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.
by Nat Gottlieb
When Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492, he was looking for a shorter way to China and India in a quest to bring back spices and gold for the King and Queen of Spain. Some 521 years later, another explorer of sorts has also set his sights on China, but this time in quest of a different kind of gold. Gold in the form of a diminutive boxer from China, Zu Shiming, the country’s only Olympic boxing gold medalist and a certified national rock star.
Octogenarian promoter, Bob Arum, still one of the great innovators in the boxing world, trotted out his glittering treasure Saturday in Macau. Shiming, all 112 pounds of him, won a unanimous decision as expected, but failed to generate a lot of excitement for the nearly sold-out crowd in the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena, not to mention a staggering audience of reportedly close to 300 million in China that was watching their legendary fighter on free television. Only in the crazy world of boxing could all this pizzazz have been generated by a 31-year-old flyweight making his four-round professional debut!
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.
by Kieran Mulvaney
Almost by definition, HBO Boxing is constantly on the road, broadcasting one week from Las Vegas, the following weekend from Dallas, the Saturday after that from Atlantic City. Over the next several weeks, though, it is visiting locations rarely if ever touched on before.
On April 27, HBO World Championship Boxing comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina when Sergio Martinez defends his middleweight title against Martin Murray. Two weeks before that, Jim Lampley and colleagues will be calling the action when Nonito Donaire clashes with Guillermo Rigondeaux in New York City: in itself, hardly a novel location, but the venue, Radio City Music Hall, has only once before hosted a professional prizefight, when Roy Jones Jr. walked to the ring with the Rockettes before dominating David Telesco in 2000.
Before all that happens, though, a true precedent will be set – and one with potential ramifications for the future – when HBO2 airs a Saturday afternoon card from Macau, China. The card, which is headlined by the professional debut of China’s own Olympic boxing sensation Zou Shiming, raises plenty of questions, both inside and outside the ring:
Will Shiming Be Shining?
Junior flyweight Shiming is something of an amateur superstar, having medaled at three consecutive Olympics, including gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and London last year. He’s clearly accomplished, but at age 31, can the junior flyweight make a successful transition to the professional ranks? There is some precedent in the form of Rigondeaux, who was just shy of 29 when he turned pro but, because of his wealth of in-ring experience, was challenging for a title belt in just his seventh outing.
However good Shiming may or may not be, it’s unlikely we’ll learn much from his pro debut against Eleazar Valenzuela, who enters the ring with a record of 2-1-2. But, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, that doesn’t matter one bit.
“Any time you have a fighter making a pro debut, the goal is to make him look good,” says Rafael. “The idea is he’s going to put on a show for his people. Potentially, it could have an audience of millions over there.”