December 9, 2017: the last time we saw Cuban southpaw Guillermo Rigondeaux inside the squared circle.
In a Madison Square Garden Theater fight against the highly regarded ‘pound-for-pound king’ Vasyl Lomachenko, Rigondeaux retired on his stool after the sixth round, citing an injury to his left hand as the reason he decided not to continue. Lomachenko’s hand was raised; Rigondeaux’s name was dragged through the mud as segments of the boxing community turned their backs on the Cuban for ‘quitting’ in the fight.
‘Quitting’ in boxing has become somewhat of a dirty word. A stigma now surrounds a fighter who chooses to stop fighting, with the swarming boxing public ready to ‘out’ them as having no heart, showing no guts and effectively going against everything that should define you as a fighter.
Post-fight, Lomachenko referred to himself as ‘No Mas-chenko’: a play on words with the infamous Leonard-Duran fight of 1980 in which Duran uttered the two words meaning ‘no more’, as he failed to withstand the punishment ‘Sugar’ Ray was inflicting on him in their rematch in New Orleans.
In increasing his stock, Lomachenko devalued Rigondeaux’s in the process, and as the Cuban looks to rebuild on a potentially career-defining loss in New York, are we reading too much into December’s ‘super-fight’ which many saw as nothing more than a mismatch?
Moving up two weight divisions to fight one of the most technically gifted fighters of his generation wasn’t a decision taken lightly by Rigondeaux. As fans, we knew the risks, but a fighter’s pride coupled with a desire to earn substantial money was too much to turn down for the Cuban who has often struggled to make a splash in the professional ranks.
Since turning pro in 2009, Rigondeaux was unbeaten until his contest with ‘Hi-Tech’. With a 17-0 record, ‘El Chacal’ had won multiple world championships at super bantamweight, including The Ring and lineal titles after defeating Nonito Donaire unanimously on the scorecards in 2013.
These successes, however, never equated to big paydays or promotional deals in which the Cuban could have built on. Traveling from the US to Macau, to Japan, and even to Wales to defend his jewelery, Rigo was forced to chase the B-side money wherever he could, claiming to be ‘ducked’ by a lot of the bigger names around his weight division.
I spoke with Rigondeaux and his manager in the run-up to the Lomachenko fight, a week where his media presence had been unfiltered and unrestricted to a scale not often seen from the fighter. When asking about his frustrations in failing to land a super-fight with some of the best in his division, Rigondeaux gave a candid reply:
”Yes, it is very frustrating. You would think the best would want to fight the best, but all you get is Santa Cruz hiding behind his father’s sombrero like a chicken with the excuses that I am boring to watch. [Carl] Frampton doing what no other Irish warrior (with the exception of [Scott] Quigg) that is also another coward, hiding and making excuses not to fight me. I mean at least I understand why Santa Cruz is hiding, he’s got zero chance of beating me. But Frampton and Quigg? I expected a lot more being where they are from. And then there’s ‘I give up’ [Nicholas] Walters. That dude beat Nonito [Donaire] and immediately went on a campaign of calling me boring everywhere. Then I give up and the fans believe this shit! It is very frustrating indeed.”
Since then, there have been movements in the super-bantamweight division. Daniel Roman (25-2-1), Rey Vargas (32-0), Ryosuke Iwasa (25-2), and Isaac Dogboe (19-0) all hold titles, with Rigondeaux still considered the lineal champion.
But what lies ahead for the two-time Olympic gold medalist?
Breaking his silence recently in an interview with George Ebro, Rigondeaux seemed positive on a return to the ring, in an attempt to rebuild his career. “I was resting and there was nothing else, but we came back again, we are in the gym and ready to start a new chapter in our career. I have not lost my passion for boxing.”
He went on to claim that facing Lomachenko was not necessarily a mistake, but the fight didn’t play out how he expected; citing the difference in weight to be a huge disadvantage.
Rumours of his inclusion in the upcoming second season of the World Boxing Super Series were soon put on hold after the bantamweight division confirmed all eight places, with Rigondeaux not featuring. Whether the Cuban didn’t fancy the possibility of three fights at the bantam limit is a possibility in his omission from the tournament; winning all of his amateur golds at this weight will seem like a lifetime ago for a fighter who most recently fought at 130 pounds.
This format, however, would be a perfect fit for a promotional ‘nomad’ like Rigondeaux who has struggled to entice big-money fights to his doorstep. If Kalle Sauerland and the WBSS decide to include the super bantams or the featherweights in the third of three tournaments in the 2018-19 season, the 37-year-old should bite the hand of the WBSS off in an attempt to win the Muhammad Ali Trophy. This, of course, is still all speculation, with many other weights in the running to complete Season 2 of this exciting format.
With a loss now on his record, Rigondeaux will be even more willing to take the biggest fights in the final few years of his career, as he throws caution to the wind in trying to squeeze out as much money as possible from the sport he has dedicated his life to.
Rigondeaux has always stated he will never turn down a challenge, and with a ‘1’ in his loss column maybe some of the bigger names in the smaller divisions will follow suit and agree to fight the now wilting former champion.
Boxing has never given Rigondeaux his big break. He’s had to jump up two weight divisions in order to try and craft his own when in reality he should be celebrated as one of the most technically gifted fighters to ever grace the squared circle. A man worn down by the sport he has given so much to should feel free to make selfish decisions in order to salvage any possible rewards remaining in his profession; those decisions, remain to be seen.