Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Big Fight Preview: Vasyl Lomachenko Vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux

By Peter Silkov

When Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11koes) takes on Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1, 7koes) next week (December 9) at New York’s Madison Square Garden, it will be a throwback fight to the days of the 1980s, when the highly-tuned,and technically gifted, champions of that era regularly faced off against each other in matches, which are now part of the sport's rich history.

For raw technical brilliance, it is difficult to find any other active boxers who can compare with either Lomachenko or Rigondeaux. Both men had superb amateur careers, culminating in each man winning two Olympic Games Gold medals each. This is the first time in boxing history that two boxers, both with two Olympic Gold Medals each, have met as professionals for a world championship. Both men have unbelievable amateur records, with Rigondeaux’s reported to be 463-12, and Lomachenko’s amateur record said to be 396-1. The fact that both men are also southpaws, adds yet another twist to this pugilistic duel.

We have to go back perhaps to the first Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Duran match in 1980, (for Leonard’s WBC world welterweight title) to find a comparable match up in regards to seeing two such technically gifted warriors toeing the line against each other. Indeed there are parallels between the two matches. Lomachenko has been hailed by many as the Sugar Ray Leonard of his generation, and like Leonard, the Ukrainian mixes a heavy dose of flashiness with his boxing speed, and skills.

Meanwhile, Rigondeaux, while outwardly a very different animal to Roberto Duran, is stepping up two divisions to meet Lomachenko, just as Duran did against Leonard, and like Duran was against Leonard, Rigondeaux goes into this match on Saturday night, despite all his ability, the firm underdog.

It’s not difficult to see why ‘The Jackal’ is the underdog. When he challenges Lomachenko for the WBO Junior-lightweight championship, he will be stepping up two weight classes, from his usual super-bantamweight division home. A jump of eight pounds might not sound much to the average man on the street, but when you are in the lighter divisions, eight pounds is indeed a lot of weight to suddenly travel, especially when it is to meet an opponent as highly gifted as Vasyl Lomachenko.

Unlike many champions today, Rigondeaux does not lose, and then gain a significant amount of weight between the weigh in and fight night. He is a small looking super-bantamweight, who has often been outsized by his opponents.

In addition to the size difference, ‘Hi-Tech’ Lomachenko is the younger man by eight years. In a contest that both men are so evenly matched, with regards to boxing ability, such advantages, like those held by Lomachenko over Rigondeaux, could rightfully be seen as a the telling factor between them.

Undeniably it is these advantages that have led Lomachenko’s promoter, Bob Arum, to take the match with Rigondeaux. Arum and Rigo have a well known enmity for each other, which can be traced back to when Rigondeaux beat one of Arum’s ‘golden eggs’ Nonito Donaire, back in 2013. Rigondeaux didn’t just beat Donaire, he out-boxed and out-fought him in a manner that made him look foolish at times.

Arum big plans for Donaire were well and truly dashed by his defeat to Rigondeaux, and although he promoted both men, he was incensed by the result, and went on to denigrate Rigondeaux a number of times publicly in a manner that was quite extraordinary, when taking into account the fact that Rigondeaux was supposedly Arum's fighter, as well as Donaire.

In the run up to this showdown, Arum has still been talking about Rigondeaux ‘stinking out’ the place. It seems Arum no longer appreciates the finer points of the sweet science, and has grown too lazy to promote such boxers.

It's no exaggeration to say that ever since he beat Donaire in 2013, Rigondeaux has been effectively blackl
isted, and has become the most avoided boxer in the sport. Incredibly, it says a lot about the state of the sport when an outstanding world champion, perhaps the best pound-for-pound of his era, is left scrabbling for fights, as his possible opponents and top contenders choose to meet other champions and each other, rather than him. The way in which his world titles were stripped from him, handed out to Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg, so that they could have their own little private party with themselves (and what a thriller that turned out to be!!) speaks for itself.

In the six fights that he has managed to have since beating Donaire in 2013, Rigondeaux has found the kind of big matches, which his skills deserve, impossible to make. Until now that is. On December 9th, Rigondeaux has the chance to display his rare ability in a manner denied him since he beat Nonito Donaire. The irony that he will be doing it against a Bob Arum fighter is unlikely to be lost on him.

Undoubtedly Arum sees this contest as very winnable for Lomachenko, and one which will provide the Ukranian with an outstanding name upon his record, and provide Arum himself with perhaps a little bit of revenge, for what Rigondeaux did to one of his favourite fighters (Donaire) back in 2013.

The most intriguing question here is whether Arum has made a miscalculation, just as he did on that night of April 13th 2013, when he let ‘The Jackal’ loose on Nonito Donaire? Rigondeaux was supposed to be a good name on Donaire’s record that night, but it didn’t turn out that way.

One aspect of this fight, which should not be ignored, is Rigondeaux’s own willingness to take the fight, despite the weight disparity. In fact, Rigondeaux has done much to make the match with a marvelously inventive twitter campaign.

The Jackal’ has shown a calm confidence throughout the build up to this showdown, and regarding the weight difference, he said in a recent interview: ‘The most deadly poisons come in the smallest containers’.

Lomachenko has been brimming with confidence in the lead up to this fight, as would be expected, but there is something deeply impressive in quiet confidence of Rigondeaux. He knows that this is his night to show what he can do for the first time since the Donaire contest. This is a fight that will define his career, a victory should see him crowned as the number one boxer pound-for-pound in the world, defeat on the other hand. may well see him swept under the carpet for good.

Head-to-head, these two men match up like fire and ice. While they are both tremendously talented and well-schooled, they are very contrasting boxers. Lomachenko is a total extrovert in the ring, who likes to blatantly play with his opponents. Rigondeaux, on the other hand, is one of the coolest boxer you will see in the ring, who dismantles his opponents with a silky brilliance that the untrained eye can fail to appreciate.

Lomachenko generally throws more punches, while Rigondeaux makes every punch he throws count. Rigondeaux, who usually dominates the pace of his fights, is likely to find the high work rate that Lomachenko can set, to be one of the most daunting challenges of this match. On the other hand, the Ukrainian will find himself up against probably the best defensive boxer in boxing today. How will he react if his punches are not connecting.

Much depends upon how both men approach this fight. Will Rigondeaux stick to his usual counter-punching style, or will he be more aggressive and offensive minded against Lomachenko? All indications seem to be that Rigondeaux will stick to his usual counter-punching style and it will be down to Lomachenko to decide whether he is going to try an offensive approach against ‘The Jackal’ or whether he is going to box him. This could end up being a chess match that only the purists will truly appreciate. However, if Rigo, or more likely Lomachenko, decides to take some risks, and strike out on the offence, then we could see some real fireworks.

The most likely outcome of this fight is a brilliant chess match with some occasional fireworks thrown in. Both men have dangerous punches, but it is Rigondeaux who is the biggest one punch hitter of the two. This has been illustrated by the fact that he has broken the jaw and cheekbones of 2 of his last 3 opponents, and has ended several of his fight with single punches. Lomachenko may not want to try the kind of tricks against Rigondeaux that he has been performing against his recent opponents, as one slip could end up with him knocked out.

Rigondeaux himself has been down a few times in his career, but never visibly hurt. If Lomachenko tries to score a knockout over Rigondeaux he may just find himself falling into ‘The Jackal’s trap.

Both men have great footwork, with Lomachenko’s being the more flamboyant and extrovert, while Rigondeaux often glides around the canvas without seemingly moving his legs.

The person who wins this boxing match will be the man who is able to best nullify the other. Will ‘The Jackal’ be able to deal with the high pace and speed of Lomachenko, will size and age be a factor?. How will Lomachenko deal with a boxer of Rigo’s speed and defensive abilities?

Lomachenko’s only defeat as a professional came in his second professional match when he was out-hustled and out-muscled by Orlando Salido. Will Rigondeaux opt for a drastic change of style against Lomachenko, and look to smother and out-work the Ukrainian.

However the night goes, one hopes that we get to see a fair decision if it goes all the way, as so far 2017 has been a year of bad decisions in boxing.

Logic points to a Lomachenko victory on points. He looks to be too big and too young, with these advantages giving him an unassailable edge for victory, and yet, greatness can sometimes break the sharpest of edges. There is something just a bit extra special about Guillermo Rigondeaux, beyond his mere ability in the ring. Perhaps it is his hunger, to make up for lost time and to strike back against those in boxing who have wronged him in recent years. The more this writer thinks about it the more he feels drawn towards a Rigondeaux victory against all the odds. This is the moment he has waited for and I believe that on December 9 we will see ‘The Jackal’ unleashed like never before. Watch out Bob!

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