It was no great surprise that Guillermo Rigondeaux boxed beautifully and brilliantly on Saturday night. That is exactly what he has done his entire life, from two Olympic gold medals through his meteoric rise in the professional ranks. The surprise was that it was enough to easily outpoint Nonito Donaire, a fighter presumed to possess not just the physical tools, power and speed, but that special, intangible quality to rise to the occasion on the night of his biggest challenge.
Donaire fizzled under the bright lights at Radio City Music Hall, appearing more intent on winning a feinting contest than landing the concussive strikes he would need to take Rigondeaux out of his rhythm. Any criticism of Rigondeaux's activity level is misguided. When Donaire landed his biggest shots, a left hook to the eardrum at the end of round three, a knockdown off a clinch in round ten, Rigondeaux came back with a fury and closed those rounds the better man. In the middle stretch of the fight, with an anxious crowd and fuming boxing writers thirsting for gore, Donaire never pressed the action, never forced Rigondeaux to do any more than what he was doing. Rigondeaux landed a few clean punches, stayed out of harm's way, and put the rounds in the bank. To demand some kind of emphatic beating was not fair to the man skillfully outpointing his opponent with ease. The onus is on the losing fighter to change styles, not the man building what would be an insurmountable lead.
Boxing may be a business, but first and foremost it's a sport. Winning is the object, and Rigondeaux staying within himself accomplished just that. Any dismay over the lack of exciting exchanges should be directed squarely at Donaire. He consistently found the tricky Rigondeaux within range and simply would not let his hands go. Perhaps it was Rigondeaux's feints, his reflexes, and sharp counterpunching dissuading Donaire from unleashing his artillery. Perhaps the laissez-faire attitude in Donaires corner, with trainer Robert Garcia seemingly viewing this one-sided exhibition as a close fight, led Donaire to believe he need not change a thing despite the massive deficit he was accruing.
Typically, the result was instantly interpreted through hyperbolic lenses. In one camp, Rigondeaux humiliated, embarrassed, outclassed, and defecated on Donaire, instantly announcing himself as the greatest defensive fighter this side of Money Mayweather. A less vocal minority insisted Donaire was out of shape, the victim of poor corner advice, and surely not to blame for an opponent who ran all night attempting to stink out a win on points. Boxing, the grayest and most subjective of all sports, is too often analyzed with stark polarity.
Was Donaire unable to find that crucial, more aggressive, gear he needed because he was befuddled by Rigondeaux's movement and defense? Or was that gear simply a figment of our optimism about Donaire's extraordinary talent? After all, he never really needed it when facing less mobile, less skilled, more physically vulnerable opponents in the past.
A cynical revisionist can now go back and debunk each and every one of Donaire's crowning moments as a pro. Vic Darchinyan was wild and reckless, bound to be caught eventually. Fernando Montiel was woefully undersized and past his prime. Toshiaki Nishioka was well past his expiration date and more than a year removed from his previous fight, a close decision win over faded Rafael Marquez. Donaire was overrated and the great Rigondeaux ‘exposed' that. Generally when the word ‘exposed' is used in these situations, the only real exposure is of the gummy bears posing as grey matter in the skulls of those who uttered it.
For if Donaire was so rudimentary and just another product of the pound-for-pound generation hype machine, a one-left-hook pony, does that not diminish the accomplishment of Rigondeaux? These types of contradictions don't exist in the black-and-white minds of the unimaginative. The winner is the greatest and the loser is a bum, or the winner is a fraud and the loser an unfortunate victim of circumstance.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter how or why the events transpired, only that they did. Boxing's subjectivity lends itself to drawing whatever conclusions one desires, belittlement and skepticism two of the sport's favorite pastimes. Clearly, George Foreman was just a chinny, one-note puncher when Muhammad Ali caught him in that ill-fated rumble. And James Toney was weight-drained and listless when Roy Jones picked him apart, everyone knows that. Same for Diego Corrales with Mayweather, so you can throw their greatest triumphs out the window.
We can dismiss every great fighter's best win while we're at it and bask in the superiority that comes from debunking mainstream thought. Or maybe it's best to accept the fact that when two men contract to fight, they alone are responsible for the condition they show up and the performance they deliver. The closest boxing ever comes to some kind of objective truth lies between those ropes, when the eyes of the world are upon it. What happens in the ring is the only thing that matters. On Saturday night, Guillermo Rigondeaux boxed beautifully and brilliantly, and he clearly defeated one of the most highly regarded fighters in the sport. All hail Rigondeaux.