By Jake Donovan
Guillermo Rigondeaux delivered one of the most impressive boxing performances of 2013, taking Nonito Donaire to school to the point of making the reigning Fighter of the Year look foolish in scoring an upset win this past April.
However, the term ‘upset’ took on a different meaning in the aftermath. Rigondeaux upset the power structure with the manner in which he fought, with promoter Bob Arum alleging that the brass at HBO “threw up whenever I mentioned his name.”
The claim goes a long way in explaining why the unbeaten Cuban has spent the past eight months on the sidelines, waiting for someone, anyone to step to the plate and fight him.
Enter a former bantamweight titlist in Joseph Agbeko, who moves up in weight to challenge one of boxing’s best, tonight in Atlantic City. Their bout, which comes with Rigondeaux’ lineal super bantamweight championship on the line, headlines a televised tripleheader on HBO.
Agbeko made a surprise ring return earlier this year, posting a wide points win over Luis Melendez to end a 15-month ring hiatus. The Ghanaian was assumed to be done with the sport, after having lost three of his last four and going silent for all of 2012.
Instead, the runner-up in Showtime’s bantamweight tournament insists he has plenty of fight left in him.
The 33-year old makes a bold move in challenging one of boxing’s best pure boxers, especially given his penchant for coming up short in close fights. Two of his four losses – majority decisions to Vladimir Sidirenko and Abner Mares – were both hotly contested, though more decisive defeats came against Yonnhy Perez in their first fight and Mares in their rematch.
In the wake of the recent passing of anti-Apartheid revolutionist and world renowned icon Nelson Mandela, there’s no question Agbeko will carry an additional source of inspiration heading into tonight. Will that, coupled with his surprisingly massive size advantage (despite being the one moving up in weight) and overall skillset, be enough to score the upset.
Or will Rigondeaux once again shine, regardless of what anything thinks of the entertainment value produced (or lacking)?
Read on to see how the Boxingscene.com staff believes the HBO-televised main event plays out.
PREDICTIONS – GUILLERMO RIGONDEAUX vs. JOSEPH AGBEKO
“The #Rigolution continues.”
- Damien Acevedo (Rigondeaux UD)
“I like Guillermo Rigondeaux to win by a wide decision, just too much skill there.”
- Mitch Abramson (Rigondeaux UD)
“I think Agbeko is going to bring the fight to Rigondeaux and probably stun him a time or two but Rigondeaux's superior boxing skills and overall athleticism will lead him to victory.”
- Ryan Burton (Rigondeaux UD)
“For no other reason than a gut feeling, I envision HBO’s 2013 boxing season to end with an absolute shocker. On paper, Rigondeaux should box circles around Agbeko. Call me a sucker for sentiment, but I see Agbeko drawing emotional inspiration from the legacy left behind by Nelson Mandela, shaking up the industry in the same manner in which Simpiwe Vetyeka threw Chris John – and the featherweight division – for a loop less than two days prior.”
- Jake Donovan (Agbeko SD)
“Agbeko is a decorated former champion who’s hungry to return to the belted class. But he’s meeting a pound-for-pounder at his peak efficiency.”
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Rigondeaux by decision)
“A prime Agbeko would still have issues with the speed power and skill of Rigondeaux. With age and inactivity playing a factor, I do not see how Agbeko stays competitive with Rigondeaux. Agbeko's only shot is if Rigondeaux does not consider him a threat at all and loses focus much like he did against Roberto Marroquin. I do not see that happening and we see a stellar performance from Rigondeaux.”
- Ernest Gabion (Rigondeaux TKO6)
“Agbeko's first fight back from a 15-month layoff was this past March, and now he's stepping up from bantamweight to 122 pounds to challenge one of the best fighters in the world. This is Rigondeaux's to win and Rigondeaux's to lose, and I believe Rigo will be motivated to put on a very good show en route to a wide unanimous decision.”
- David Greisman (Rigondeaux UD)
“Joseph Agbeko is going to have a hard time finding Guillermo Rigondeaux, and I feel the Cuban will be too fast, too slick and too accurate for "King Kong" in a 12-round exhibition of boxing skills.”
- Ryan Maquinana (Rigondeaux by decision)
“Rigondeaux put on a masterful boxing display, winning a wide decision.”
- Richard Najdowski (Rigondeaux UD)
“This matches two of the best little men of recent years. Agbeko has been largely inactive since a memorable run of fights before and during the Showtime Bantamweight tournament. In his lone 2013 outing, he looked like he can still go. That might not matter against a Rigondeaux who was superlative in outboxing Nonito Donaire. Agbeko may have moments and has the experience but Rigondeaux's precise output, and Agbeko's willingness, could mean a late stoppage for the Cuban.”
- Cliff Rold (Rigondeaux by KO)
“Three losses in the past five fights at 118 pounds for Agbeko and two wins by UD plus 1 fight in 20 months indicate that Rigondeaux will defeat Joseph by KO before 8th round.”
- Reynaldo Sanchez (Rigondeaux TKO8)
“The Cuban master is simply too polished, too good for a slow (albeit awkward) stalker like Agbeko. A stoppage is far less possible as both fighters can take the punch.”
- Alexey Sukachev (Rigondeaux UD)
Guillermo Rigondeaux 11
Joseph Agbeko 1
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox