As Nonito Donaire was being reduced by Guillermo Rigondeaux to haplessly swinging at the air like a drunkard swatting at angry bees, something occurred to me: I wasn’t just anxious for action; I was bored out of my mind.
I can respect a defensive wizard at work. I’ve watched Bernard Hopkins for years dismantle his foes using intellect and agility. Ditto Floyd Mayweather. Pernell Whitaker became the stuff of legend as he used his hips to frustrate opponents as they whirled empty bombs at what was no longer there. It’s an amazing talent to have. We can place these fighters amongst the all-time greats and compare them to the Willy Peps of boxing lore. We have that right as fans and writers. We also have the right to snuggle up with our favorite blanket and take a nice snooze while they ply their craft.
Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall, the tension and excitement filling the air as the fight began was palpable. As the fight wore on, and Rigondeaux continued to dodge, dip, dive and duck the attack from Donaire, all while offering little or nothing in return, the air left the room. It was replaced by boredom and then finally anger. The chorus of boos that rained down on the ring from the sixth round on was a loud expression of frustration. That will happen when you pay excellent money for a boxing match and instead get a samba.
Rigondeaux is a freakish talent. His agility and reflexes are incredible. Donaire has wrecked and embarrassed opponents for years with his combination of speed, accuracy, and power. On this night, he was continually confused and frustrated by the Cuban’s movement. Even when he finally caught the two-time gold medalist, he could do nothing to keep up the momentum. Rigondeaux simply got up off the canvas, smirked, and started over.
Possibly the most maddening thing about the fight was the fact that Rigondeaux was landing hard, jarring punches whenever he bothered to throw. The crowd was begging for more. Had he pressed the gas, he may very well have stopped Donaire. Of course, he’d also open himself up again, something he flat out refused to do. Instead, he was completely comfortable with cruising to a decision victory that was much closer than it should have been. Had Rigondeaux thrown even a smattering of punches, he’d have won by a huge margin. He didn’t.
In his defense, he would have KO’d 99.9 percent of fighters anywhere near 122 pounds Saturday. But the fact that he busted up Donaire and embarrassed him on several occasions, without attempting anything but the bare minimum offensively is the most frustrating thing - He could have put up a legendary performance. Dominating and stopping the most dominant fighter in the division brings you to the next level. Dominating with defense, as technically brilliant as it is to behold, does not.
In fact, Rigondeaux might be worse off now than ever. Who the hell wants to fight him? He’s a hard puncher, damn near impossible to hit, and brings absolutely nothing financially to the table. Worse, he seems more than content to bore the pants off of anyone who watches him.
For his part, Donaire never stopped trying for the knockout. His problem? He never stopped trying for the knockout. The home run shots that always do the trick for him weren’t landing, and he showed absolutely zero willingness to try something else. Was he distracted? Was he training as hard as he should have been? Or did he finally run into a foe who had the skill to beat him? Probably it was a combination of all three.
As fight fans, we thirst for blood. We want our warriors to be just that - reckless bangers who scoff at the notion of defense in favor of pure violence. Brandon Rios is beloved for that reason, as was Arturo Gatti. We can appreciate the subtleties of the sweet science, but we don’t have to love the view.
Rigondeaux was quoted as saying that he was the matador Saturday night, and that people don’t like the matador. That isn’t true - people are okay with a matador - as long as he hits the bull back.