Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) will face Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) on Saturday, April 13 in a highly anticipated junior featherweight unification bout. On paper, this is one of the most intriguing matchups that can be made in the sport of boxing and one that fight fans can’t wait to watch. Donaire and Rigondeaux are likely to engage in a high-intensity bout that warrants the big stage of Radio City Music Hall.
Nonito Donaire comes into the bout as one of the hottest fighters in boxing.
In 2012, he was named RingTV.com’s Fighter of the Year, dominantly defeating four high-caliber opponents. Donaire is also backed by one of the best trainers in boxing, Robert Garcia.
While not the high profile professional fighter that Donaire is, Guillermo Rigondeaux is often regarded as one of the greatest amateur boxers of all-time. The 32-year old Rigondeaux is fighting not only to unify the titles, but also to justify leaving his family in a dramatic departure from Cuba in 2009.
After only eleven professional fights, is El Chacal ready for his big shot against Donaire, who is one of boxing’s top five pound-for-pound fighters? Read on as I breakdown the fighters in five key categories and see who has the advantage going into Saturday night’s junior featherweight bout.
Technically speaking—in his orthodox stance—Donaire does not work behind a busy jab or stick to a conventional stance. Donaire throws punches from different angles and opens up a lot while throwing combinations.
He does a good job of keeping his opponent's off-balance with a jerky boxer-puncher style, but in terms of pure boxing—chin tucked, effective jab—Donaire leaves a lot to be desired.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is known as a great counter-puncher. Fighting from the southpaw stance, he picks his shots in a more traditional way, looking for an opening to slip in counter shots.
As a two-time gold medalist in the Olympics, Rigondeaux has always relied on his boxing ability first. Rigondeaux is an accurate puncher with enough power to hurt any opponent.
Advantage: Rigondeaux. In terms of outright boxing skills, Rigo gets the nod.
Donaire is dangerous because he looks to press the action and can land power punches from different angles. Landing the left hook against Rigondeaux will be key to ending the fight early.
Guillermo Rigondeaux has a better knockout percentage than Nonito Donaire—72.7 percent to 62.5. But this is due in large part to the fact that Rigo only has 11 professional bouts. Against limited competition, Rigo has shown accuracy, good punching power and has scored a knockdown in each of his eleven pro bouts.
Having said all of this, Rigo's body of work is not large enough to consider him a bigger puncher than Nonito Donaire.
Advantage: Donaire. One of the most exciting facet's of Donaire’s game has been his ability to knockout some of the best fighters in the bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions.
His left hook is one of the most devastating punches in boxing.
Nonito Donaire is known for having a good chin. Up to this point in his career he's been able to take his opponents best shots and still win fights. Against Jeffrey Mathebula, Donaire was out-landed 231 to 151 in total punches, but he was not hurt.
Contrarily, against Wilfredo Vasquez Jr., Donaire out landed his opponent 231 to 163 but was visibly swollen at the end of the fight. Regardless of the numbers, Donaire has shown that he can be hit and take a punch.
Will Donaire be able to take Rigodoneax's best shots and still come forward?
The Filipino Flash will definitely want to avoid being out-landed by the accurate-punching Rigondeaux, because the Cuban is one of the hardest hitting punchers that Donaire has faced since Vic Darchinyan.
Guillermo Rigondeaux has been knocked down once in his career by Ricardo Cordoba.
The knockdown came from a jab and caught Rigo off balance as opposed to really hurting him. He was also wobbled by a big shot in his last fight versus Robert Marroquin. Because of this, some people—including Paul Magno of Yahoo! Sports—think Rigo's chin is a serious issue. To his credit, Rigondeaux showed the ability to come back and dominate versus Cordoba and Marroquin.
Rigo's biggest challenge will be avoiding Donaire's left hook. The plan will not be to show whether or not Rigondeaux can trade with and take Nonito's biggest punches.
Advantage: Donaire. Though he can be hit, Donaire has never been truly hurt in his 32 fights.
One of the most overlooked deficiencies of Nonito Donaire's game is his lack of defense.
In most fights, Donaire's best defense is his offense. Donaire is a very gifted athlete, so his quickness and reflexes overcome his lack of a traditional guard. Because of his good chin, he is able to get away with keeping his hands low, even when he gets hit.
Donaire tends to square up against his opponent's when he's throwing combinations and this can open him up to being countered. If he keeps his guard down against Rigondeaux, Donaire will undoubtedly get countered all night.
Guillermo Rigondeaux has very good defense.
He holds his guard up tight, rolls with punches and has quick reflexes to match. The main defensive deficiency for Rigondeaux is his habit of dropping his right hand when he throws a straight left.
Oddly enough, the one thing that could end up playing in Donaire's favor is his tendency to keep his hands down. If Donaire entices Rigondeaux to reach in with the straight left hand, he can catch Rigo with his money punch, the left hook. Rigondeaux needs to make sure his guard is held high at all times and he needs to stray from pulling straight back when trying to dodge Donaire's bombs.
Advantage: Rigondeaux. Rigo has more tricks in his bag and is overall a better defensive fighter.
Nonito Donaire is a top-notch athlete who possesses superb quickness and great reflexes. He’s so gifted that for his fight against Hernan Marquez, he trained entirely as a southpaw (Donaire normally fights in the orthodox stance).
In what he called an experimental faze, he fought the first four rounds against Vasquez as a lefty. Only the best can decide to experiment in actual professional fights.
The exciting part about this fight is that both men possess great footwork and athletic ability. Guillermo Rigondeaux fights with a different style than Donaire does, but he matches the Filipino Flash with just as much quickness in the ring.
Nonito Donaire and Robert Garcia have been together since 2009. As the No. 5 pound-for-pound rated boxer in The Ring ratings, Donaire is currently Garcia's most successful fighter. Garcia himself is no slouch either, having been named the 2012 Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
But with accolades comes pressure.
Even though Garcia recently told MaxBoxing that he thinks his fighter can knockout Rigondeaux in the 2nd round, buying into this hype can spell disaster for Donaire. Is Garcia overconfident going into one of Donaire’s biggest fights? Only time will tell.
Although this is their first professional bout together, Pedro Diaz has known Guillermo Rigondeaux for years. Diaz helped lead Rigondeaux to two Olympic gold medals for Cuba and according to Rigo, he feels very comfortable training with Diaz (per BoxingScene.com).
Pedro Diaz has been profiled on HBO's 24/7 series as Miguel Cotto's trainer. We know Diaz brings world-class experience and understands Rigondeaux's skills better than anyone else. Rigo isn't likely to suffer any disadvantage by switching trainers before the biggest fight of his career.
Advantage: Even. Both trainers know their fighters well and are top-notch cornermen. Although Garcia seems to be overly confident, it is likely that he will have Donaire prepared to perform at the highest level.
Although Nonito Donaire is a 3-to-1 favorite against Guillermo Rigondeaux, this is actually a very difficult fight to call.
Rigondeaux has the tools to expose some of Donaire's defensive flaws if he sticks to a strict boxing game plan. Donaire on the other hand has the range and explosiveness to overwhelm Rigondeaux and score a big KO.
So who wins?
One of the keys to the fight will be whether or not Rigondeaux can box and move—showing ring generalship as opposed to running—while making sure he stay's out of range of Donaire’s power shots. I don’t believe Rigondeaux needs to be strictly a counter-puncher, but when he throws combinations he should get in and out as quickly as possible.
Another important key to the fight will be whether Donaire can actually counter the counter-puncher. If Donaire can land his left over a straight left from Rigondeaux it could be lights out for the Cuban.
Donaire told The Ring that the reason he is not afraid to take a punch to give one is because he wants to give his fans a show. If Donaire loses this fight, his downfall will be staying in Rigo’s punching range for too long while overly committing to power punches.
Rigondeaux may have to overcome some rough spots in this fight, but he will beat Donaire with accurate and powerful combinations in a competitive bout.
Prediction: Rigondeaux by decision.