Rigondeaux has been ready all along
As Guillermo Rigondeaux's piston-like left hand was soaked up by Rico Ramos' gut last Friday night, an unquestionably bright star got even brighter. Rigondeaux, widely considered one of the greatest amateurs of all time, became a world champion in only his ninth professional fight.
The talk now among boxing's cognoscenti is whether Rigondeaux is ready for the challenge of Nonito Donaire, a fighter who resides in the upper echelons of most pound-for-pound rankings and whom Rigondeaux called out immediately after the Ramos KO. Making the fight should be a mere formality, as both blue-chip pugilists are signed to Top Rank. Donaire undoubtedly would be favored in such a matchup, but about the question of whether Rigondeaux is ready for the challenge? The answer is simple: He's been ready his whole life.
Rigondeaux's story is well-documented. A prized product of the Cuban amateur boxing program who won titles nationally and overseas with ease, Rigondeaux later defected -- only to be sent back, ostracized in his homeland and then defect again. In an amateur career spanning roughly 400 fights, he reputedly lost only 12. Few fighters have the skills to outbox Rigondeaux, while fewer still can show him something in the ring that others haven't. That includes Donaire.
A common problem in the amateur-to-professional transition is a fighter's ability, and recognition of the need, to not merely box but to fight. In the amateurs, a knockdown is worth as much as a clean jab. In the professional ranks, it can end a career. But Rigondeaux's early knockout rate is high. He possesses two powerful hands capable of delivering crippling pain, to which Ramos can testify. Neither is conditioning an issue. When Rigondeaux entered the ring against Ramos, he was a veritable Gordian Knot of tightly wound muscle -- a toy-sized Marvin Hagler. Worse for Donaire, Rigondeaux is a speed merchant in the ring, with arms fluttering like a hummingbird's wings. If Donaire soon finds himself staring at Rigondeaux from across the ring, he should be worried.
It would be foolhardy for anyone to assume Rigondeaux isn't ready for the challenge of Donaire. He was preparing for it when he won a fistful of Cuban national titles, when he won his second Olympic gold and when he was denied the chance to fight for a third Olympic medal. When he defected from Cuba for the second time, Rigondeaux gave up his life in Cuba to pursue the dream of professional glory. He was ready for Donaire before Rico Ramos was left writhing in pain, and he's ready now.
Rigo simply isn't in Donaire's class
A word of caution to Guillermo Rigondeaux, and to Rigo fans: Nonito Donaire ain't Rico Ramos.
Things Rigondeaux was able to do against Ramos last Friday in Las Vegas en route to a KO-6 victory, putting a claim on Ramos' WBA junior featherweight crown, won't be so easy to pull off against Donaire, a man on a different talent tier.
If they clash, if Rigo sticks and moves -- and let's be up front here, he often sticks lazily, with a half-ass jab -- I'm pretty confident Donaire won't track him down with the same attitude that Ramos did. That is to say, with not enough attitude.
Even when the 9-0 Rigondeaux is being aggressive, so much of his time is spent feinting. Donaire, who debuts at 122 on Feb. 4 against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., isn't going to go for that stuff. I see him cracking the lefty with a left hook after he sees a lame-o feinty jab. Repeatedly.
I would expect Rigo to revert to the form I've noted in him before. I foresee him being excessively defensive, as he was in a SD-12 win against Ricardo Cordoba on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard in November 2010. The man just doesn't throw enough punches to bother Donaire or take him out of his preferred rhythm.
I repeat: Donaire is no Ramos, who in Round 6 of the Rigondeaux clash complained about being held and hit, wasn't able to work through discomfort to his left eye and then went to the canvas off a left hand to the body and was counted out. To put it delicately, Ramos didn't exude the spirit of an ultimate warrior in that clash, so anyone who bumped Rigondeaux, 31, up a few notches in their rankings might want to rethink it. He isn't in Donaire's class, despite having fought around 400 amateur bouts, despite his winning a crown in just his ninth pro scrap.
Rigo hasn't lost a bout since 2003, in the amateurs. But Donaire, busier and more powerful, would end that streak.
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