by Cliff Rold
Lebron is going to Cleveland.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is going to (air on) Unimas.
Free agency, realized or looming as the case may be, produces different landings.
This Saturday in Macau, and replayed on Unimas Saturday night (11 PM EST), the Cult of Rigo gets their semi-annual fix of one of the sport’s most polarizing talents. It might be their last look under the Top Rank banner. Barring any big one-off’s, Rigondeaux is set to hit the boxing free agent market.
How many suitors can he really expect?
That’s a big question. There is no question about how good the lineal Jr. Featherweight champion is. At only 13-0, with 8 stops, he’s easily described as one of the best in the world at what he does. The polarization he creates is between the broader boxing public that can be apathetic about his outings and the smaller niche of boxing purists who appreciate his talents more than his entertainment value.
He was masterful in lifting the 122 lb. crown from Nonito Donaire in a unification scrap last April. In a fight where he won probably eleven rounds, two of the judges had him just getting by en route to a unanimous decision. Economical in his output, Rigondeaux outclassed Donaire without raising many pulses.
HBO, allegedly, didn’t want him back on the air after that. They relented for his defense against Joseph Agbeko and it’s clearly outcast city now. The Agbeko fight was dreary, a shutout that saw paying customers exit early and too many viewers turn the dial. It wasn’t all his fault. Agbeko, clearly outmatched, never went for broke and was content to last.
But Rigondeaux was all too willing to let him. If he wants to find takers in the free agent market, he needs something more this weekend.
The opponent selected for this weekend could provide ample opportunity for more. Thailand’s Sod Kokietygym (63-2, 28 KO) has a pretty record going for him. There is little reason to suspect he has a chance. A record built largely against regional mediocrities has one genuine standout name.
Daniel Ponce De Leon.
Kokietgym was stopped in one when they faced off in 2006. Unbeaten since, the Thai is painfully slow, comes forward, and is often wide open. Rigondeaux has a chance Saturday for the sort of performance he had against Willie Casey in Ireland in 2011. In that bout, Rigondeaux opened up and showed what he could really do against an overmatched foe. Casey was down three times and finished in the first.
This is a chance for a statement fight and Rigondeaux would be well served to answer the call loudly. There have been accusations by some fans that the solution is Top Rank simply promoting Rigondeaux better, or at least with some enthusiasm. It’s not without merit. Team Arum has never been shy about shying away from more pure boxers like Rigondeaux. They whiffed badly on the marketing ceiling for Floyd Mayweather.
Rigondeaux though is not Mayweather. He doesn’t speak English, is less offensive, and he fights at Jr. Featherweight. Most of the men who have fought there over the years have flown under the big dollar radar. Those who broke through all shared something in common.
They were hell bent for leather.
Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao, Jeff Fenech, Marco Antonio Barrera and the division’s greatest champion Wilfredo Gomez were thrillers. Of note, almost all made their biggest paydays higher on the scale. Money grows the higher up the scale one goes. With the fullest throated, most glowing promotion on Earth, a fighter with Rigondeaux’s style and size is still a hard sell.
Being frank, not every great fighter can be an attraction.
What Rigondeaux can do to offset is remind everyone, every chance he gets, of who he is and give value to that. He’s the genuine World Champion in a class with some exciting fighters. No one can be the king at 122 without going through him. For the sake of professional pride, anyone who toils in the class should want to test the very best.
Professional pride doesn’t put as many butts in the seats as good fights do. His top contenders right now are Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton, Kiko Martinez, and Scott Quigg. They are all making a living in more crowd-pleasing fare without him. Frampton and Martinez are set for a rematch in September. If Frampton wins, a possible unification with Quigg would be a big sell in the UK. Frampton and Santa Cruz have had some words in the press as well.
It’s as if it’s Rigondeaux and the rest of his division are operating on different planes. The plane without him seems fine with that. If Rigondeaux goes more Agbeko than Casey this weekend, it will be easier for it to stay that way.
Free agency is great if the phone is ringing. If it’s not, the dial tone has to be one hell of a lonely sound.
So, Deadspin went all in with the Mayweather domestic violence compendium. Anyone who has yet to read it should get to that as soon as they finish this column and post and least one comment. Light bills first…Brian Viloria, continuing his creep back from a loss to Juan Francisco Estrada, will also be on the Unimas show. Unimas, versus HBO2, got the better fights from Macau this time around…Marcos Maidana and selfies. Some things are just awesome…Finally saw Gravity on cable. What a mistake not to see that in IMAX 3D…Mike Trout is what it must have been like to see Mickey Mantle when he was young…Al Haymon signed Tomoki Kameda? Can he go get Shinsuke Yamanaka while he’s at it…Original joke: Mikey Garcia and Andre Ward were sitting in a bar. It’s as good a place as any. They won’t be in the ring anytime soon.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]