Former junior featherweight champ and pound-for-pound contender Guillermo Rigondeaux has mostly been out of the spotlight for years now, and while he’s only suffered one defeat — a bad one to Vasiliy Lomachenko at junior lightweight — the years have kept on rolling over, and Rigondeaux has kept on getting older.
He’s 39 now, and the Cuban amateur legend, a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2000 and 2004), has decided to take a risk: a move down to bantamweight, a weight he’s never made as a professional.
That run will start — or try to start — this Saturday night on Showtime, when Rigondeaux (19-1, 13 KO) faces fellow veteran Liborio Solis (30-5-1, 14 KO) for the vacant secondary WBA “world” title.
With a win, Rigondeaux will claim world titles in two weight classes, even if a lot of fans don’t take the claim seriously, given the fact the WBA has a bantamweight champion, and it’s Naoya Inoue, the recognized No. 1 118-pounder in the world today. And he’s reporting no trouble with making weight.
“Bantamweight is my division. I have no issues making that weight,” he said, adding that he feels he always should have been at this weight. “I feel 100 percent and I believe that bantamweight has always been my best weight. I did well at 122 pounds, so i stayed there. My plan now is to dominate this division.”
Dominating a talented division where pretty much every key name is younger than Rigondeaux may be a tall order, but he will be favored to beat Solis, a 37-year-old former junior bantamweight titleholder and bantamweight title challenger who came up short against Shinsuke Yamanaka and Jamie McDonnell in 2016.
Solis knows there’s talk about not just Rigondeaux’s age, but the toll it’s taken on his style. Once known as a pure technician — in good and bad ways, depending on whom you asked — Rigondeaux showed a close quarters, warring style in his last fight. There is suspicion that his legs don’t have the spring they did, and that he just can’t move around the way he did in his prime.
Solis says he’s going to be ready no matter what Rigondeaux brings.
“My opponent has been a great champion and I’m very excited to be here to fight him,” Solis said. “This is obviously going to be a great fight. I’m a warrior who always comes to fight. He can pick his strategy however he wants. But I just want to get in there and put my skills on display.”
He’s also not putting any stock into the weight.
“I don’t think anyone’s weight or which division we fought at in the past will be an advantage,” he said. “I’m sure he could have always fought at 118. The person with the advantage is who wants it more.”
On Rigondeaux’s side, he’s confident due to what he feels is a great partnership with trainer Ronnie Shields. This will be their second fight together.
“Me and Ronnie Shields have great chemistry and worked well together,” Rigondeaux said. “Ronnie is a great trainer and I’m looking forward to a long run that we’re going to have together. I’m going to be phenomenal in the ring. I’m going to unify 118 pounds just like I did at 122 pounds. I’m excited to get started.”
As for the question of his fighting approach, he says that will remain to be seen.
“My strategy will depend on the fight that Solis brings,” he said. “I’m a veteran in this sport, dating back to the amateurs, so I’m used to seeing so many different styles. I’ll fight the way that gives me the best chance to win.”