The Chronic Inactivity of Guillermo Rigondeaux
Boxing, the only professional sport I can think of that has no clearly recognised World Governing Body.
Of course there are sanctioning bodies who rank fighters and provide titles but they have no overall authority when it comes to making sure fights take place.
One of the byproducts of this is certain boxers, regardless of talent, are sometimes relegated to sitting on the sidelines for long spells during their careers. There can be many reasons for this inactivity and each case and its contributing factors must be looked at on an individual basis. One fighter whose career seems to have gone down this path of inactivity is the ridiculously talented Cuban southpaw Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux.
Officially listed as being 36 years old, many suspect he is older, Rigondeaux competes in the Super-Bantamweight (122lb) division. The diminutive counter puncher enjoyed one of the most successful amateur careers of all time. Two Olympic and World Championship gold medals are the most high profile prizes won by the Cuban during his amateur days which ended in 2007 after he was arrested in Brazil while trying to defect during that year's Pan American games.
Banned by Fidel Castro from ever pulling on his national vest again Rigondeaux was ostracised in Cuba before he finally made a successful defection to the United States in February 2009. He made his professional debut in May of that year in Miami.
Rigo's early pro career was moved along at a respectable rate. Promoted by Top Rank and with a fair amount of interest from media and fans (due to his outstanding amateur achievements) he fought eleven times in forty months – active by any standards in the sport today. “El Chacal” won the WBA interim 122lb strap in his 7th outing and then the full version of that title in his 9th fight when he destroyed Rico Ramos via 6th round stoppage.
Rigondeaux fought on high profile cards during this run and experienced boxing in a few of the well known Las Vegas venues and also at Cowboys Stadium.
Then April 13, 2013 happened.
This was the night Guillermo faced 2012 fighter of the year and fellow Top Rank boxer Nonito Donaire. The contest took place in New York City and saw the widely regarded two best Super-Bantamweights in the world going head to head. Despite being the underdog Rigondeaux controlled the fight from start to finish, leaving Donaire looking confused and out of ideas. The unanimous decision victory for Rigo saw him add Donaire's WBO 122lb title to his collection and should have guaranteed him the status of regular main event headliner going forward.
For numerous reasons the exact opposite happened and since that night in April 2013 Rigondeaux has only gloved up five times, two of these appearances so brief they have to be placed in the blink and you miss it category.
The victory over Donaire did not go down well with either his Top Rank bosses or management from their TV output partner HBO.
Top Rank had an established bankable star in Nonito Donaire. There is no doubt in my mind about who they would have preferred to have won that particular unification bout. Witnessing their man with the already established fan base being outclassed by a boxer who stuck to the amateur style of fighting must have got under their skin. On some level it does look like the lack of effort that went into promoting Rigondeaux during the rest of his time with Top Rank was some form of payback for the way he dethroned Donaire.
During this time the Cuban was co-promoted by a small Miami based outfit, Caribe Promotions, who it has been said are difficult to deal with or even contact, so this may have been a contributing factor to the post-Donaire promotional issues he experienced.
The remainder of Rigondeaux's Top Rank contract saw him fight in the walk-out slot in Atlantic City, a shutout on the cards over Joseph Agbeko who was just keen to survive after tasting Rigo's power early, then two off TV bouts in Asia – Macao in July 2014 (KO1 over Anusorn Yotjan) and Japan on the final day of that year (a classic which is described below).
Influential US TV network HBO were not keen to show Rigondeaux after the Donaire fight. Relying on subscribers paying a premium rate for their output, executives, perhaps not overly impressed with viewing figures, were said to be unhappy with Rigo's refusal to adapt his fighting style into a more fan friendly (some may say reckless) style of boxing more common at the professional level.
Rigondeaux is a master of his craft and does not want to change his style of fighting (think Floyd Mayweather in the latter part of his campaign but without Floyd's out of ring persona that draws people to watch his fights). Abandoning this counter punching, distance controlling style may have secured “El Chacal” more TV dates in the United States but he has thus far not made any changes to the tactics that have served him so well.
The earlier mentioned fight in Japan, against Hisashi Amagasa, was ironically the type of bout the HBO would have been delighted to show on their screens. Faced with an aggressive opponent who towered over him Rigo found plenty of opportunities to let his hands go and land counter shots. Drawn into almost a shootout style of fight I sensed some carelessness from Guillermo at times and he was on the canvas twice in the 7th round. Recovering, he put Amagasa down in the 9th stanza before the Japanese boxer retired on his stool after the 11th, his face badly swollen having been on the end of Rigo's accurate and powerful counters for 33 minutes.
It was an outstanding boxing match and I was sure that Rigondeaux had found a new home. I was convinced it was only a matter of time before he would sign a promotional deal in Japan and fight regularly in that boxing mad market.
Frustratingly this was not the case and it seemed to take forever before a promotional contract with Roc Nation Sports was signed. This delay meant that 2015 was an unproductive year for Rigondeaux. The lack of title defences saw both belts removed from him by the sanctioning bodies and when he did finally get in the ring on the Canelo-Cotto undercard in November his performance was underwhelming to say the least.
His opponent that night, Drian Francisco, was happy just to survive. Similar to Agbeko in Atlantic City, Rigo allowed this to happen which led to more criticism from observers for his lack of offensive output. While it is difficult to look good against opponents only intent on hearing the final bell Rigo could've done himself a favour in both of these bouts by being more active in looking for a stoppage victory.
2016 has been another disappointing year for anyone wanting to see Rigondeaux in action. Just two rounds were completed in July in Wales when his opponent, James Dickens, had to retire with a broken jaw. The punch that inflicted that damage to Dickens was a peach and served as a reminder that Guillermo has some seriously potent offense available to him.
Ironically though this fight in the UK in July ended up being a defence of the WBA “Super” 122lb belt as Rigondeaux was reinstated as the holder of this title when Carl Frampton vacated and moved up to 126lbs.
Putting things simply, the man needs to fight more frequently. Long spells out of the ring can't be ideal for a boxer who is at least 36 years old; as great as he is no-one can beat father time. His reflexes and skills won't be there forever so “El Chacal” would be best advised to get busy in the meantime. He has the WBA “Super” title back in his posession which should at the very least mean that there is always a mandatory challenger for him to face. Due to his size the highest weight class I could realistically see Rigo fighting at would be Featherweight. I suspect he could still make Bantamweight so perhaps fights in that division could be looked at by his team if challengers at Super-Bantam are not forthcoming.
Due to his previous problems with US broadcasters securing dates in America may be difficult but he would be welcomed by fans in the UK if he decided to have a few more fights over here. I'm sure boxing followers in Japan would say the same goes for them.
While it is clear that Rigondeaux is not going to change his style for anyone it would be beneficial to him if, when faced by a foe just content to survive, he did go on the front foot to press for the knock-out. He did it in his early pro fights so a return to this would perhaps curry some favour with fight fans who now label him as “boring.”
It is often said by fans and writers that boxing needs to see the best vs. the best. There is no doubt that the undefeated Cuban is one of the best pure boxers operating today. While I know plenty fans and some writers will disagree, in the case of Rigondeaux it would be nice to see a fighter with his expertise fight more regularly. Whether you watch or not is up to you but I know I certainly would.