One more chance to shine for Rigo

Originally Published: July 11, 2014
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux is as dominant as any fighter in boxing, but for all his talent he has provided precious little entertainment, which is why he is essentially banned from HBO. The network, which works closely with his promoter, Top Rank, simply has no interest in buying his sleep-inducing fights, and it's hard to blame the executives.

Last year, Rigondeaux scored a clear decision victory against 2012 fighter of the year Nonito Donaire to unify two 122-pound titles in a fight HBO had demanded Top Rank make. But Rigondeaux, brilliant as he is, did his best to stink out Donaire in an all-but-unwatchable fight.

Guillermo RigondeauxThe criticism doesn't get to me at all," Rigondeaux said. "It is what it is and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I am a two-time gold medalist and have been considered the best pure boxer today, and some even have me as among the best pound-for-pound fighters.

--Guillermo Rigondeaux

It was so bad that when Top Rank promoter Bob Arum brought up his name to HBO executives to talk about Rigondeaux's next fight, well, let Arum tell you what happened.

"Every time I mention him, they throw up," Arum told ESPN.com at the time.

Eventually, Arum persuaded HBO to give Rigondeaux, a 2000 and 2004 Olympic gold medalist for Cuba and one of boxing's all-time great amateurs, another chance. He returned to the airwaves in December to face Joseph Agbeko, which made the Donaire fight look like an Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward fight.

Rigondeaux easily outpointed helpless former bantamweight titlist Agbeko, but it was a horrific fight that ranks as one of the worst in recent memory. It was so bad that the undercard bout of the telecast -- James Kirkland versus Glen Tapia -- drew more viewers, which is almost unheard of.

After that debacle, Arum was dead in the water with zero chance to persuade HBO to buy Rigondeaux's next fight. So even though HBO is carrying bouts from Top Rank's card on Saturday at the Venetian Macao's Cotai Arena in Macau, China (on HBO2, 5 p.m. ET/PT, same-day tape), it declined to televise Rigondeaux's title defense against former two-time title challenger Sod Kokietgym of Thailand.

Instead, Rigondeaux (13-0, 8 KOs), a 33-year-old Cuban defector living in Miami, has been banished to Spanish-language network UniMas, where his fight will air on "Solo Boxeo Tecate" (11 p.m. ET/PT, same-day tape).

To Rigondeaux's credit, he is viewing the fact that he is fighting on an undercard in China and has been kicked off HBO in as positive a way as possible.

"Macau is a beautiful city, and having a chance to showcase my talents to another part of the world that appreciates every type of sport is something I have been looking forward to, and I am excited to be on this card with another two-time gold medalist [flyweight headliner Zou Shiming] and one-time gold medalist [light heavyweight Egor Mekhontsev]," Rigondeaux, a southpaw, told ESPN.com through an interpreter. "The fans here are in for a show, so it's something I can't wait for.

"As for television, being showcased on UniMas is just another opportunity for me to interact and reach out directly to my main fans in the Latin community that appreciate my fighting style. I am thankful for all the support from my fans that have continuously supported my journey as a professional and expect a huge turnout of viewership on UniMas."

Rigondeaux will be making his fifth title defense and it is the last on a three-fight promotional contract with Top Rank, which hasn't shown much interest in re-signing him, at least not for the purse guarantees he is currently receiving.

Rigondeaux has not let the uncertainty of his contract situation get to him.

"After this fight, I have to sit down with my team and see what my options are and we'll see what is best for the next years of my career," he said. "I believe this is the best part of my career, and I am willing to fight anyone in the division, and when no one is left, I'll then consider moving up."

The one fight Top Rank, and probably HBO, would have interest in would be for Rigondeaux to move up to featherweight and challenge titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko (2-1, 1 KO) of Ukraine, who is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist and all-time great amateur.

Kokietgym (63-2-1, 28 KOs), 37, also a southpaw, will be fighting for a 122-pound world title for the third time. He lost both of his previous title fights to Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2005 (by decision) and 2006 (by first-round knockout), but he hasn't been beaten since.

"Sod is a veteran fighter, with over 60 fights, and on a 37-fight (unbeaten) streak," Rigondeaux said. "I never underestimate any of my opponents, and even before the knockout he went the distance with Ponce De Leon. I'm sure he already learned his lesson and it will be a tough fight. I'm excited to see all the action that happens on Saturday."

If Rigondeaux wins -- and he is heavily favored -- he said he would like to further unify belts against the other junior featherweight titleholders, Leo Santa Cruz and Kiko Martinez. But he also said he didn't think they want any part of him.

"I will fight anyone in the 122 division, but if there are no opportunities I will consider going up in weight to where big-name opponents are," Rigondeaux said. "Hopefully, [we can] make a big fight for the fans against whoever they would like to see me against. I'm open to fighting anyone."

Whatever Rigondeaux does next, the sometimes withering criticism of his style hasn't gotten to him. He said he will always be true to himself and the style that has made him successful.

"The criticism doesn't get to me at all," Rigondeaux said. "It is what it is and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I am a two-time gold medalist and have been considered the best pure boxer today, and some even have me as among the best pound-for-pound fighters. I thank my fans and those that appreciate my style."

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