By Cliff Rold
Next Saturday night, at least in hardcore fight circles, one of the best fights available will play out as a dramatic sequel. Can Sergey Kovalev convince the judges in enough rounds this time? Does Andre Ward have another gear to steal the play earlier?
We’ll know in one week with plenty to say in the days leading up to the latest foray into HBO PPV. For now, a little attention is due for next weekend’s undercard.
Making his first appearance since July 2016, and only his fifth since defeating Nonito Donaire in April 2013, lineal Jr. featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KO) defends the WBA belt against mandatory Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KO). Given the struggle the main event is having in generating strong promotional traction, it’s no surprise the undercard could be overlooked.
This fight shouldn’t be.
Rigondeaux has a reputation, sometimes earned, for being a dull viewing experience. It wasn’t true of the Donaire fight. It wasn’t true of a 2014 war with Hisashi Amagasa either, though a lack of US television did nothing to change mass minds. The last impressions the largest mass of US viewers has of the Cuban artisan are fights with Joseph Agbeko and Drian Francisco.
At 122 lbs., a division reliant over the years on heavy action to get eyes, those fights weren’t enhancing.
Inactivity has further cooled what was once at least a noisy niche, a Cult of Rigo. There are still vocal, avid supporters of Rigondeaux but his lengthy absences haven’t given them much to invest in. Officially listed at 36 years old entering the Flores fight, Rigondeaux’s window to be more than the Donaire win isn’t wide.
It won’t be enough to win next weekend. Rigondeaux needs style points to restart his career in a meaningful way. He’s got an opponent in front of him capable of granting the chance.
He might even have an opponent with a chance to defeat him.
Rigondeaux-Flores has lingered for months, waiting for a date. The 30-year old Mexican enters with even more inactivity than Rigondeaux. He’s been on the shelf for over a year but picked up an impressive road win his last time out. In June 2016, he scored three knockdowns of former WBO bantamweight titlist Paulus Ambunda in Namibia. It allowed Flores to hold his place in line for a shot at the WBA crown.
He’s held the spot as interim titlist since 2015 when he defeated tough Oscar Escandon by decision. Flores should be an underdog here. He’s not as technically refined as Rigondeaux, he doesn’t have the same one punch power, and he’s not as quick.
What Flores has going for him is his approach in the ring and more size than the average Jr. featherweight. Flores is 5’9, has heavy hands, and works the body well. He’s never been stopped and isn’t shy about giving up his size to get in the trenches. He’s willing to take some to get his, a recipe for a good fight against a marksman like Rigondeuax.
It’s what makes this one worth paying attention to. It’s not just a chance to see if Rigondeaux is still as elite as he’s been for years. It’s a chance to maybe, just maybe, have the sort of Amagasa night he’s never really had on US TV.
Flores is a little shorter than Amagasa but he’s beaten far better foes and has more power. Rigondeuax might often be impenetrable, but he’s never been invulnerable. He’s been dropped or stunned several times in his career. Rigondeaux’s recuperative powers have been commendable but his chin isn’t granite. Against Amagasa, he won almost every round of the fight but he was also on the floor twice in the seventh. He had to beat the hell out of the Japanese upstart to get the stoppage.
It made for drama and violence. Flores might be the sort of unheralded and hungry foe to force the same. If he cannot, he at least provides a willing target for Rigondeaux to land bombs on and raise some eyebrows.
Until someone else proves otherwise, Rigondeaux remains the best Jr. featherweight in the world. Next Saturday is a chance to remind everyone he’s still here. It’s also an overdue chance for Flores to show that the wait was worth it.
The elements of a sleeper are there.
Fans looking for major title action have a show on AWE this weekend (3 PM EST/12 PM PST) as IBF bantamweight titlist Lee Haskins defends against Ryan Burnett. AWE has been a great resource this year with fighters like Haskins and Kal Yafai who might otherwise never be seen on US television. Reward them with your eyeballs…The finale of The Leftovers was as good a show closing as one could ask for. A show drenched in its own bleakness found a way to uplift and find beauty at the end of the tunnel. Kudos…The potential for a Jr. bantamweight tripleheader with Roman Gonzalez-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai II on top is manna from the fistic heavens…The Shinsuke Yamanaka-Luis Nery bantamweight title fight signed for August is as well. Expect it to land on BeIn Espanol and circle the calendar for what could be a gem…Best of luck to Anselmo Moreno in his retirement…Wonder Woman met and exceeded the hype. Job well done.
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]