By Kieran Mulvaney
First things first: Guillermo Rigondeaux is undeniably a supremely talented pugilist. His ring generalship is exceptional and his opponents frequently find themselves flailing desperately at air that the Cuban master has ceased to occupy. Let it also be noted that boxing is traditionally referred to as the sweet science, the art of hitting without being hit, and that the sport’s history is replete with practitioners – from Willie Pep to Nicolino Locche to Pernell Whitaker and now Rigondeaux – who have made excelling at the second part of that equation an art form.
There are times when Rigondeaux fights can be entertaining and even explosive: witness, for example, his first round knockout of Sean Casey in Ireland in 2011. But so great is Rigondeaux’s focus on the art of self-defense to the exclusion of demonstrating any kind of offense that those performances linger less in the memory than his more somnambulistic outings, and he provided another example of the latter on Saturday against Drian Francisco.
One of the knocks on the claims of greatness that the Cuban’s fans would bestow on him is that he requires a very specific type of opponent in order to provide entertainment. A foe who comes at him with an organized and consistent offense plays to his strengths, because Rigondeaux (16-0, 10 KOs), is a magnificent counter puncher who punishes aggression with sharp hooks and southpaw straight lefts. When faced with someone like Francisco – a boxer demonstrably multiple classes below him – the result can be tedium. Francisco tried, at times, but his crude lunges were so easily parried by the lineal junior featherweight champion that on more than one occasion, the Filipino stumbled over his own feet and once even nearly flew out of the ring. And yet, each time that happened, Rigondeaux would stand and watch, the desire for self-preservation overwhelming any sense that maybe the paying public deserved better. When he wasn’t hurling himself ineffectually at his elusive target, Francisco (28-4-1, 22 KOs), evidently considered discretion preferable to being made to look foolish and stood away from his foe, making vague notions of throwing punches but generally electing not to.
So dire was Francisco’s output that he landed only 42 punches all night. Rigondeaux, who rightly won a unanimous decision (100-90 on two cards, an odd 97-93 on another), landed only 72.
All is not necessarily lost. There is – or at least was, before this outing – talk of matching Rigondeaux with fellow hugely accomplished amateur Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is at least aggressive enough to force Rignondaux to throw punches, and skilled enough that the Cuban would be in a genuine contest for once. Still, fans can be forgiven if they aren’t exactly holding their breaths.