Rigondeaux's new deal a really big deal
The stalled professional career of two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, whom many consider the best amateur in boxing history, is about to get back on track.
Rigondeaux, a Cuban defector, hasn't fought since February because of a tug of war over his managerial and promotional contracts, but they have been sorted out and the junior featherweight has a new three-year deal with Bob Arum's Top Rank.
"We finally got it finished," Arum told ESPN.com. "It had gotten bogged down over some details but finally everybody has signed off on it. No more legal problems over this right or that right."
Rigondeaux's first bout under the new deal is scheduled as an eight-rounder against an opponent to be determined on Aug. 21 in Tijuana, Mexico, on a "Top Rank Live" (FS en Espanol) card, Top Rank's Carl Moretti said.
Along with a new promotional team, Rigondeaux will also have a new trainer. After working briefly with Freddie Roach and Alejandro "Pupi" Torre, the 29-year-old Rigondeaux (5-0, 4 KOs) is relocating from Miami to Houston to train with Ronnie Shields.
The signing makes sense for Top Rank, which is heavily involved in the featherweight division, where Rigondeaux will eventually fight. Top Rank promotes titleholders Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa -- one of Rigondeaux's Cuban amateur teammates and a fellow Olympic gold medalist -- and Orlando Salido, among other top 126-pounders.
"The kid was the greatest amateur fighter ever and fits in with all these great featherweights," Arum said. "A guy like that could fight for a title by his 10th fight. In less than a year, he could be in a big event. I saw him in the gym and he's one of these terrific-trained Cuban fighters, well-schooled, and he technically is better than Gamboa. I don't know if he punches as hard, but he's a marvelous prospect. He's certainly a lot better than a lot of our American kids."
Rigondeaux's manager, Gary Hyde, and promoter Luis DeCubas had been embroiled in a power struggle over the fighter, who had signed with another manager, Tony Gonzalez, after signing with Hyde. Gonzalez then brought Rigondeaux to DeCubas before a judge upheld Hyde's managerial contract. Hyde wanted to look for a better promotional deal and found one at Top Rank.
Pat English, Hyde's attorney, told ESPN.com that Hyde spoke with several other promoters to field offers for Rigondeaux, including Lou DiBella, Golden Boy and Dan Goossen.
"It became obvious that the Arum deal was the best deal," English said. "Arum believed he could reach a deal with the DeCubas group, so then people had to work to get a deal that was acceptable to everybody. It's a deal that is expected to advance Mr. Rigondeaux's career substantially and quickly."
After a couple of months of discussion, Hyde, DeCubas and Top Rank worked out a deal in which Top Rank will become Rigondeaux's promoter and DeCubas will retain a financial interest, Arum and English said.
"One of the attractive things is that he can fight from 118 pounds to 122 and can easily move up to 126, which opens up tons of potential fights. He just fits in," Moretti said. "So we're bringing in a guy who the TV networks like, who clearly can fight and doesn't need a lot of development. One or two fights and you put him into the mix and see where it shakes out."
Shields was approached about a month ago by Hyde and English to gauge his interest in working with Rigondeaux. Shields told ESPN.com that they quickly "hashed out a deal."
Shields, a vastly experienced trainer who has worked with Pernell Whitaker and Mike Tyson, among others, said Rigondeaux was supposed to arrive in Houston this week to begin training.
"We found him an apartment and we're going to put a lease on it and he should be here by Wednesday," said Shields, who also trains junior middleweight prospect Erislandy Lara.
Lara was a star Cuban amateur and defector who also was one of Rigondeaux's amateur teammates.
Shields has yet to work out with Rigondeaux, but said he has watched videos of his fights and knows all about his big reputation.
"This kid is a really good fighter," Shields said. "He can fight. I'm trying to get everything situated so when he gets here everything will be set. I looked at some tape of him and went over a few fights and, just looking at him, I know what his style is. He's a southpaw, but I worked with Pernell, who was also a southpaw. I don't have any trouble training southpaws. I know what they like to do and what they don't like to do. [Rigondeaux] is 29 years old, and with as many amateur fights as he has had, it's like he's been a professional for a long time. He's ready to go. He knows how to fight."
Rigondeaux won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004 and was a seven-time Cuban national champion during an extensive amateur career in which he had nearly 400 bouts. He defected in early 2009 after a previous failed attempt with Lara in 2007.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.