Promoter Frank Warren pulled off a smart business move in getting Guillermo Rigondeaux to come to Liverpool, England, for his next fight.
Rigondeaux, a Cuban-born, Florida-based super bantamweight whom The Ring rates as the best in the world at 122 pounds, is now booked to face local boy James "Jazza" Dickens at the Echo Arena.
The announcement of the bout was somewhat overshadowed by the news that Amir Khan had agreed to move up two divisions to take on middleweight world champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
Had Terry Flanagan not picked up a foot injury in training ahead of his WBO lightweight title defence against Derry Mathews, Rigondeaux vs. Dickens would likely never have been an option.
Flanagan’s fitness issue forced his clash with Mathews to be pushed back from Feb. 13 to Mar. 12. With the need to bolster his Echo Arena card after the initial postponement, Warren went in search of a big name. In Rigondeaux (16-0, 10 KOs), he duly found one.
The deal works for both parties. Warren gets a star attraction, while Rigondeaux gets to kick-start his career away from his adopted homeland.
A two-time Olympic gold medallist, El Chacal is a skilled southpaw who is widely respected but often avoided.
There are two main reasons why Rigondeaux has never found fighters queuing up to face him.
For opponents, he is a complicated puzzle no one in the pro ranks has worked out as of yet. His long and highly successful amateur career has honed his defensive abilities, while he is also an excellent counterpuncher. Just take a look at the YouTube video below for proof:
Promoters, meanwhile, point to the 35-year-old being a tough sell. If a fighter isn’t going to be well paid for their troubles against the Cuban, why should they bother facing him in the ring?
Saying a fight with Rigondeaux is bad for business is easier than admitting an opponent doesn't stand much of a chance. Being so good at his craft seems both a gift and a curse.
As journalist Nigel Collins wrote for ESPN back in 2013, "All [Rigondeaux] 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."
The American television networks, though, have never been won over. Kelsey McCarson of Bleacher Report pointed out in Jan. 2015 that Rigondeaux had been "dumped" by both HBO and Top Rank.
He didn't help his cause with a below-par performance in seeing off Drian Francisco on points in Nov. 2015. It was not quite what he hoped to deliver on the undercard to Canelo's clash with Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas.
So, a world champion who boasts an unbeaten record, plus a win over Nonito Donaire, has had to go on the road. If the mountain won't come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain. The mountain, in this case, is a fight against either Carl Frampton or Scott Quigg, the two British rivals who meet in a unification bout in Manchester, England, on Feb. 27.
Rigondeaux is the WBA’s champion in recess, with Quigg being deemed the organisation’s regular champion. The title, awarded by the governing body rather than earned in the ring, is a source of amusement to Frampton, who became the holder of the full IBF belt by beating Kiko Martinez in 2014.
The Northern Irishman has even admitted to having sympathy for Rigondeaux’s plight, per Mitch Abramson of The Ring:
I feel a little sorry for the position of Rigo. The way he’s an unbelievable fighter—he’s someone who I admire and obviously the TV channels don’t appreciate his style of boxing. They want to see blood and guts, and technically there’s nobody better than him in the world. It’s just the way he’s been treated by the governing bodies. I think he’s been unfairly treated. They’ve given Scott Quigg his title. I think it’s been unfair so you have to feel a little sorry for him.
In the same article, Quigg states his willingness to face the WBA's other champ: "I’m not scared to fight [Rigondeaux]. I’m not shying away from challenges."
Rigondeaux now has the chance to make a big impression on a new audience. Dazzle against Dickens, and the television networks in Britain will pay attention.
He has teamed up again with trainer Pedro Diaz in the hope of adding a little spark to his obvious talent, per Miguel Rivera of BoxingScene.com. Don't expect a kamikaze approach all of a sudden, but Rigondeaux at least now realises simply winning is not enough.
As for his next opponent, Dickens (21-1, 6 KOs), he has an unexpected chance to vault himself onto the world stage.
He has won the British title at 122 pounds, but this is a whole new level for the southpaw from Liverpool. It’s the boxing equivalent of learning to bake gingerbread men on a Monday afternoon, then agreeing to appear as a contestant on The Great British Bake Off the following day.
Credit should go to Dickens for agreeing to take the fight.
According to Micheal McKenna of the Liverpool Echo, the 24-year-old jumped at the opportunity: "It is like a Rocky story, one day I’m just training waiting for my next fight and then I get call, do I want to fight Guillermo Rigondeaux? Are you mad, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world wants to fight me? Not half, I’ll definitely have some of that!"
Dickens will be a heavy underdog, but he doesn’t necessarily have to win to make waves in the division.
If he can show enough—even something—against a fighter of such obvious quality, opportunities could suddenly come his way. It should not be forgotten that Rigondeaux has been knocked down on four occasions, per McCarson.
It is also about the performance for Rigondeaux. Britain could yet become his new back yard, as he has been mandated to fight the winner of Frampton-Quigg by the WBA, according to BoxNation.
That potential showdown is for further down the line. Before then, he needs to make some noise against Jazza.