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Guillermo Rigondeaux moves down in weight to seek another world title

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The Cuban amateur legend looks to enhance his professional legacy with a risky move down to bantamweight on Saturday.

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Former super bantamweight king Guillermo Rigondeaux has had a rockier pro career than his 19-1 (13 KO) record might indicate, having struggled to gain public interest — or, at times, interest from his own promoters — despite being one of the sport’s most skilled fighters during his prime years.

Those prime years are now in the past. At 39, Rigondeaux will move down to bantamweight this Saturday night on Showtime, facing fellow veteran Liborio Solis for the vacant WBA “world” bantamweight, a secondary belt.

“I’m trying to make history by winning a third world title in a second weight class, while also matching my two [Olympic] gold medals,” said Rigondeaux from training camp. “I want to make a statement and solidify my legacy as one of the best Cuban fighters ever. I want the boxing world to be talking about me, as I seek to become a world champion once again. Feb. 8 will be a special day for me and my family.”

The move down does not come without risk. Rigondeaux is getting old — a fact, not a criticism — and didn’t look like himself in his last outing, a June 2019 win over Julio Ceja. Instead of moving and defending and looking to counter-punch, Rigondeaux stayed in the pocket and warred with Ceja, scoring an eighth round stoppage in a fight where he was losing on all three scorecards.

It’s been debated, that change in style. Was it because Rigondeaux just doesn’t have the legs to “be himself” anymore, or is he purposely trying to garner some more praise and attention as a TV-worthy fighter as his career winds down and the paydays become fewer with each fight?

We might never fully know the answer to that. After all, even if Rigondeaux said it was a choice to change, there would be people who speculated he’s just trying to keep up appearances and not admit his athleticism has naturally declined.

But Rigondeaux isn’t really saying either way, and is only saying he feels good moving down to 118.

“I know at super bantamweight I am a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “Now that I’m moving down to bantamweight, I feel stronger and I’m getting the most out of my skills. The bantamweight and super bantamweight divisions are filled with great fighters to test myself against. It’s a very exciting time and I am training very hard for each opportunity that is granted to me.”

As far as training goes, this will be Rigondeaux’s second straight fight under the tutelage of the respected Ronnie Shields in Houston.

“Ronnie and I are working very hard and smart,” said Rigondeaux. “We have put together a great game plan that we are going to execute on fight night. All of my tools are getting sharpened up and everyone will see that the hard work we’ve put in will pay off. Ronnie is a great coach and I’ll be fighting with something to prove on fight night.”

Shields has nothing but praise for the Cuban craftsman, too.

“He is very focused, and one of the hardest workers in the gym,” said Shields. “Rigondeaux is so determined to become a world champion once again. He comes to camp every single day with that goal, and I don’t see any way he doesn’t achieve it.”

Solis (30-5-1, 14 KO) is a 37-year-old from Venezuela, now living in Panama. He challenged Jamie McDonnell for the same secondary WBA belt in 2016, losing a debated decision in Monte Carlo. The two rematched a year later, which ended in a no contest in three rounds. He also lost to Shinsuke Yamanaka in a WBC title bid in 2016.

Solis is a decent fighter, currently on a five-fight win streak in lesser bouts, none of them scheduled past eight rounds, and one of them fought at lightweight about 11 months ago. He was last seen in July, winning a first round knockout in Panama City.

On paper, if Rigondeaux feels alright, Solis isn’t a big threat, but Rigondeaux is the guy with something to prove, and he knows that.

“Solis is a good opponent and a worthy challenger, but I am ready to reclaim my status as a world champion,” he said. “I’m going to show people why I am one of the best boxers of my generation.

“This is a very big deal for me. For years I was one of the best fighters in the world, if not the best fighter in the world. When you’re a champion, you only fight the top opponents and those are the type of fights I want. I’m going to start another long reign as champion beginning Feb. 8.”