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Rigondeaux vs Ceja preview: What’s at stake, how they got here, and how the fighters match up

PBC’s Sunday main event isn’t much to talk about, but the co-feature has some intrigue.

Steven Ryan/Getty Images | Twitter

Usually in one of these previews, we talk about the main event more at length, then make some notes on the undercard fights at the end. For this one, though, an odd set of circumstances has us focusing on the FOX co-feature for Sunday’s PBC event, with the main event — Jermell Charlo vs replacement opponent Jorge Cota — simply not much to talk about.

That said, let’s get into Guillermo Rigondeaux vs Julio Ceja.

What’s at stake?

The promise of a shot at the WBC 122-pound title, currently held by Rey Vargas, is on the line for Rigondeaux (18-1, 12 KO) and Ceja (32-3, 28 KO). And for whatever it’s worth, Rigondeaux is still considered by some (TBRB, notably) to be the LINEAL!!!!!!! champion of this division, though he hasn’t completed a significant — or close enough to significant — fight at the weight in nearly three years.

How did Guillermo Rigondeaux get here?

Rigondeaux was an absolutely brilliant amateur — legendary, even. He was Cuban national champion from 2000-06, World Championships gold medalist in 2001 and 2005, and Olympic gold medalist in 2000 and 2004, all as a bantamweight, and among other accolades.

Rigondeaux’s first defection from Cuba came in 2007, but after seemingly changing his mind and going back, he was barred from boxing again for the Cuban team, and left again in 2009, this time turning pro on May 22 of that year in Florida. In Nov. 2010 he faced his first real test, taking on Ricardo Cordoba for an interim WBA title at 122 pounds.

Rigondeaux’s fight with Cordoba was a dull split decision on the Pacquiao-Margarito card at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium), the Cuban southpaw having to come off the canvas in the sixth round. It was not an inspiring performance and it was the first indication that Rigondeaux, while extremely skilled, was not likely to be any sort of star attraction.

Rigondeaux went to Dublin next and wiped out Willie Casey in the first round, then was out of action for 10 months before beating Rico Ramos in a fight that infamously sold just 375 tickets in Las Vegas, the win giving Rigondeaux the full version of the WBA’s 122-pound title. He made 2012 defenses against Teon Kennedy and Roberto Marroquin, both woefully outclassed, before an April 2013 HBO headliner with Nonito Donaire.

Nonito Donaire v Guillermo Rigondeaux Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

At the time, Donaire was considered a top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, but on paper Rigondeaux looked a potential nightmare style matchup for the Filipino left hook specialist, and in the ring, that’s how things played out. Rigondeaux was down once in the 10th round, and Donaire wasn’t easy, but Rigondeaux’s skills were just too much for him.

Top Rank, who had promoted the fight, claimed that HBO executives vomited when Rigondeaux’s name was brought up after — specifically, it was Bob Arum who said this, publicly undermining whatever minuscule chance Rigondeaux might have had to become a real headline fighter. But being fair, Arum wasn’t wrong. Rigo’s next HBO fight came eight months later, and he did himself no favors in an excruciatingly boring decision win over former bantamweight titleholder Joseph Agbeko. Agbeko didn’t help any, mind you, but Rigondeaux showed no desire to step on the gas, winning 12 rounds handily.

From there, the Cuban was basically brushed under the rug. He was booked on a Top Rank card in Macau in July 2014, knocking out Sod Kokietgym in the first round. That wrapped things up for Rigondeaux and Top Rank, and Rigondeaux was left to find dates elsewhere — because of his quality combined with his style, demand was pretty low.

Rigondeaux fought on New Year’s Eve 2014 in Japan, getting dropped twice by Hisashi Amagasa but otherwise pretty much having his way, stopping the home fighter after 11 rounds. About 11 months later, he was back in the States, beating Drian Francisco on the Canelo-Cotto card; again, Rigondeaux’s fight did Rigondeaux no favors.

He went to Cardiff in July 2016 and wiped out Jazza Dickens in two, then it was another 11 months before he fought Moises Flores, the fight ending after the first round, when Flores was knocked out on a punch after the bell. The result was eventually changed to a no contest.

Years after leaving Top Rank, Rigondeaux found himself back on one of their cards. In an attempt to boost a somewhat flagging career, the Cuban went up two divisions to 130 pounds to face another amateur legend, Vasiliy Lomachenko. Lomachenko was naturally bigger, younger, and much closer to his true prime, and the fight was a rout, ending when the Cuban quit after six rounds.

Rigondeaux was out all of 2018 before returning in January of this year with PBC, knocking out Giovanni Delgado in a round. Now 38, Rigondeaux is a bit of an unknown. He hasn’t had a serious fight at his proper weight in years, but at last look had shown no indication that he was ready to relinquish what was once his throne.

How did Julio Ceja get here?

Ceja turned pro at age 16 in 2009, fighting two years worth of low level bouts in the rings of his native Mexico. His first real matchup of consequence came in June 2011, when he knocked out Cesar Javier Gandara to win a minor WBC belt at 115 pounds.

By 2012, Ceja was fighting at bantamweight, where he picked up stoppage wins over veterans Ronald Barrera, Cruz Carbajal, Genaro Camargo, Genaro Garcia, and Luis Melendez. A couple of more wins set Ceja up for a May 2013 fight with Jamie McDonnell in Doncaster, England, with the vacant IBF bantamweight title up for grabs.

McDonnell and Ceja put on a terrific fight at Keepmoat Stadium, with the British fighter winning a majority decision. Ceja did strong work to the body, while McDonnell looked the better boxer and mover of the two, landing good shots to the head. One of the judges absurdly had it 10-2 for McDonnell, but the other cards (6-6 and 7-5) were closer to reality.

Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions

Ceja went back on the win streak, racking up five victories before moving up to 122 for an Aug. 2015 fight with Hugo Ruiz for the interim WBC title. Ceja got dropped in the third round but stormed back to stop Ruiz in five. Six months later, they met again, this time Ruiz stopping Ceja in the opening round.

After 15 months out of action, Ceja bounced back nicely, going to Panama and knocking out Anselmo Moreno in the third round. It was a WBC eliminator, guaranteeing Ceja an eventual title shot. A stay-busy win over Breilor Teran followed in Nov. 2017, and then Ceja was matched with Franklin Manzanilla in May 2018, again meant to be a stay-busy.

Instead, Manzanilla broke Ceja’s nose in the second round and forced him to quit after four. The loss cost Ceja his shot at the WBC belt, but on Sunday he has a chance to earn one again.

How do the fighters match up?

Rigondeaux, at 5’5”, is measured an inch shorter than the 5’6” Ceja, but will have a notable reach advantage, 68 to 63½ inches. The cagey Rigondeaux is unquestionably the more skilled boxer — other than the time he fought Lomachenko, that’s been the case for every fight of his pro career — but he is older now, and while Rigo has never lost at 122 pounds, Ceja can punch and is at the very least a little dangerous in that regard.

Who’s the favorite?

No odds listed that I’ve seen, but Rigondeaux surely is the favorite here.

Who will win?

Check back for our staff picks on Saturday at Noon ET!

Main Event

  • In the show’s main event, former junior middleweight titleholder Jermell Charlo (31-1, 15 KO) takes on late replacement opponent Jorge Cota (28-3, 25 KO). Going by the W-L records alone may make this look like a more interesting fight than it is on paper. Charlo’s lone loss came in his last fight, but most think he was robbed against Tony Harrison, who was supposed to be the opponent again on Sunday. Cota, 31, can bang a little, but we’ve seen him overwhelmed against Marco Antonio Rubio and Erickson Lubin in past fights. Most recently, he dropped a 10-round split decision to Jeison Rosadio on April 20. Given the notice, Cota’s not a bad fill-in and can be counted on to fight, but a fill-in is a fill-in.

Bad Left Hook will have live coverage of Charlo vs Cota and Rigondeaux vs Ceja on Sunday, June 23, starting at 7 pm ET on FOX

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