On December 9 2017 at Madison Square Garden one of the best fights of the decade will take place when Vasyl Lomachenko takes on Guillermo Rigondeaux. Two technically sound, defensively gifted fighters. Two decorated amateurs with numerous accolades including multiple gold medals. However despite being a pro longer and taking on many big names Rigondeaux seems like the sidekick. Lomachenko is a star. He has many fans both hardcore and casual while Rigondeaux is still struggling to connect with fans. Which is a shame since Rigondeaux is a masterful boxer with real skill and tremendous back story that has big screen written all over it.
Like most Cuban boxers Rigondeaux had a long and decorated amateur career. With a reported amateur record of 463 wins against only 12 losses. Among his accolades are two Olympic gold medals at the Sydney Games in 2000 and the Athens games in 2004. Rigondeaux also won gold at the 2003 Pan Am Games and the 2005 World Amateur Championships. In the 2007 Rigondeaux failed to appear at an amateur fight. He and Erislandy Lara attemped to defect to America. In August they were detained in Brazil and returned to Cuba. Castro forbade them from rejoining the Cuban National Team. Rigondeaux had to wait until 2009. He boarded a high powered speed boat landed in Mexico and then Miami. Choosing to follow his dreams Rigondeaux had to leave behind his family. His wife Farah Colina and his two sons. He was labeled a Judas by Castro for fleeing Cuba. The struggles he has gone through are painted all over his face. While polite Rigondeaux rarely smiles. He admits to being lonely at times and missing his family. Given that narrative it is hard not to root for him.
Also Rigondeaux is a special boxer. A once in a generation technician who has a true grasp of the sweet science. I have not seen a fighter this slick since the great Pernell Whitaker. Rigondeaux is a smooth operator in the ring. Fast hands, elusive footwork, excellent angles, great counter punching ability and power as well. Legendary trainer Freddie Roach described Rigondeaux as the greatest talent he has ever seen. In his April 2013 fight against Nonito Donaire he put on a masterclass. He made the number three pound for pound fighter in the world look helpless and defenseless. That win should have launched into superstardom. However Rogondeaux has been unfairly labeled as boring. Not exciting, does not go for the k.o. Is not willing to please the networks. Even Donaire with his eyes still swollen from the beating Rigondeaux gave him criticized Rigondeaux’s style. He said you need to be exciting. I do not find sublime technique to be boring. Just like I do not find every blood and guts brawl to be entertaining. While Rigondeaux does not show boat. Nor does he send everyone home on a stretcher. What he does his is special. Dodging, slipping, countering. Never off balance. Never out of position. Never wasting a punch. Hardly ever getting hit. It is like watching finest art on display.
On December 9 2017 two great champions will go to war. While many will be rooting for Lomachenko. I hope there are some fans out there who will be pulling for Rigondeaux as well.
On a side note. If you have not seen the documentary Split Decision you should check it out. It really details the triumphs and struggles of being a cuban boxer. Rigondeaux, Teofilo Stevenson and many other boxers share their stories.