On Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, two-time Olympic gold medalist and WBA super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KOs) beat Nonito Donaire by unanimous decision to capture the Filipino Flash's WBO and Ring versions of the title.
The win makes him the unquestioned king of the 122-pound division and catapults him to the pinnacle of the unofficial pound-for-pound rankings.
The scorecards were 114-113, 115-112 and 116-111. In my opinion, the fight was not nearly as close as the first two scores, in particular, would indicate. My own card was identical to HBO's Harold Lederman: 118-109 for Rigondeaux.
I can see reasonable arguments for Donaire to get the second and fourth rounds. He was pressing forward and occasionally scoring to Rigondeaux's body, though Rigondeaux was walking him into flush overhand lefts and lead hooks. I still feel justified in scoring those rounds for Rigondeaux based on more effective punching and ring generalship.
I have to assume people with much closer cards gave Donaire some of the slow-paced rounds from the middle third of the fight, based on him being more aggressive. I could see Round 7 going to him.
But it is really tough for me to see any serious justification for giving Donaire credit for effective aggression. He was simply chasing Donaire, completely failing to cut off the ring and virtually never landing a punch.
Meanwhile, Rigondeaux was sliding calmly along the outside, putting on a lateral movement clinic, routinely pot-shotting Donaire with hard, flush lead hooks and left hands. I can see the case for Donaire getting three rounds, maybe four at a stretch.
But I only gave him one, the 10th, when he knocked Rigondeaux down, and I think I was right. Even in Round 10, I thought Rigondeaux was outscoring him in the second half of the round.
Either way, Guillermo Rigondeaux was the clear winner. In just his 12th professional bout, the Cuban defector and amateur icon gave a future first ballot Hall-of-Fame champion a boxing lesson.
Hardcore boxing fans will appreciate the historical significance of Rigondeaux's achievement. No amateur fighter, ever, has climbed so high, so quickly, in the professional game.
The only obvious precedent here is Leon Spinks beating Muhammad Ali in only his eighth pro fight. But that was a ring-war ravaged, 36-year-old Ali, years beyond his best days.
The Donaire whom Rigondeaux beat last night is a 30-year-old, in the heart of his prime. He was the 2012 Fighter of the Year. I don't even remember the last time I saw a pound-for-pound list that didn't have him ranked between Nos. 3 and 5.
The natural tendency now will be for a lot of people to start claiming that Donaire has been overrated all along. And to be sure, Donaire's recent run of dominance had blinded many fans to some holes in his game that Rigondeaux was able to expose last night.
But Nonito Donaire's resume speaks for itself. If he looked suddenly and shockingly mortal last night, that is just a testament to Rigondeaux's greatness.
I took a glance through some of the internet chatter following the broadcast last night, and I have already seem a small, but vocal, element emerging who are trying to slur Rigondeaux as "boring" and a "runner."
I almost feel as if these sort of Philistines don't deserve to be addressed. But boxing is a blood sport, so perhaps it is natural that there will be an element of the fanbase incapable of higher aesthetic appreciation and judgement.
It baffles me when people can't tell the difference between running and using movement to control when and where the fight takes place. It's not running when you are continually moving back into position to whack the other guy in the face with a straight left or a lead hook.
That's moving tactically. It is the very core of the Sweet Science.
Guillermo Rigondeaux's lateral movement and footwork are firmly in the top percentile. He is as good as any fighter I have ever seen at judging and controlling distance. A true boxing fan is never going to be bored watching him.
Still, there are a ton of people out there who will also get bored if you make them sit down and listen to Thelonious Monk. A lot of those same people will tell you Brad Paisley is the bomb.
So what are you going to do? These sort of deficits in good taste are a problem in every field.
And I agree that a fight like the one last night is a different type of excitement than what we experienced during the Rios-Alvarado affair from two weeks ago.
There are different types of masterpieces. There are action-filled, adventure rides like Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and there are perfectly plotted, taut, suspense-filled flicks like Hitchcock's Rear Window. Some masterpieces are more immediately accessible to the general audience.
Rigondeaux is not a boring fighter, and against less dangerous fighters than Donaire (that is, almost everybody else he will fight), he will once again deliver fan-friendly stoppages. He's a defensive wizard, but he's also a deadly puncher with both fists.
After last night, he has to be viewed as among the sport's very elite. Not bad for a boxer with just a dozen professional fights.
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