By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Connoisseurs of subtlety, unite.
While a majority of fans, broadcasters and experts seem to wet their collective pants at the idea of a slugfest and spend sleepless nights pining for a redux of Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward I, II or III, it’s not as if the rest of the boxing world has nothing to live for beyond mindless rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots.
Though it’s true that the over-the-top brutality of James Kirkland vs. Glen Tapia transforms Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman into shrilling tweens at a One Direction show, it’s no less true that the guys at the top of most top-performer lists—Floyd Mayweather Jr., Andre Ward and Timothy Bradley—would sooner be masterful than maniacal when defending their pound-for-pound turfs.
And lest anyone forget, whenever signature purveyors of the technician and Tasmanian devil approaches mix, the results are often devastatingly predictable.
Mayweather obliterated Gatti. Ward whipped Carl Froch. Bradley schooled Juan Manuel Marquez.
Some realities simply do not change.
So, while the caveman world spins its beads in the hope a “Thunder” reincarnate will appear along the Jersey seashore, those in the civilized sect can look forward to their most recent superstar addition mixing it up with a newcomer who’s abruptly staked a claim to similarly lofty status.
Ready or not, it’s Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Vasyl Lomachenko.
And if you’re not excited about that, well...you should be.
While the network that proffered two seasons of Carnivale holds its nose at the sublime excellence of the 33-year-old Cuban with two Olympic golds and a satchel full of pro hardware, those not blinded to bloodsport only are fully aware of the broad scope of Rigo’s talents.
In 2013 alone, he won 24 of 36 scorecard rounds from reigning Boxing Writers Association of America fighter of the year Nonito Donaire. Then he controlled every second of a dreary encounter with two-time champ Joseph Agbeko, who quickly chose survival over shellacking.
He accomplished all this, incidentally, in just 13 pro fights.
No less an authority than Freddie Roach—a former fighter, current mentor of eight-division champ Manny Pacquiao and five-time winner of the BWAA trainer of the year award—pulled no punches when comparing “The Jackal” to fighters he’d encountered since turning pro in 1978.
“He's the best counterpuncher I've ever seen,” he said. “When I did the pads with him, I simply could not get through his defense. I tried. I couldn't, though. On his first day in the gym, he wanted to spar with Manny Pacquiao. I didn't allow it. I don't want Manny getting that kind of work in sparring.
“Manny is a bit big for him, but he's an offensive guy and with countering like that, he was more work than I needed. He's one of the greatest talents I've ever seen. Probably the greatest talent.”
And in an era when the best fight the best only when it makes business sense—and even then it’s no lock—Rigondeaux is bucking another trend. He’s calling out his highest-quality contemporaries.
His manager, Gary Hyde, said either a rematch with Donaire or a full-on challenge of Lomachenko is on the agenda for the new year.
Either fight would be great, but the latter would be better.
Based simply on the to-and-fro of the first encounter eight months ago—at the time, the Filipino hadn’t lost in 11 years and was being cast by some for a fast-track bust in Canastota—there’s almost no way a subsequently shell-shocked version can reverse Rigo's level of dominance.
Rigondeaux is smarter and faster, and he punches sharply enough to discourage all-out aggression. Short of such all-in reckless abandon, Donaire has zero chance against the Cuban, which makes a second go-round a little less appealing than the alternative—Lomachenko.
In the 25-year-old Ukrainian, who already matches the Cuban’s dual Olympic pedigree, Rigondeaux would encounter one of the few fighters to reach world-elite status on a more sped-up schedule than his own, which yielded a title belt in fight No. 9 in 2012.
Lomachenko debuted with a clinically punishing fourth-round stoppage of fringe 28-fight contender Jose Ramirez on the Bradley vs. Marquez undercard. He immediately began mentioning other big names in the 122 to 126-lb corridor, including WBO featherweight champ Orlando Salido.
The Ramirez KO positioned him as Salido’s No. 5 contender after just one fight, and a defeat of the respected but limited 33-year-old Mexican, who’s lost 12 times in 55 fights and is teetering toward the brink of being shopworn, would frame a Rigondeaux match nicely for bout No. 3 for Lomachenko.
Skill versus skill. Technique versus technique. Competitive intellect versus competitive intellect. Check your testosterone at the door and may the most complete fighter win.
If you’re a fan of boxing, you’ll flock to whichever network has the smarts to broadcast it.
If it doesn’t reach your threshold for smash and bash, perhaps there’ll be a truck pull on, too.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior featherweight title - Elche, Spain
Kiko Martinez (champion) vs. Jeffrey Mathebula (No. 1 contender)
Martinez (29-4, 21 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in Spain (22-0)
Mathebula (27-4-2, 14 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2); Held IBF title at 122 (2012, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “South African’s unique frame hasn’t been an asset in two of three previous title tries, but he’ll be physically superior and technically dominant here.” Mathebula by decision
Vacant IBF bantamweight title - Leeds, United Kingdom
Vusi Malinga (No, 2 contender) vs. Stuart Hall (No. 4 contender)
Malinga (21-4-1, 12 KO): Third title fight (0-2); Fourth fight outside South Africa (1-2)
Hall (15-2-1, 7 KO): First title fight; Ninth scheduled 12-round fight (6-2)
Fitzbitz says: “Malinga has fallen short against the truly elite in his weight class, but he’ll face less than that upon traveling to the U.K. and should emerge with a title belt.” Malinga by decision
WBO junior bantamweight title - Benavidez, Argentina
Omar Narvaez (champion) vs. David Carmona (No. 9 contender)
Narvaez (40-1-2, 21 KO): Ninth title defense; Held WBO title at 112 (2002-09, 16 defenses)
Carmona (16-1-4, 8 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Mexico
Fitzbitz says: “Youngster is taking a bite at the biggest 115-pound apple after not a lot of comparable opposition. He may turn out to be something later, but not yet.” Narvaez by decision
Last week's picks: 2-1
2013 picks record: 82-40 (67.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 545-192 (73.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.