BOXING

No-Mas-Chenko: Vasyl Lomachenko Makes Rigondeaux Quit

Vasyl Lomachenko Defeats Injured Guillermo Rigondeaux With Ease For Sixth-Round TKO

Four straight fighters (or their trainers) have decided that they were in over their heads against Vasyl Lomachenko — that they were being overwhelmed by his superlative skills, speed and technique, that they had no chance of winning, and that they therefore had no better choice than to call it a night before their night got even worse.

Nicholas Walters was done after seven rounds. Jason Sosa was pulled after nine. Miguel Marriaga’s corner waved things off at the end of the seventh. And the latest was the best of them all: Guillermo Rigondeaux, who stayed on his stool after the sixth round concluded.

Rigondeaux cited a hurt left hand. His critics and skeptics derided his decision. But while many a wounded fighter has trudged on through pain and injury, not every fighter is made the same. That kind of grit and bravery is precisely why those fighters deserve so much awe and praise. For others, there is a necessary mental calculus as they decide whether they can still win, if going on will put them in unnecessary danger, and if quitting in favor of the next time out is the best option of all.

(No one criticizes Israel Vazquez anymore for quitting in his first fight with Rafael Marquez a decade ago, when he was already having tremendous trouble with Marquez before a broken nose made breathing difficult. Vazquez returned healed and healthier for their second fight than he otherwise would have been had he tried to fight on the first time around, winning the rematch as a result.)

 

But Rigondeaux lost a lot of goodwill well before he ever lost this fight, squandering so much of his talent with wasted years. The boxer who’d defeated Nonito Donaire for junior featherweight supremacy in 2013 was persona non grata by the end of the year, done in by a dreadfully boring fight against an opponent, Joseph Agbeko, who was willing to do little beyond survive. He was the quintessential high-risk, low-reward opponent. Boxing fans respected his obvious talent. There just wasn’t much demand from them to see him.

Rigondeaux bravely took this fight with Lomachenko. It was a high-risk, high-reward proposition. The bout was properly marketed as pitting two of the best amateur boxers of all time — the only time a pair of two-time Olympic gold medalists had faced each other in the ring. Lomachenko and Rigondeaux were also accurately described as two of the best pro fighters in the world, pound-for-pound.

The pounds mattered, though. Rigondeaux was a natural 122-pound fighter, on the smaller end even for that division. Lomachenko had fought as low as 126 just two years ago, but he was otherwise a 130-pound fighter who would have size and height advantages. Rigondeaux was coming up two weight classes.

Other smaller fighters have been able to move up in weight and use their skills and speed advantages to defeat bigger opponents. Rigondeaux wasn’t going to have any such advantages. Lomachenko was too skilled and too fast himself.

Lomachenko blocked or dodged nearly everything Rigondeaux threw. And while Lomachenko didn’t throw with much accuracy himself — going just 55 of 339 on the night, a 16 percent connect rate — he unleashed blindingly quick and occasionally extended combinations that overwhelmed Rigondeaux, who had too little to offer in return and had little effect even when he landed.

Lomachenko got Rigondeaux’s attention with a right hook in the second, catching Rigondeaux while the shorter fighter was ducking down. Rigondeaux spent too many moments in the fight ducking or holding. In one clinch in the second round, Lomachenko kneeled down to try to free himself. Rigondeaux landed a left uppercut in close. Lomachenko, offended by the audacity and trickery, retaliated with a rat-a-tat right hook and left hand that sent Rigondeaux back a step.

Rigondeaux’s trainer exhorted him after the third round to do more, to take more risks. That had rarely been Rigondeaux’s style against fighters whom he clearly outclassed. That was going to make it even more difficult for him to do so against someone so great and therefore so dangerous. Rigondeaux threw an average of just 30 punches per round, a total of 178 on the night, according to CompuBox. He landed just 2½ shots per round, a total of 15 on the night. That made for a paltry 8.4 percent connect rate.

Rigondeaux sure wasn’t scoring points. He was docked one on the scorecard, however, after yet another two-armed hold in the sixth round.

The points didn’t matter. Rigondeaux wasn’t planning on fighting much longer. He gave up after the round was over, saying he’d hurt the top of his left hand in the second round. Some questioned how a fighter who landed so little could have suffered such an injury. That’s a misguided line of questioning; a fighter’s hands can also be harmed when he throws a shot and has it blocked.

Nevertheless, boxing fans wanted to see Rigondeaux go out with more of a fight. His critics will say he tried too little, succeeded with even less, and then found a way out. That’s probably too harsh. It’s still fair to say that he didn’t win himself any more fans with this performance. He was willing to take the risk by signing the contract but couldn’t follow through in the ring.

This first loss in Rigondeaux’s pro career moves his record to 17-1 with 11 knockouts. He should head back down to junior featherweight or featherweight. He’ll need to figure out how to put himself into the kind of position where a top fighter in those weight classes will face him. Lomachenko was willing to take on Rigondeaux. That doesn’t mean others will do the same, even though Rigondeaux’s no longer undefeated.

Lomachenko is now 10-1 with 8 KOs. There are plenty of good fighters at 130. He’s also teased a move up to the lightweight division. Perhaps the only fighter gifted enough to be given much of a chance against him is Mikey Garcia.

Don’t hold your breath for that fight to happen. You’ll need it in the meantime, for so much of what Vasyl Lomachenko does is breathtaking.

Highlights From the Undercard: Jennings, Mayer, Stevenson, Conlan Win

Among the undercard action:

– Former heavyweight title challenger Bryant Jennings took out Don Haynesworth in three rounds in a fight that served to help Jennings shake off rust and stay busy after extended inactivity. He’s now 21-2 with 12 KOs.

He returned this past August after 20 months away following back-to-back losses to Wladimir Klitschko and Luis Ortiz. Jennings will continue to work his way back toward another title shot, though that may not be coming anytime soon, with Deontay Wilder likely facing Luis Ortiz, and Anthony Joshua perhaps heading toward a unification bout with Joseph Parker.

– Junior lightweight/lightweight prospect Mikaela Mayer took a majority decision over Nydia Feliciano to move to 3-0 with 2 KOs. She captured a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics but fell short in the 2016 competition.

– Featherweight prospect Michael Conlan, best known for flipping double middle fingers at the judges who’d ripped him off in the 2016 Olympics, moved to 5-0 as a pro with a unanimous decision over Luis Fernando Molina.

– Featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson, a 20-year-old American who captured a silver medal in the 2016 Olympics, also continued his development with a second-round stoppage of Oscar Mendoza. Stevenson is now 4-0 with 2 KOs.

David Greisman
About the Author:

David Greisman. David Greisman is an award-winning boxing writer based out of Washington, D.C., who has covered the sport since 2004. He is the senior staff writer and "Fighting Words" columnist for BoxingScene.com and a reporter for The Ring magazine. Greisman is the author of the book "Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing." Follow on Twitter @fightingwords2

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