It is not everyday that a boxer’s ninth professional fight is the main event on one of the major American premium cable networks. It’s just as rare that a fighter’s ninth bout is to be his second time out as a world titlist. Of course when that fighter is two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, a normal professional learning curve isn’t all that necessary.
Widely considered to be one of the best amateur boxers to ever put on gloves (and of course the required headgear) Rigondeaux (8-0-0, 6 KOs) has been fast-tracked to the top of the sport ever since defecting from his native Cuba in 2009.
Cuba is one of the last remaining communist relics of the old Soviet model of athletics, where professional competition doesn’t exist and their best athletes compete against relative children from nations where amateur boxing is a kid’s game. These strict government regulations have long stifled the talent-rich boxing nation, preventing countless excellent fighters from testing themselves (not to mention making a good living) as professionals.
The rap on the fighters who, through defection, escape the Cuban system, has long been an inability to handle this new found freedom, expressed through too much partying and too little training. This combined with the fact that ex-Cuban amateurs are generally not taught a style that translates well to the professional game has lead to more disappointment than success for defectors in the past.
So far, however, Rigondeaux seems more Jose Napoles (minus, hopefully, that whole end-of-career raging alcoholism thing) than Odlanier Solis, in terms of staying in shape and having success in the ring. After an accelerated learning process where he blasted out a few over matched opponents on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, Rigondeaux’s first big professional fight was a title bout with Ricardo Cordoba on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard. Results were mixed. Rigondeaux won a split decision in a fairly uneventful match, leading some to wonder if he was just another “boring” Cuban amateur turned pro.
The next time out, Rigondeaux went a long way towards dispelling that notion, annihilating previously unbeaten Willie Casey in front of his hometown fans in Dublin, Ireland. The dominant first round KO displayed the tools, particularly a paralyzing body attack, that make Rigondeaux more than a great amateur boxer. The southpaw truly does have a complete skill set, and he may need it to get past another undefeated challenger on Showtime Friday night.
Rico Ramos (20-0-0, 11 KOs) took a much different career path, turning pro at age 20, but now finds himself in the same postion as Rigondeaux. Both men have claimed a version of the WBA super bantamweight title, and they will seek to unify it Friday. (The fact that “unification” now often means two guys have titles from the same sanctioning body in the same weight class is another story.) While both men may claim to be champions, make no mistake about it, Rigondeaux figures to be the class of this bout. Ramos pulled a rabbit out of a hat in his last fight, scoring a one-punch KO while trailing on all three scorecards. Do not expect similar heroics if he falls behind to an opponent as good as Rigondeaux.
If “El Chacal” does get by Ramos, the sky is the limit. Don’t be surprised if fellow standout Nonito Donaire, now campaigning in the 122 pound division, avoids Rigondeaux like the plague. While Donaire has gotten the fanfare, Rigondeaux might just be the better fighter.
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