Record: 9-1 (7 KO) ... Streak: W8 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'6" / 65½" ... Age: 29
Thoughts: Once upon a time, not so long ago, Guillermo Rigondeaux’s move to the pros was treated about like Lomachenko’s was. He was fighting for world titles early, daring to be great, and had the Top Rank machine behind him.
More on Rigondeaux in a moment, but suffice to say, despite his still being unbeaten and a world champion, it hasn’t all been roses for the Cuban.
Lomachenko, meanwhile, has become a TV attraction, a main event fighter on HBO and now ESPN, someone who has stirred up the imagination of everyday fight fans and analysts alike. He lost his second pro fight to Orlando Salido back in 2014, a daring move to even take a fight like that after one pro bout, but you could see him learning from mistakes and the adjustments to the pro game in the bout itself. He came up short, but he truly learned from it.
Since then, Lomachenko has been all but untouchable. He beat Gary Russell Jr in his third pro fight, winning the vacant WBO featherweight title (which Salido had forfeited by missing weight against Lomachenko in the first place).
He tore through Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Gamalier Rodriguez, and Romulo Koasicha in his next three fights, before figuring out that none of the top featherweights were going to want to fight him, and he moved up to 130.
At super featherweight, he’s been almost ridiculous to watch. Rocky Martinez was knocked out in five. Nicholas Walters was beaten into submission in seven. Jason Sosa quit after nine rounds. Miguel Marriaga was pulled after seven. (In fact, Lomachenko has three straight RTD wins on his record, which is pretty rare.)
He’s been a class — at least — above some good pro fighters. But after Martinez and Walters were so thoroughly defeated by Lomachenko, we were already sort of seeing the same thing happen at 130 that happened at 126. Did anyone really want to fight this guy?
Enter Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is moving up two divisions to fight Lomachenko — and has the talent to do it credibly. Lomachenko is the favorite here. He’s a little naturally bigger, he’s younger, and is, to the eye, the more dynamic fighter, with some really impressive performances recently, where he’s just flat overwhelmed opponents. But Rigondeaux has skills that might neutralize some of that, and finally, we have a fight that at least going in, can be seen as iffy for Lomachenko. It’s the first time I’ve thought he might even possibly lose since he matched up with Russell.
Record: 17-0 (11 KO) ... Streak: W17 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'4" / 68" ... Age: 37
Thoughts: Guillermo Rigondeaux has never had it easy as a pro boxer. Well, OK, in some ways he has, but hear me out.
First, there was defecting from Cuba in the first place, which was the biggest challenge, obviously. The 2000 and 2004 Olympic gold medalist turned pro on May 22, 2009, In his seventh pro fight, in November 2010, he defeated Ricardo Cordoba, a solid fighter, to win the interim WBA super bantamweight title on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard.
But the win, while a good win, didn’t impress in a highlight reel sort of way. That would be a recurring theme for Rigondeaux. He smashed Willie Casey in Dublin in early 2011, then 10 months later beat Rico Ramos for the full WBA super bantamweight title, knocking him out in the sixth round of a fight that was an infamous box office bomb in Las Vegas, drawing a mere 375 paid attendees to the Palms, for a total gate of $14,525.
As best he could, Rigondeaux kept knocking down who was lined up to face him. Teon Kennedy and Roberto Marroquin were both soundly defeated in 2012. Then came the biggest fight of Rigondeaux’s career, a matchup with pound-for-pound contender Nonito Donaire on April 13, 2013.
Rigondeaux beat Donaire. Clearly, soundly, cleanly. He did so with little excitement. In spots, he made a terrific fighter look hopeless. Rigondeaux was the better man, and there was no real question about it. (If anything, two of the scorecards were far too close.)
That was the big shot Rigondeaux had looked for in his career. An HBO main event from Radio City Music Hall in New York. All he did was go out there and outbox Nonito Donaire, a perfectly reasonable thing to do in a boxing match.
And it all but killed his career. Then-promoter Bob Arum clearly wasn’t happy with the result he got from the matchup, and made public statements about HBO executives vomiting when he brought up Rigondeaux in meetings. To me, it always seemed like a weird thing, almost a sabotage of Rigondeaux’s rise to the top of the 122-pound division. His own promoter was badmouthing him. It’s not like HBO executives were out there saying Rigondeaux was poison to watch. It was Arum, saying that HBO executives were saying this.
He got another fight on HBO that December, and beat Joseph Agbeko, who stunk out the joint by trying to completely avoid Rigondeaux for 12 rounds, which he was unfortunately able to do for the most part. Rigondeaux won clearly, but it was all pretty clear: Rigondeaux was great, yes, but he was not TV friendly, or at least that was the prevailing idea.
Since then, Rigondeaux has beaten whatever opponents would fight him. He rather quietly ended his time with Top Rank with a KO-1 blowout of Sod Kokietgym in July 2014 in Macau (remember when Top Rank was certain Macau was the future of the sport?), then he went to Japan and beat Hisashi Amagasa on New Year’s Eve 2014, a fight where Rigondeaux was down twice but otherwise dominated.
He made a deal with Roc Nation, that genius firm, and beat Drian Francisco in late 2015, then in 2016 went to the United Kingdom and thrashed Jazza Dickens in two rounds. He returned to the States in June of this year, going to a no-contest with Moises Flores in a fight where Rigondeaux landed a shot after the bell to end the first round, which put Flores flat out.
No one at 122 has wanted anything to do with Rigondeaux. You really can’t look good against him, and he’s just not seen as a star, fair or not. But what he is is one of the best fighters in the sport. Now he takes on someone who is on his level, going up two weight classes for the chance to be in a real marquee bout again, in a fight that returns him to a Top Rank card for the first time in years.
And you know Rigondeaux would love to beat another of their golden boys.
Matchup Grade: A. Maybe this grade will surprise some of you who know I’ve not been the biggest fan of Rigondeaux’s style. But that’s entertainment value, and nothing more. I greatly respect his ability and I don’t think the weight will be a real factor here. This is a dream matchup of sorts, pitting two all-time great amateurs, and a chance to see Rigondeaux in with someone who can, at the very least, actually challenge him, and perhaps a chance to see Lomachenko in with someone who won’t be completely overmatched by his talent alone. This is not likely to be a Fight of the Year contender for action, but the skill level of these two fighters, and the supreme confidence each man has always had, really intrigues me in a head-to-head matchup. It doesn’t quite get the A+ from me, but it’s a strong A.
- Christopher Diaz vs Bryant Cruz: Diaz (21-0, 13 KO) was supposed to face Casey Ramos, but Ramos pulled out of this fight on less than a week’s notice, leaving Bryant Cruz (18-2, 9 KO) to step in. Cruz just fought on November 18 and won a third round knockout over Angel Luna, so he should be in good shape and ready to go, and it’s a big shot for him. He does have two losses, both by stoppage, and is the underdog. Diaz is a solid prospect at 126/130.
- Bryant Jennings vs Don Haynesworth: Jennings (20-2, 11 KO) hadn’t fought since back-to-back losses in 2015 to Wladimir Klitschko and Luis Ortiz, before returning in August with a TKO-2 win in Philadelphia. Now he takes on Haynesworth (13-1-1, 11 KO), a frankly flabby heavyweight (I’m not hating, it is what it is) who shouldn’t be a big challenge.
- Michael Conlan vs Luis Fernando Molina: Another step in the young pro career of Conlan (4-0, 4 KO), a brash and charismatic featherweight from Belfast, someone Top Rank clearly has high hopes for in the coming years. Molina (7-3-1, 2 KO) shouldn’t be expected to do much here.
- Shakur Stevenson vs Oscar Mendoza: Stevenson (3-0, 1 KO) is another promising prospect at 126, like Conlan a former Olympian, Stevenson winning silver at Rio 2016 for the United States. Stevenson has a lot of expectations, and because of that, a lot of pressure. Reviews of his pro performances so far have been mixed. He hasn’t lost a round, but he’s failed to stop two of his three served-up opponents. Mendoza (4-2, 2 KO) has never fought anyone with a winning record.