By Jake Donovan
Guillermo Rigondeaux made a major statement in what is likely his final fight with Top Rank, one that will have fans talking for weeks to come.
For once, talks won't center around his latest fight lacking action and drama, though it doesn't necessarily mean the conversation will carry a positive vibe.
The defending World 122 lb. champion scored a 1st round knockout of Sod Kokietgym, Saturday evening (local time) at the Venetian Macao in Macau, China. The manner in which the ending was produced drew parallels of Floyd Mayweather's 4th round knockout of Victor Ortiz nearly three years ago, sparking the debate where the line exists between protecting yourself at all times and landing a sucker punch.
Such little regard had been granted to Rigondeaux that his championship bout was buried on Top Rank's latest venture to Macau. The show is a rarity in featuring two fighters who've captured two Olympic Gold medals, the other being Zou Shiming, the evening's headliner and who has been regularly showcased by HBO2 since turning pro last April.
A message was sent loud and clear by parent network HBO that there is no longer any interest in televising the 'Rigolution.' The mandate came following his last win, as 12-round shuout over a reluctant Joseph Agbeko, making for a dull one-sided contest coming eight months after Rigondeaux served Nonito Donaire a boxing lesson in a fight where fans craved for more action.
Instead, Rigondeaux' latest victory will air later Saturday evening on UniMas. At least it will serve as the network's most talked about fight in years. Rigondeaux provided plenty of entertainment value in his debut appearance in Macau and first fight overseas since fighting in Ireland in 2011. However, the parts worth discussing all came down to a single sequence midway through the opening round.
Kokietgym was rocked by an accidental headbutt shortly prior to the halfway point of the opening round, wobbling to the canvas from the blow. The 37-year old Thai challenger was able to rise to his feet, shaking off the blow and able to resume action.
What the challenger was ill-prepared for was what immediately followed, forgetting the golden rule of protecting yourself at all times.
Once determining that Kokietgym was fit to continue, referee Mark Nelson motioned the fighters to center ring and gestured his right hand to signal for action to resume. Kokietgym extended his right hand to touch gloves with Rigondeaux, but doing so while his left hand was down by his side.
Rigondeaux, proven far too skilled for any 122 lb. fighter on the planet when on a level playing field, took advantage of the moment, touching gloves with his challenger and immediately jumping into action. A right hook crashed on the exposed chin of Kokiegym, who was still trying to figure out what happened as a left hand slammed flush in his grill. The Thai southpaw collapsed to the canvas in a heap, this time in no position to continue.
The official time was 1:44 of round one.
Kokeitgym falls to 63-3-1 (28KOs), snapping a 37-fight win streak. His last loss came eight years ago - almost to the day - when he was stopped in one round by Daniel Ponce de Leon in a rematch to a more competitive 12-round loss nine months prior. All three of Kokietgym's losses have come in title fights.
Rigondeaux moves to 14-0 (9KOs). The knockout is his first since a 5th round stoppage of Teon Kennedy in June '12, though his latest KO win hardly figures to gain new fans in the process.
Cries have already begun amongst fans and media, deriding the knockout blow as a deliberate cheap shot. A similar debate erupted when Mayweather knocked out Ortiz in their Sept. '11 bout. Many chastised Mayweather for what was claimed to be poor sportsmanship in taking advantage of an overly apologetic Ortiz, who moments prior drilled the unbeaten pound-for-pound king with a deliberate headbutt and was caught off guard when offering to touch gloves once back on the clock.
In comparison, there was greater intent on the part of Rigondeaux to exploit the opportunity to jump on an unsuspecting opponent. The knockout blow came a split second after the two touched gloves, but still well within the rules of the sport.
Protect yourself at all times. Saturday night in Macau provided the latest harsh reminder of that golden rule.