By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Vasyl Lomachenko made Guillermo Rigondeaux quit Saturday night, just as he predicted.
Rigondeaux didn’t suffer much punishment in a fight that largely lacked action, but told referee Steve Willis following the sixth round that he had suffered an injury to his left hand and couldn’t continue. Lomachenko’s technical knockout win enabled him to retain his WBO super featherweight title and win the first professional fight between a pair of two-time Olympic gold medalists.
Their fight was much anticipated, but almost immediately devolved into a clumsy encounter between skillful southpaws. It was full of clinches and fouls, and disappointed a capacity crowd in The Theater at Madison Square Garden and a worldwide audience watching on ESPN.
“It was a win, but it was not a big win for me,” Lomachenko said. “I adjusted to his style. I adjusted to his low blows. He’s an excellent, excellent fighter, but I had the skills to win.”
The injury aside, the 37-year-old Rigondeaux suffered his first professional loss in a fight for which he moved up two weight classes, from 122 pounds to 130. Though very confident coming into the fight, Rigondeaux couldn’t do to the versatile Lomachenko what he did to Nonito Donaire when he upset Donaire by unanimous decision in their 122-pound title fight in April 2013 at Radio City Music Hall.
Rigondeaux is known as a masterful defensive fighter, but he was the combatant that had more difficulty landing clean, effective punches against the athletic, elusive Lomachenko. According to unofficial CompuBox statistics, Rigondeaux didn’t land more than three punches in any one of the six completed rounds Saturday night.
CompuBox credited Rigondeaux with landing just 15 of 178 punches in the fight (8.4 percent). Lomachenko landed 55 of 339 (16.2 percent), according to CompuBox, and also had trouble connecting regularly against Rigondeaux, who often crouched into a squatting position to avoid Lomachenko’s punches.
Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) still made an opponent quit Saturday night for the third time in his past four fights.
Three fights ago, Jamaica’s Nicholas Walters (26-1-1, 21 KOs) declined to continue following the seventh round against Lomachenko in November 2016 in Las Vegas. Two fights ago, Jason Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs) declined to come out of his corner for the 10th round April 8 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs, 1 NC) said following his loss that he hurt his left hand in the second round.
Dino Duva, who works for Roc Nation Sports (Rigondeaux’s co-promoter), said he believes Rigondeaux suffered a fracture to his left hand. Rigondeaux was headed to a local hospital to have X-rays taken.
By the end of the sixth round, Rigondeaux was way behind on all three scorecards (60-53, 59-54, 59-54).
“No excuses – I lost,” Rigondeaux said. “He’s a very technical fighter, very explosive. I’m gonna come back from this because that’s what I do. Lomachenko is excellent. The weight was not a factor. It was the injury to my hand.”
After warning Rigondeaux numerous times for fouls, Willis deducted a point from him for holding early in the sixth round. Moments later, Lomachenko landed a flush left to the side of Rigondeaux’s head, seemingly his most flush punch of the fight to that point.
Lomachenko took a swing at Rigondeaux after the fifth round ended because Rigondeaux was holding him and wouldn’t let go. Willis called a brief timeout to warn Rigondeaux for bending the rules yet again early in the fifth round.
Willis warned Rigondeaux for hitting Lomachenko behind the head in the fourth round. He later admonished Rigondeaux for hitting Lomachenko low in the fourth.
Rigondeaux didn’t throw many punches in the fourth round. Most of Lomachenko’s punches missed Rigondeaux in the fourth, but he was busier.
Rigondeaux’s renowned defensive skills were on display during the third round, but neither he nor Lomachenko landed many punches in those three minutes.
Lomachenko and Rigondeaux talked trash and glared at each other after the bell sounded to end a second round in which Rigondeaux used several questionable tactics.
Rigondeaux held Lomachenko until Willis broke them up late in the second round, before putting Lomachenko in a headlock and holding his head down while trying to hit him. Lomachneko connected with a short right hook early in the second round.
Rigondeaux just missed with a left hand after Lomachenko landed a left toward the end of the first round. Otherwise, they respectfully felt each other out during the first three minutes.
Ukraine’s Lomachenko went off as a 3-1 favorite, despite the Cuban-born Rigondeaux’s pedigree, because Rigondeaux is eight years older, moved up two weight classes for their fight and had boxed just three combined rounds in the past two years.
Rigondeaux’s disadvantages aside, their showdown drew intense interest among boxing fans because they’re both commonly considered among the top 10 boxers, pound-for-pound, in the world.
Lomachenko made the fourth defense of a WBO 130-pound title he won by knocking out Puerto Rico’s Rocky Martinez in the fifth round of their June 2016 fight at The Theater.
Rigondeaux didn’t just lose for the first time as a professional. He also lost his WBA super bantamweight title, even though they competed at 130 pounds and his 122-pound championship technically wasn’t at stake.
The WBA granted Rigondeaux permission to delay a mandatory title defense against Moises Flores to take his historic shot at Lomachenko. Later, however, the WBA announced that Rigondeaux would lose his super bantamweight title if he lost to Lomachenko.
If he would’ve won, the WBA would’ve given Rigondeaux five days to decide whether he would remain at 130 pounds or return to 122.
Rigondeaux fought Flores on June 17 in Las Vegas, but what was originally ruled a first-round knockout win for Rigondeaux was changed to a no-contest because Rigondeaux landed a left handed after the bell that prevented Flores from continuing.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.