Checkmate: Rigondeaux

by Eric Raskin

When two highly skilled, not-necessarily-crowd-pleasing fighters are getting set to square off, expectations are managed by comparing the often thrilling sport of boxing to the rarely thrilling game of chess. It’s an odd choice for a euphemism. But it certainly applied to Guillermo Rigondeaux’s junior featherweight championship showdown with Nonito Donaire. We knew it would be more chess match than street fight.

And as it turns out, Donaire doesn’t play chess nearly as well as Rigondeaux.

The Cuban defector and amateur legend fought the style of fight that gave him the best opportunity to win, Donaire failed to turn it into the sort of fight he needed it to be, and though he said “check” once, he never quite put his pieces in position to say “checkmate.” Amidst intermittent boos from the mostly pro-Donaire crowd at Radio City Music Hall, Rigondeaux boxed, moved, and frustrated Donaire and took an upset unanimous decision to establish himself as the top 122-pounder in the world.

Read the Complete Donaire vs. Rigondeaux Fight Recap on HBO.com.

Donaire, Rigondeaux Head Lighter Weight Classes

by Kieran Mulvaney

It is often said that as goes the heavyweight division, so goes boxing, and that there is nothing wrong with the sport and its place in the public imagination that couldn’t be solved by the emergence of an exciting Tysonesque heavyweight champion.

Perhaps. But it’s no great secret that some of boxing’s most compelling contests are regularly at lighter weight classes. Who can forget the Marco Antonio Barrera-Kennedy McKinney war that opened Boxing After Dark? Or Barrera’s battles with Eric Morales? Or the unpredictable excitement that accompanied just about every Naseem Hamed performance? The brilliance of younger and lighter versions of Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez? The silky skills of Ivan Calderon, or the dominance of Ricardo Lopez?

This Saturday, HBO’s World Championship Boxing showcases what promises to be the latest in that long line of legendary lower-weight nights when Nonito Donaire clashes with Guillermo Rigondeaux in a matchup between two men who must surely be considered, especially now that Abner Mares has moved to featherweight, the very best fighters under 125 pounds in the world.

Rigondeaux’s exalted position owes little to his professional record – which, comprising just 11 fights (all victories), is incomplete. Instead, it is a testament to the almost legendary status accorded his amateur career, highlighted by two Olympic gold medals. It is a reflection also of the talent he has shown during his brief spell in the paid ranks, epitomized by a counterpunching style that can, should his opponent be stung, morph immediately into an all-out attack.

Donaire, on the other hand, has earned his stripes the old-fashioned way, grinding out wins against difficult opponents when necessary, producing spectacular stoppage wins when possible (check out his demolition of Fernando Montiel for evidence of the latter) and over the course of a 12-year pro career earning world titles at 112, 115, 118 and now 122 pounds. If his moves in the ring don’t seem quite as effortless as his foe’s, they pack more consistent punch, and Donaire has shown an impressive ability to adapt his style to that of the man in front of him, be it a willing brawler like Jorge Arce or a non-combative spoiler like Omar Narvaez.

Donaire, of course, first burst onto boxing’s radar with a 2007 knockout of Vic Darchinyan, who for several years was the terror of the lower weight divisions. Although Darchinyan’s peak has now passed, there are plenty of others ready to assume the mantle he once wore, and over which Donaire and Rigondeaux will do battle on Saturday. Here’s a selection of five to watch out for:

Mikey Garcia

Featherweight Garcia is the biggest of the bunch, and in the eyes of some may have the highest ceiling. Already, at the age of just 25, he is 31-0 with 26 KOs; any doubts about his class at the highest level were eradicated when he dominated Orlando Salido in January.

Roman Gonzalez

Nicaraguan Gonzalez, known as ‘El Chocolatito’, may be the best boxer unknown to most boxing fans. Presently in possession of a world title belt at 108 pounds, and previously a titleholder at 105 pounds, his record after 34 pro fights is perfect. Like Garcia, he is only 25, suggesting there are many opportunities yet for him to showcase his skills on bigger and brighter stages.

Juan Francisco Estrada

It says much for the esteem in which Gonzalez is held that Estrada was granted a title shot against Brian Viloria because he looked relatively impressive while El Chocolatito was beating him. After becoming only the sixth man to take Gonzalez the distance, Estrada moved up to 112 pounds for the shot against Viloria and came away victorious, scoring a split decision win in last week’s HBO2-televised card from Macau, China. A Gonzalez rematch, with Estrada’s new crown at stake, may be on the cards.

Brian Viloria

Write off the ‘Hawaiian Punch’ at your peril. Although his previous three losses were disappointing, the loss to Estrada was a close call in an exciting contest against a guy who may well be better than previously advertised. Viloria has rebounded from each of his earlier setbacks to recapture world title glory; at age 32, climbing that mountain one more time will be difficult, but be certain he’ll make a compelling effort.

Jesse Magdaleno

Big brother Diego may have fallen just short in his first title shot, on that same Macau card last week, but super bantamweight Jesse has long been considered the true class of the family. A real blue-chip prospect with knockout power, the younger Magdaleno scored a third-round stoppage in his last outing, on the undercard of Timothy Bradley’s win over Ruslan Provodnikov, and may be only a year or two away from a title tilt of his own.

CompuBox Analysis: Donaire vs. Rigondeaux

by CompuBox

Building a legacy that stands the test of time is particularly difficult in this era where high-quality matches are so difficult to arrange. But over the past couple of years Nonito Donaire has bucked the trend and as a result sits near the top of every expert's pound-for-pound list. Donaire has won 30 straight fights over 12 years and the gauntlet of opponents he has faced of late -- Hernan Marquez, Wladimir Sidorenko, Fernando Montiel, Omar Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce, champions all -- is arguably the toughest any fighter has faced. Many say that Donaire, not Juan Manuel Marquez, was the rightful Fighter of the Year for 2012.

The beat -- and Donaire, a 3-1 favorite, hopes the beatings -- will go on Saturday when he faces two-time gold medalist and WBA counterpart Guillermo Rigondeaux, (who hasn't lost a fight in nearly ten years) perhaps the greatest amateur fighter who has yet lived. This will be Donaire's second unification fight in nine months and had Nishioka not been stripped shortly before facing Donaire it would have been "The Filipino Flash's" third such match. Fights like Donaire-Rigondeaux are to be savored like a grade-A steak.

Still, there are statistical factors that may separate these high-level fighters. 

Read the Complete CompuBox Analysis of the Donaire vs. Rigondeaux fight at HBO.com.

Nonito Donaire Lets Off Some Steam During Training

During training for his fight this Saturday night against Guillermo Rigondeaux, cameras from Bleacher Report caught up with Nonito Donaire as he mixed up combos with song lyrics and movie quotes:

Rigondeaux's Hard Decision Leads to Donaire Showdown

by Kieran Mulvaney

As an amateur boxer, Guillermo Rigondeaux seemingly had everything.

The totality of his record is unclear; some reports say he won close to 400 bouts and lost no more than 12, others that he in fact was victorious in 243 and defeated in just four. What is certain is that he secured Olympic gold at the Sydney Games in 2000 and again in Athens four years later. He claimed a pair of amateur world championships, and he was his country's national champion for seven straight years. That country, however, was Cuba.

Cuba is renowned for its conveyor belt of amateur boxing talent, producing Olympic greats such as Joel Casamayor, Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon. Yet of them all, says HBO's Max Kellerman in 'Road to Donaire-Rigondeaux', a preview of the Cuban's Saturday bout with Nonito Donaire, "Rigondeaux is the one I was most excited about. He's the one I thought posed the most threat to the pros because he has superb defense and real punching power."

Yet Rigondeaux lived in a country where there was no professional boxing, no opportunity to earn anything for his ability other than gold medals and the gratitude of his nation. So in 2007, he defected. Briefly. Maybe.

In late July of that year, Rigondeaux and countryman Erislandy Lara disappeared prior to their scheduled bouts at the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro; a couple of weeks later, they were found by Brazilian authorities, accused of overstaying their visas, and deported back to Cuba. Although they insisted they had not planned to stay in Brazil and had intended to go back to Cuba, they found on their return they had effectively been unpersoned. Now, even amateur boxing in the Cuban system was denied to them, and so in 2009, Rigondeaux defected again – this time definitively and successfully, taking to the water between Cuba and Florida, the state where he now makes his home.

"It was a very complicated experience," admits the boxer on 'Road to Donaire-Rigondeaux.' "I had to leave my family in Cuba, not knowing when I'd see them again. But what's important is that I can help them from here. As long as they're safe, they'll be OK."

He turned professional in May 2009 against Juan Noriega; in just his ninth professional bout, in January last year, he won a super-bantamweight belt. At times, his fast-but-heavy hands and his wealth of amateur experience have combined to devastating effect, as in that title-winning effort against Rico Ramos, a sixth-round KO win; his first-round TKO victory over Willie Casey; or his stoppage win against Teon Kennedy in June. Occasionally, however, he has looked less than dominant: Ricardo Cordoba pushed him to a split decision at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas in 2010, and in his most recent outing, he was twice wobbled in an otherwise comfortable win over Roberto Marroquin.

Some observers have suggested that the wobbles against Marroquin, combined with a knockdown he suffered against Cordoba, hint at a chin that may not be the strongest. If that is so, there can be little doubt it is a weakness that Donaire will seek to exploit. Rigondeaux, in turn, will look to counter Donaire as the Filipino-American attempts to press his perceived advantages. It is a style matchup that promises both an intriguing chess match and explosive exchanges with the possibility of an early ending for either man.

Whatever happens in the ring, Rigondeaux knows that he has been knocked down before outside it, but risen to beat the count and keep on fighting. If he wins, he will have defeated one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and will surely be considered to have achieved that level himself. But the very fact that he is at this point, taking on Donaire in New York on HBO, shows that he's already won his most important battle.

When Two Pound-for-Pounders Face Off, Anything Can Happen

by Hamilton Nolan


Boxing, unlike saner, better organized sports, is prone to leaving its fans wishing for matchups that never take place. Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. Gamboa vs. JuanMa. Golovkin vs. anyone good. Boxing fans are used to the disappointment of “what if”s. Which makes the fact that Nonito Donaire is preparing to fight Guillermo Rigondeaux all the more remarkable. It is one of the very best talent matchups in boxing. And despite that, the fight actually got made.

Donaire (31-1), widely considered one of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world, spent the past year running through four very good super bantamweight opponents in brutal fashion, en route to Fighter of the Year honors. His left hook, which in his last fight left Jorge Arce twitching on the ground like a seizure victim, is the most feared in the sport. Yet he’s far from one dimensional; last October, Toshiaki Nishioka kept his guard up against Donaire’s left hook all night, only to be knocked out cold with a straight right hand.

Read the Complete Nonito Donaire vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux Fight Overview at HBO.com.