We are closing in on the end of year super-fight between Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko and Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux. Anticipation is building ahead of the tango between the two classy operators which takes place at Madison Square Garden's Theater on December 9.
Regular readers of NY FIGHTS may have read my setup article last month (Looking Forward To A Night At The Theater) but as fight night approaches I have found myself constantly wondering who will win, and how?
This piece will attempt to answer that question by looking at how both men may use their different styles in order to dominate the contest. I also bring in two highly esteemed writers to offer their thoughts before concluding with my own opinion, which may not be to anyone's liking.
Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1-0, 7KOs) from Ukraine is a double Olympic gold medalist and already a two weight world champion at the professional level. Promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank and widely adored in boxing circles the 29-year-old current WBO super-featherweight world champion is seen as the favourite going into this bout. His offensive approach is perceived as being more judge friendly but many respected observers are picking “High-Tech” to end the night early due to the weight advantage he will hold over his opponent.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0-0, 11KOs) is from Cuba and has had a frustrating profession career. Widely avoided, the one time Top Rank fighter was effectively black-balled by that company after he gave a boxing lesson to one of their cash cows, Nonito Donaire, in 2013, and his original promoter and he were not perceived to be low maintenance in negotiating. If history repeats itself next month Bob Arum will be having nightmares about “El Chacal” well into the new year. Rigondeaux's patient, economical style is not widely appreciated which is a shame as the man is an artist. His refusal to change has not brought him many new fans; as a consequence, because he doesn't bring huge numbers, i.e. money, to the table, it makes it convenient for fighters to avoid him and television and promoters to ignore him. Jumping up two weight classed to face Lomachenko, Rigondeaux, now 37, has taken on a huge challenge in order to beat the boxing machinery and once again land himself a headlining slot against an elite rival.
Going into the fight it is fair to assume that the opening stages will be cagey. A high level of respect exists between the two master craftsmen. As the rounds progress both boxers will attempt to gain a foothold by imposing their style onto the opponent; Lomachenko with fast, multi-punch attacks, Rigondeaux by clever trap setting before landing very powerful counters. It will be fascinating to see who gains the upper hand and then what adjustments are made to stem the flow.
Lomachenko is all about angles. Once he kicks his mesmeric footwork into gear he attacks from all conceivable points (and some inconceivable ones) – many opponents are discombobulated, overwhelmed and intimidated so they fold.
On the other hand Rigondeaux's ring generalship is second to none. His animal-like reflexes allow him to stay in the pocket but not get tagged very often. This allows him to land painful counter punches when he pleases – many opponents lose heart and just go into survival mode.
One curiosity to this fight is that despite being the smaller man, Rigondeaux actually has a longer reach. This could be important.
Controlling the range against Lomachenko is very difficult as, due to his constant angle changing, the pocket is always moving – this will be the ultimate test of Rigondeaux's ring generalship. If the Cuban can't slow Lomachenko's assaults down then he may well lose his unbeaten record.
On the flipside – what if Rigondeaux's know-how can neutralise the Ukrainian's offensive output? This would surprise Lomachenko backers but not those who feel that Rigondeaux's skills are sharper and, aided by that longer reach, he is capable of out-boxing Lomachenko.
Enough of the ifs and buts though – time for some difference of opinion.
I reached out to fellow NY FIGHTS writer John Gatling as, despite his respect for Rigondeaux, he is on record picking Lomachenko to win emphatically. John kept it simple and used an example from the past to make his point: “This is a very modern Sugar Ray Leonard v. Wilfred Benitez, only with Leonard being at his absolute best against an older Benitez going up two weight classes to win. How much sense does it make that Benitez would win that fight?”
To offer balance, I contacted former fighter manager and now longform boxing writer for Deadspin, Charles Farrell. Charles is an admirer of Rigondeaux so I wanted his take on how he sees “El Chacal” creating a path to victory: “Vasyl has fallen too much in love with all the things he can do. He seems compelled to constantly trot out every one of his dazzling maneuvers. This excess is the opening for a Rigondeaux win. In theory, at least, Rigondeaux can time some of Lomachenko's functionless moves in order to catch him in the middle of a transition. It will hurt Lomachenko in a way he hasn't been hurt before and it will eradicate his veneer of confidence. Rigondeaux may have to repeat this process a number of times before it'll change the tenor of the fight, but once things have shifted, it becomes Rigondeaux's fight.”
I will conclude this column with my prediction. I think the scorecards will be needed. I am of the belief that Rigondeaux is the better boxer but I also believe that weight classes exist for a reason and that Lomachenko's style will be favoured by the judges. It is with sound mind that I offer the uncommon, and not very popular selection of a draw being the outcome. Rigondeaux will outclass his foe but won't be able to force the stoppage against the talented, heavier Lomachenko. The judges will over-rate Lomachenko's work while under valuing Rigondeaux's effort, the net result being a split draw.
Ultimately everyone around boxing will form their own opinion as to how Lomachenko v. Rigondeaux will play out. What can't be disputed is that it is an intriguing match-up and we don't need to wait much longer to enjoy it. See you at The Garden on December 9!