Last night on ShoBox following an easy win over Rico Ramos to lift the WBA 122-pound title belt, Cuban amateur legend and now professional world titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux called out pound-for-pound contender Nonito Donaire for a future fight.
Donaire is currently set to fight Wilfredo Vazquez Jr next on February 4, the co-feature on HBO's Chavez vs Rubio show, in what will be the Filipino's first fight at 122 pounds. The vacant WBO title will be on the line, and fireworks are expected. Also expected is a typically flashy Donaire victory, as he's once again matched with a mediocre at best defensive fighter who likes to bring offense.
That style, as we've seen with Fernando Montiel (TKO-2) and Vic Darchinyan (TKO-5), is tailor made for Donaire's lightning quick counter punches and nasty knockout power. Vazquez is a quality young fighter, but figures to be a perfect foil for Donaire, who intends to push himself up through the weight classes as quickly as he can.
But now if he avoids Rigondeaux, there should be some cause for questioning and concern.
Because unlike Darchinyan, Montiel, Hernan Marquez, Wladimir Sidorenko, Raul Martinez, or presumably the Puerto Rican on the chopping block next, Guillermo Rigondeaux is a stylistic nightmare for Nonito Donaire.
Rigondeaux (9-0, 7 KO) is never going to win points for being exciting. He's not. He can be in flashes, which is where his knockout rate comes from, but Rigondeaux is a cautious, measured fighter who doesn't take risks.
The trouble for Donaire? Rigondeaux also doesn't make major mistakes. He will ugly up a fight if he has to. And he's got speed and power in both hands when he sees a mistake from an opponent.
Plus, Rigondeaux is about as confident as they come. He's a truly calm fighter, sure that he's better than his opponents. He's arrogant in a way that works for his success.
When you go back and look at Donaire's disappointing October snoozer against Omar Narvaez, you're presented with a few realities:
- Donaire has so often fought smaller men, guys he towers over, that you have to consider whether or not he's purposely matched with guys who just can't do anything with him. Donaire has the talent to beat men truly his size, or bigger. But he often fights guys who are around 5'2" or 5'3".
- Donaire, though he won easily, makes technical mistakes. Narvaez wasn't big enough to take advantage of much, and clearly wasn't willing to leave himself open to get starched by Donaire the way past opponents had been. But Donaire is far from flawless, and his highlight reel material isn't a given. We've seen him offensively defused by Narvaez.
Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is a little under 5'5", also isn't a big super bantamweight. But the difference between Rigondeaux and Narvaez is that, first and foremost, Narvaez is really a flyweight, and wasn't even a big puncher at 112. Also, Rigondeaux has the ability to get back at Donaire on counter opportunities. He's fast enough and strong enough to do damage, and sturdy enough, it would appear, to take Donaire's shots without instantly crumbling.
I can envision a scenario where Rigondeaux is almost daring Donaire to throw. Rigondeaux isn't action-packed, but he can punch. He can also put together sudden charges and flurries that leave opponents bewildered and covering up, because when he chooses to make his move, he comes so quickly, so suddenly, that there's not much time to react. Rigondeaux has the talent and skill to lull opponents into thinking he's not going to do anything unless they give him something to prey upon; but that's not always the case. When Rigondeaux wants to, he can become extremely dangerous in a hurry.
Now, obviously, Nonito Donaire isn't Rico Ramos, who frankly was incredibly lucky to be in the ring defending a world title belt. And Donaire isn't Ricardo Cordoba, either -- Cordoba being the only fighter to give Rigondeaux any trouble as a professional. Donaire is better than those guys. I would hazard a wager and say, even though we haven't seen him over 118 pounds, that he's far better.
But in boxing, as we've all learned 1000 times over, styles make fights. And a slick, intelligent, confident, mistake-free southpaw like Rigondeaux is beyond troublesome for Nonito Donaire. Head-to-head, Rigondeaux is one of the toughest potential opponents for Donaire, maybe the toughest. It's not because Rigondeaux got better last night, or showed anything new. It's because Rigondeaux is exactly who he is and has been.
It's no certainty that Rigondeaux would beat Donaire, of course, and that's not what I'm saying. Donaire is a phenomenally talented fighter, one of the most explosive offensive forces in the sport today, and has both his popularity and his mythical pound-for-pound standing for a reason.
What there is for certain, in my view, is the risk: Rigondeaux can beat Donaire, and stands a very good chance of doing so should he get the opportunity. In fact, he stands a good chance of shutting him down and making him look bad, which is even worse. Maybe it's a 50-50 fight. Maybe it's 60-40 in Donaire's favor. But boxing promoters don't generally like to make fights with their star fighters that are any less than 70-30 on paper for the fortunate son. It does happen, but not often.
Which is why, quite frankly, I doubt Donaire will go near him, or perhaps more accurately, why I doubt Top Rank will ever seriously consider putting that fight together. They're not dummies: Donaire has value as a potential star fighter. Rigondeaux does not. Risking Donaire's upside on a guy like Rigondeaux might be interesting boxing for many of us, but it's not your typical boxing business.