Guillermo Rigondeaux is as good a boxer as you’ll ever see. He’s fast, fluid and athletic. His technical skill is superb. He’s a southpaw with legit power in both hands, and he might be the best amateur fighter in the history of boxing.
Rigondeaux hails from the boxing-crazed country of Cuba, an island world renowned for the development of top-flight amateur boxers.
He’s a seven-time national champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. He turned professional at the age of 28 after defecting from Cuba in February 2009.
In the best performance of his career thus far, Rigondeaux became the lineal junior featherweight champion of the world in just his 12th professional fight by beating the reigning Boxing Writers Association of America’s fighter of the year, Nonito Donaire, in April 2013.
The Sweet Science’s Springs Toledo was impressed with the way Rigondeaux dismantled elite-level star Donaire over 12 masterful rounds:
He is a future participant in the best parade in boxing, a parade led by supreme stylists Joe Gans and Jack Britton, by Willie Pep and Pernell Whitaker, where banners flap in the wind and declare that the alpha asset in the ring is skill; and the more advanced it is, the better. Their fan base is smaller than the bloodthirsty, balcony-busting Dempsey/Gatti crowd, but more urbane.
The last bit there is the issue.
For all of Rigondeaux’s blustering brilliance, his promoter, Top Rank, and its television partner, HBO, have seemed less than enthusiastic about pushing the so-called “Rigolution” forward.
In fact, fresh off his destruction of Donaire last year, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum told ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael that every time he brought up the subject of Rigondeaux’s next fight to HBO, the executives over there wanted to “throw up.”
And those types of comments have continued.
In January, a month after Rigondeaux won a 12-round decision against Joseph Agbeko, Arum reiterated his position to Boxing Scene’s Keith Idec:
[With] Rigondeaux, I have a problem. And you can’t really blame the network. The rating for the Kirkland-Tapia fight was almost double Rigondeaux’s rating. People walked out [of the arena]. If people don’t want to watch, what do you expect a network to do? I don’t care how good we say he is, which he is.
According to a source in the television industry, Rigondeaux’s main event win over Agbeko was indeed only the second time an undercard fight attracted a larger audience than the main event on a Boxing After Dark show.
The other time it happened was in January 2013 when Gennady Golovkin’s Round 7 TKO of Gabe Rosado outperformed Mikey Garcia’s eight-round technical decision win over Orlando Salido in New York.
Regardless, Rigondeaux’s manager, Gary Hyde, told Bleacher Report the problem is not with his fighter at all.
“Rigondeaux is a technical master, and he is so good, he’s probably too good for his own good. He’s so good that he can go through a fight and barely even get hit.”
Hyde said the segment of the boxing public that wants to see toe-to-toe slugfests would never be happy with a fighter like Rigondeaux, but that it shouldn’t keep promoters and television networks from being interested in showcasing his fights.
“They’re never going to see that with Rigondeaux. The best we can do is start knocking people out…But the trouble we’re finding is that tough fighters who never back off from anybody, once they feel Rigondeaux’s power early in the fight, then it ends up being a boring fight.”
A glance back at Rigondeaux’s last two fights at least seems to support Hyde’s contention. Both Donaire and Agbeko are usually exciting and interesting fighters who win with good offense.
But both seemed completely befuddled by the puzzle Rigondeaux presented them on fight night. The usually sure-punching Donaire didn’t want to commit to throwing combinations, and Agbeko seemed genuinely disinterested in engaging Rigondeaux at all.
Rigondeaux won both fights but failed to impress critics such as Yahoo! Sports’ Kevin Iole, who lambasted the undefeated lineal champion last year for being a fighter who “is all defense in a sport in which offensive prowess is revered.”
But Hyde said Rigondeaux shouldn’t be criticized for his fighting style, but appreciated for it.
“We’re not going to find fault with him. We’re not going to tell him to stand there and trade with this guy and go toe-to-toe…That’s not what boxing is all about, and Rigondeaux is a master of boxing. He’s not going to go into a fight and come out all busted up and needing to be brought to emergency rooms and stuff like that, because he’s just too good.”
Hyde said Rigondeaux’s next fight will be his last under Top Rank’s promotional banner.
“We have only one more fight with Bob Arum, and while he started off very well for us in the beginning--he got us on HBO—I think he was just trying to get one of his fighters to beat Rigondeaux and there was no doubt about that. We were being fattened up for Donaire to beat us and because Rigondeaux…beat him convincingly, Arum was really upset over that and so was HBO, and everyone turned their backs on us.”
Hyde takes particular umbrage with the way Top Rank and HBO ran the Agbeko promotion. He said the promoter and television network placed his fighter in a bad location against a bad opponent.
“They had absolutely no interest in Guillermo Rigondeaux [in New Jersey] and it was a very bad job done on the promotion side and on the HBO side. They messed up badly. We advised them. We told HBO and Top Rank that we weren’t happy with this opponent, that we knew he had his own troubles and a lot going on contractually, and we didn’t want to fight Agbeko. We wanted someone who would come [forward] and we would have seen the best of Rigondeaux [had that been the case].”
Hyde said he expects Rigondeaux’s career to continue with another promoter on another television network just as soon as he can get Rigondeaux through his last contractually obligated fight with Top Rank.
“He’s not appreciated by HBO and not appreciated by Top Rank. There’s no doubt about it.”
Hyde said negotiations for Rigondeaux to fight on a Top Rank card scheduled for July 19 in Macau, China, were in their final stages.
According to Boxing Scene’s Ryan Burton, the card will feature most of Top Rank's Olympic medalists, including Rigondeaux, two-time gold medal winner Zou Shiming, 2012 Brazilian silver medalist Esquiva Falcao and 2012 Japanese gold-medal winner Ryota Murata.
Per The Sweet Science’s Michael Woods, Rigondeaux’s opponent for the fight has yet to be confirmed, but 24-year-old Jonathan Guzman (16-0, 16 KOs) had been mentioned as a possibility.
Hyde said he was excited for Rigondeaux’s post-Top Rank future.
“He’s a complete free agent after this fight, and I’m happy because there are a lot of fighters, like Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz…those are the kind of fights we’d love to be involved in…Those kids come to fight. No matter what, they come to fight and they keep coming.”
Mares and Santa Cruz are represented by Top Rank’s main promotional rival, Golden Boy Promotions, and they typically fight on shows televised by HBO’s rival, Showtime.
When I talked to the head of Showtime Sports last week, Stephen Espinoza, I asked for his thoughts on Rigondeaux. Would Showtime be interested in him should be become available this summer as expected?
Espinoza said he was aware of Rigondeaux’s current situation, and he explained how Showtime assessed possible fighter acquisitions.
“Our interest comes from two areas,” said Espinoza. “One, we want the most compelling and interesting boxers on the air. The second piece of that, and you can’t really have one without the other, is that there’s got to be attractive opponents.”
Espinoza said Rigondeaux would be a go on both accounts.
“…In terms of answering those questions, as a boxer, is he someone we’d be interested in? Absolutely. And then the second piece of it: Are there compelling fights to be made? I think you know the answer to both of those questions is yes.”
Hyde said Showtime would likely be the ideal place for his fighter in the future, and he was pleased to hear Espinoza had good things to say about Rigondeaux.
“That’s great to hear,” said Hyde of Espinoza’s comments. “Of course, the other big TV network out there is Showtime, and, of course, we’d be very open to speaking with Showtime and whatever promoters are needed to be under the Showtime banner. We’d be delighted to move over.”
Moreover, Hyde indicated Rigondeaux’s future would take place in the United States, not the manager’s home country of Ireland.
“This is Rigondeaux’s home now. The United States is his home. He’s happy here. He’s happy to fight here, and I think we’ll be seeing him on one of the other networks in the end after this fight on July 19.”
All this seems to point to one thing: After his next fight, no one should be surprised to see Rigondeaux make the move over to Showtime. Rigondeaux’s team seems to want it, Showtime seems interested in it and Arum’s multiple statements on the matter indicate Top Rank and HBO are ready to part ways with him.
Bleacher Report contacted HBO but no one was available for comment. Top Rank was also contacted, but Bob Arum, CEO, and Todd duBoef, President of Top Rank, were out of country for the week and not available. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.