Being the Best Boxer in the World Not Enough to Make Guillermo Rigondeaux a Star

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterDecember 6, 2013

Apr 13, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Guillermo Rigondeaux celebrates his 12-round unanimous decision win over Nonito Donaire (not shown) at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Wearing a leather jacket, shades and a mohawk he hasn't quite committed to, junior featherweight Joseph Agbeko looked the part of a confident fighter heading into Saturday's HBO headliner against Guillermo Rigondeaux. But his words, spoken with a beautiful patois and ringing with confidence, at least on the surface, ultimately betrayed him.

"I want Rigondeaux to come in as a fighter," Agbeko said at the final press conference. "Let's go into the ring come Saturday and let's fight. Let's kill each other. Let's punch. And then at the end of the day everybody is going to know that Rigondeaux has got the heart to come forward."

What started as a boast ended up as nothing more than a desperate plea. Please Rigondeaux, Agbeko might have said, please don't use your advantages in skill, technique and experience to pick me apart, avoid my every blow and cruise to an easy decision.

But after two Olympic gold medals and a boxing world championship, why would the Cuban star do anything else? Asking Rigondeaux not to box is like telling an eagle not to soar or a lion not to hunt. This is what he does.

"I have never felt any pressure to change my style, since I know true boxing fans who appreciate the sport understand my style," Rigondeaux told ESPN's Dan Rafael. "Boxing is a game of hit and don't get hit. Once I'm comfortable in the fight, it just becomes me and my opponent, where the more mistakes my opponent makes, the worse it's going to end for him."

His commitment to craft hasn't made Rigondeaux any friends at HBO. According to promoter Bob Arum the network brass wants  to "throw up" every time he mentions Rigondeaux's name. They were likely far from thrilled at his insistence, before the fight, that this would be no war.

It's one thing to stick and move in the ring. While the networks prefer a fighter with some flash and more guts than brains, a technician can become a star. Obviously one need look no further than the summit, where defense-first Floyd Mayweather sits at the throne, ruling over the whole sport.

But Mayweather isn't afraid to talk the talk. Rigondeaux seems allergic to even the slightest hyperbole. Why not, at the very least, drop a few bombs before the fisticuffs begin? In modern boxing, stars are born at the pressers and on reality television, at least as often, or even more so, than they are in the ring.

ESPN's Nigel Collins, however, doesn't see Rigondeaux making a connection with fans:

Rigondeaux, on the other hand, seems remote, bordering on morose. Part of that undoubtedly has to do with the language barrier, but it seems unlikely that speaking perfect English would turn Rigo into a captivating figure. All he has going for him is his athleticism and technical expertise, which are rarely enough on their own to transform a consummate boxer into a superstar. By and large, the great ones need something extra to climb to the top of boxing's food chain.

Rigondeaux is more accomplished and has done more in his short professional career than, say, Adrien Broner. But one is a budding pay-per-view star. The other has to fight, after beating one of the sport's top stars, just to get a shot at a Boxing After Dark main event.

There's a lesson there for Rigondeaux. If he wants to make it to the top of the top, it's one he needs to learn and learn quickly.