- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Unified junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there is no denying his incredible talent.
He won nearly 400 amateur bouts, two Olympic gold medals for Cuba, claimed an interim world title in his seventh pro fight and a full title in his ninth. In his 12th fight, in April, he scored his biggest victory, surviving a knockdown and outboxing 2012 fighter of the year Nonito Donaire to unify 122-pound titles.
But like some of Rigondeaux's previous bouts, the fight with Donaire left many disappointed by the utter lack of action, which was mainly Rigondeaux's fault. He is so skilled and so gifted that he rarely needs to take a chance, and he can spend significant parts of a fight backing up and not engaging, yet is still able to easily outbox opponents. That ability, as agonizing as it might be to watch for many, has won him a lot of fights, even if it hasn't made him a lot of fans.
In fact, even after Rigondeaux beat Donaire, HBO -- which had pleaded with Top Rank to make the fight -- was far more interested in Donaire's next fight, which it aired on Nov. 9, than it was in Rigondeaux's. Network executives, like many boxing fans, viewed the southpaw's style as too boring for prime time, the kind that would drive more people away than draw.
Even Top Rank's Bob Arum, Rigondeaux's own promoter, was critical of him after the Donaire fight, saying, "It was not a very engaging fight. If Rigondeaux would stand and fight, he has a lot of power and a lot of skills, but running the way he does really makes it not a watchable fight."
HBO agreed, and when Arum began the process of trying to sell Rigondeaux's next fight to the network, he was met with a "no," leading to an all-time-classic quote:
"Every time I mention him, they throw up," Arum said of HBO executives.
Eventually, HBO had a change of heart -- hey, the network pressed for the Donaire fight, so the least it could do is support the winner, right? -- and agreed to buy Rigo's next fight. That bout will take place Saturday at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., where Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KOs) will face former bantamweight titlist Joseph Agbeko (29-4, 22 KOs) of Ghana in the main event of a tripleheader.
As much criticism as Rigondeaux has received for his boxing style, he's not about to change -- for anyone. After all, it's what won him those two Olympic golds and two world titles.
"I have never felt any pressure to change my style, since I know true boxing fans who appreciate the sport understand my style," Rigondeaux said. "Boxing is a game of hit and don't get hit. Once I'm comfortable in the fight, it just becomes me and my opponent, where the more mistakes my opponent makes, the worse it's going to end for him."
Even if that style means some of the top fighters in and around his division won't show any interest in facing him, Rigondeaux still couldn't care less.
"Not only having such a great track record of championships and gold medals, but a fighter of my caliber who has impeccable defense, yet has the power to end a fight at any moment, is something other fighters are not willing to face, and I see the reason not many fighters want to step up to fight me," the 33-year-old Miami resident said. "I am willing to fight anyone at 122 division."
Agbeko is a bantamweight moving up in weight who is a relatively stationary target and who has had only one fight since back-to-back losses in world title bouts to Abner Mares in 2011.
Still, Rigondeaux was complimentary of his opponent.
"I don't see any weakness in his style," he said. "He is an aggressive fighter who brings the fight to you, [but] he who makes a mistake will pay. I will win the fight based on my style and defensive ability."
That's what some of us are afraid of.