door.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBA Jr. Featherweight (2010-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 122.4 lbs.
Hails from: Pico Rivera, California
Record: 20-0, 11 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Jr. Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Kermin Guardia, Akifumi Shimoda)
Titles: 1st Title Fight
Height: 5’4 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 121.9 lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Cuba)
Record: 8-0, 6 KO
BoxingScene Rank: Unrated
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 1 KO in interim title fights
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Ricardo Cordoba)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Ramos B+; Rigondeaux A
Pre-Fight: Power – Ramos B; Rigondeaux A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Ramos B+; Rigondeaux B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Ramos B; Rigondeaux B
Physically, Rigondeaux has a lot of advantages. He is faster, his punches are sharper, and there is more variation in his offense. Ramos is slightly taller and can be patient. Against Shimoda, he never fought like he was losing. He stayed inside himself and waited for the right counter to open up for him. Ramos’s record doesn’t indicate a huge puncher but he proved he could turn over a big shot when he needs it.
Rigondeaux will present a greater challenge than Shimoda in terms of foot speed. How he uses those feet could determine the watchability of the fight. There is concern, warranted, about how crowd friendly this battle of counterpunchers will be. Someone has to lead. The Cordoba fight hinted that, in a tough fight, Rigondeaux’s instincts won’t take him forward but he’s the most likely candidate to have to do it here.
Ramos, with more to fear in terms of the power coming back, is not going to lead. His best bet is to move, cover up against incoming fire, and wait for chances to land between salvos. If he can catch Rigondeaux with the right shot, and bring pause to his offense, Ramos’s chances to win go way up.
We should know more after Ramos about who Rigondeaux is. Rigondeaux fought only once in 2011, against Ireland’s Willie Casey. Told by his trainer that he needed to be more offensive, Rigondeaux hit a switch and went through his foe in an all-out first round assault.
Defensively, both men can be hard to hit clean. Ramos sometimes gets caught on defense too long, holding his hands high and tight and out of position to punch back. Rigondeaux, if he decides to move too much, will be hard to catch but also will be throwing one at a time. He needs offense.
On display against Casey was a big right hook from the southpaw side and some booming body work. It was offense to get excited about. It was offense needing to be seen against a higher caliber foe to be taken to prove whether it really counts. Rigondeaux remains a question mark and, while the number of pro fights he’s been in leaves room to grow, he’s in his moment now.
Ramos, less impressive physically, showed pro chops and focus with Shimoda and physical gifts don’t always win.
While Casey is not as good as Ramos, he is an indication of what Rigondeaux is capable of when he turns it on. He was faced with a fighter he could get out of there, was told to go do it, and did. Ramos, despite better pedigree, is a fighter he can get out of there.
The question will be what happens if he needs to go deep to do it, if he faces adversity along the way. He’s gone from four round fights with headgear to a lengthy layoff due to efforts to seek an exit from Cuba to world title twelve rounders inside ten fights. Doubt can creep in.
Of the Cuban waves in recent times, only Joel Casamayor really emerged as a lasting force, and he wasn’t asked to do as much as quickly. We’ve seen fellow Cuban Erislandy Lara struggle against Carlos Molina last year only to blossom in getting robbed against Paul Williams. Rigondeaux has yet to face a fighter with a losing record. Three of his eight wins came against men with more than 30 dukes in their column.
This is Rigondeaux’s chance to blossom. He’s going to. Ramos is the perfect foe for him to impress. Forced to lead, he will and it won’t take long to overwhelm Ramos. Look for Rigondeaux to score the stop inside six, perhaps as early as round three.
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 protected]