In just under two months boxing will stage a historic encounter. The bout between two double Olympic gold medalists is a first for the sport. It may well turn out to be the most technical fight to take place in the modern era.
Cast in the leading roles are Guillermo Rigondeaux and Vasyl Lomachenko. The two former amateur standouts will put their prodigious skills to the ultimate test by facing each other at Madison Square Garden's Theater on December 9. The fight will likely fall into the performance art genre – a boxing purist's dream. I can't wait to be among the rest of the theatergoers so I can see in person how the drama unfolds.
Allow me to introduce the main characters and set the stage for what we might see in New York two weeks prior to Christmas.
Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux (17-0-0, 11KOs) turned pro in 2009 after successfully defecting from his native Cuba. Now aged 37 the WBA “Super” 122lb champion will be jumping up two weight divisions to face Lomachenko. The diminutive southpaw has struggled to entice fighters in and around his own weight class to face him so, after a concerted social media campaign, Rigondeaux now finds himself with a super-featherweight challenge on his hands.
Trained in the famous Cuban style of boxing from childhood, Rigondeaux reportedly holds an amateur record of 475-12. What we do know for sure is that his predominantly defence first/accurate counter punching style has served him well. Guillermo's subtle use of the jab as a pawing trap setter shouldn't be disregarded when breaking down his boxing approach though; it is understated and marvellous in the same motion. Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 plus many more high value amateur rewards along with two 122lb world titles as a professional are evidence enough that “El Chacal” knows what to do in the squared circle. Rigondeaux has picked up plenty of critics during his professional campaign for not fighting more aggressively more often but when the opportunity arises he is capable of quickly switching to attack and can strike with venom. Past opponents who have left the ring with broken orbital bones and shattered jaws will agree with this. There have been fights where fellow professional boxers have simply given up throwing punches as the Rigondeaux puzzle has proven to be too complex to solve.
Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko (9-1-0, 7KOs) hails from Ukraine and has been boxing professionally since 2013. At 29 years old he appears to be at or very close to his athletic peak. Already a two weight world champion, Lomachenko looks to have the talent to pick up belts in at least another two weight divisions should he wish. Also a southpaw his WBO 130lb title will be on the line in December.
Lomachenko brings similar amateur pedigree to the ring. Vasyl's scorecard from his vest and head-guard days is given as 396-1. He bagged Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 and also had first place podium positions in two World Championships and one European Championship. This is where the similarities with Rigondeaux end. Lomachenko is lauded by the vast majority of boxing observers for his busy attacking output, clever use of angles via his phenomenal footwork and willingness to engage. Despite his low number of outings as a professional he is frequently named close to the top of many pound-for-pound lists.
A recent trend has seen Lomachenko opponents retiring during bouts. The last three men to glove up against “Hi-Tech” have stopped proceedings themselves or seen their corner do it for them as facing the Ukrainian offensive genius has overwhelmed them.
Lomachenko's other-worldly offense versus Rigondeaux's trap setting defence is perhaps the main aspect of this fight but there are some other issues to consider.
Both boxers have many tools in their weaponry, and given the calibre of opponent they will need to utilise them all. Even at his advanced age Rigondeaux's reflexes still seem cat-like. He often looks to be in range, but can usually slip most of the punches launched his way before countering. Will this work against Lomachenko's unique attack that comes from all angles? Both men have plenty of experience but it is fair to suggest that they go into their toughest encounter against one another having had no dress rehearsal for what is to come. Under the lights on a one off opening night it will be the man who executes his plan to perfection who will take the applause and emerge with victory.
The issue of Rigondeaux making the jump to 130lbs also needs to be looked at. A career super-bantamweight who looks like he could make the bantamweight limit, has the Cuban gone up too far here? He should be applauded for seeking out the toughest challenge in order to prove his worth and it will be interesting to see what impact his power punches have on the bigger man.
Lomachenko, while not noted as a huge puncher, did score a spectacular knock-out victory over Roman Martinez last year. “Hi-Tech” will be confident that if he times one perfectly on Rigondeaux's chin, which has been questioned in the past, the great Cuban will go the same way Martinez did.
There are so many factors to consider leading up to this fight that I could keep on writing from now until the opening bell and probably still not cover everything. The bottom line is that this matchup has captured the imagination of fans across the world and word from the box-office is that all the tickets have been sold.
Established broadcasters ESPN (USA) and BoxNation (UK) will televise the anticipated high quality demonstration of the sweet science.
In what has been a special year for boxing it may well be a contest that takes place in 2017's final month that sweeps the board when it comes to the annual accolades being awarded. The amount of times in a year a boxing match can challenge Broadway in terms of being the hot ticket in town is limited. On December 9however the premiere attraction taking place in a theater building in New York City will involve the sport we love. It's going to be a beautiful event – two precise operators displaying their classy skills before a knowledgeable audience, I think I already mentioned that I can't wait.