By Jake Donovan
Winning isn’t everything and it’s certainly not always the only thing. Guillermo Rigondeaux has already learned that lesson the hard way, despite continuing to pick up in his young pro career right where he left off as one of the most gifted amateurs in the history of the game.
The Cuban export has already made his presence felt, winning a major belt (albeit an interim model) in just his seventh pro fight and doing so in one of the hottest divisions in the sport today, at 122 lb. Rigondeaux’ rapid advancement from fresh face to titlist came at the right time, as the weight class is currently overloaded with top-flight talent and big names, which in turn creates big paydays.
“The 122 lb. division is so strong at this time, there’s so many terrific matches, so many good fighters,” notes Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who co-promotes Rigondeaux. “July 7 there’s Nonito Donaire fighting Jeffrey Mathebula in a unification match. (Jorge) Arce-(Jesus) Rojas fighting on this card. Vazquez Jr and Rafael Marquez is 122 lb. Abner Mares is 122 lb.
“There’s going to be so many great fights in the years to come in the 122 lb. division. It’s the hot spot for boxing.”
Rigondeaux is right there in the thick of things - as long as people want to see him fight.
The feedback following his title win over veteran Ricardo Cordoba suggested anything but a demand for an encore performance. Rigondeaux focused solely on boxing and moving in taking a dull decision over Cordoba in a bout that served in supporting capacity to Manny Pacquiao’s 12-round destruction of Antonio Margarito in Nov. ’10.
Rigondeaux (9-0, 7KO) appears to now get it, having scored dominant stoppage wins in each of his past two fights. The 31-year old southpaw – now based out of Miami – traveled to Ireland for his first title defense, a 1st round knockout of Willie Casey last March.
Scheduling issues delayed his alphabet title clash with “full” champion Rico Ramos, which finally landed on Showtime this past January. The bout was never close as Rigondeaux looked like a seasoned veteran while Ramos bore the look of a timid newcomer before succumbing in six rounds.
Saturday night marks Rigondeaux’s return to the pay-per-view circuit as he once again granted a slot on a Pacquiao undercard. Rigondeaux faces Teon Kennedy in a 12-round bout prior to Pacquaio’s showdown with Tim Bradley, all of which airs liv on HBO PPV from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“Guillermo Rigondeaux is one of the most legendary fighters in the history of amateur boxing,” Arum states. “He’s won two Olympic gold medals, which is very, very unusual. He’s undefeated as a professional and is a tremendous fighter.”
Still, being undefeated and tremendous doesn’t mean much these days to those who demand entertainment value above all else.
“The last fight we fought on the Pacquiao card, a lot of people criticized,” acknowledges Luis DeCubas, who has promoted Rigondeaux since his first days in the United States. “We fought Cordoba with six professional fights. Back in the day of me and Russell (Peltz, who promotes Kennedy), a lot of guys would’ve said, ‘Wow he outboxed a guy with 40 fights.’
“Now, everyone wants to see knockouts and that’s what he’s going to do. He gets it now. This guy is a radar. Wherever he throws, he’s going to hit you.”
Saturday night will provide the proof – or lack thereof – to that statement, though Rigondeaux himself wasn’t up for any bold predictions during Thursday’s final press conference. Instead, he merely expressed gratitude for being able to participate on the huge event.
“I’m very happy to be here. I thank Teon Kennedy for being here, because everyone else has been backing out of the fight,” Rigondeaux said of his opponent. “This will be a great fight, I promise.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments via e-mail.