Robert Silva is back with his greatest super bantamweights in boxing history list. You can read his previous essay on Daniel Zaragoza before reading his latest.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is an anomaly when it comes to being an incredible counterpuncher and defensive standout. Rigondeaux, unlike other men who fight with his style and skillset, has absolutely no jab. In his southpaw stance, Rigondeaux paws and feints while effortlessly making his opponents miss. Instead of a right jab, Rigondeaux makes his opponents pay with lead right crosses. At 122 pounds, Rigondeaux was a technical master despite the absence of a jab in becoming the fourth greatest fighter in the history of the division.
After one of the greatest amateur careers of all-time which resulted in winning two Olympic gold medals, Rigondeaux defected from his native Cuba in February of 2009. He was 28 years old at the time and wasted no time in becoming a world rated super bantamweight contender. In only his seventh pro fight, on November 13, 2010, Rigondeaux defeated Ricardo Cordoba to win the bogus “interim” WBA super bantamweight title. Then two fights later, Rigondeaux severely outclassed and beat down the “regular” WBA champion Rico Ramos on January 20, 2012 into a sixth round submission. Ramos suffered such a beating that he’s never been the same since, losing 6 of his 16 fights beginning with this loss. Rigondeaux would continue his domination of the 122-pound division for another six years.
After two successful defenses of the title he wrested from Ramos, Rigondeaux signed to fight the WBO and Ring Magazine super bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall on April 13, 2013. I attended this fight knowing deep down inside that despite Donaire being one of the five best fighters in the world at the time that Rigondeaux’s southpaw and technical style would dominate the “Filipino Flash.”
At the time of the fight, Donaire was in the midst of one of the greatest runs for a little man in the history of the sport. Donaire had destroyed his opposition at 112, 115 and now 118 pounds. The 30-year-old Donaire had a style that was very reminiscent of a prime Roy Jones with incredible speed, reflexes and one-punch knockout power in both hands. Rigondeaux, like other great defensive masters in boxing history, would attempt to take away his opponent’s biggest weapon. Donaire inexplicably sought to try and knock out Rigondeaux with one punch and this resulted in Donaire getting countered over and over again while failing to land anything effective for the first nine rounds. I had the Cuban master winning the first nine rounds while laughing as the fight was going exactly as I expected.
In round 10, while backing straight up, Rigondeaux got hit by a wicked left hook that both hurt and knocked him down. Rigondeaux was able to survive the rest of the round as a desperate Donaire was unable to finish him off. After an uneventful 11th round, Rigondeaux staggered Donaire early in the 12th with a cracking left cross and nearly knocked out the Filipino superstar before the bell sounded. Rigondeaux won a well deserved 12th round decision and looked to be headed to instant stardom. His promoter Bob Arum rewarded Rigondeaux’s near flawless performance by releasing Rigondeaux from his Top Rank contract, labeling the Cuban master “too boring” to push as a top star to boxing fans. Despite this disrespect, Rigondeaux continued to dominate the division before unwisely moving up in December 2017 and took a one-sided beating at the hands of Vasyl Lomachenko for the Ukrainian dynamo’s 130-pound title. Since that loss, Rigondeaux has moved down to 118 pounds and is still an above average fighter today at the age of 40.
Guillermo Rigondeaux’s reign at 122 pounds was the perfect display of a man with unparalleled defensive skills in the history of the division. Rigondeaux was always relaxed and his one-sided domination of future Hall of Famer Donaire is easily one of the greatest individual boxing performances of the 21st century. Despite being considered “boring” by Arum and so called boxing experts, there is no denying the excellence that has been displayed by the Cuban master, the fourth greatest super bantamweight of all-time.