NEW YORK — Following Wednesday’s final press conference for Saturday night’s HBO-televised clash at Radio City Music Hall, RING, IBF and WBO junior featherweight champion Nonito Donaire and WBA counterpart Guillermo Rigondeaux engaged in a brief, yet extremely intense staredown as the media in attendance took it in at The Theater lobby of Madison Square Garden.
Friday’s post-weigh-in faceoff between Donaire (31-1, 20 knockouts) and Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) was perhaps more dramatic, lasting nearly 90 seconds before Donaire placed his left hand on Rigondeaux’s right shoulder and turned away as the fighters raised their fists and posed for photos.
The taller Donaire mocked Rigondeaux on at least three occasions as they stood, face-to-face, squatting once to maintain line of sight, and twice pointing to his own eyes as a suggestion that Rigondeaux’s glare had drifted away.
Just as he did on Wednesday, Donaire insisted that he saw fear in Rigondeaux’s eyes.
“I had to direct his eyes upward,” said “The Filipino Flash,” who weighed 121.6 compared to 121.5 for Rigondeaux. “I felt like he just couldn’t look at me in the eyes for that long. It’s just one of those things.”
After a dull decison over Panama’s Ricardo Cordoba in November of 2010, Rigondeaux responded with consecutive stoppages over Willie Casey, Rico Ramos and Teon Kennedy in the first, sixth and fifth rounds, respectively, before securing September’s unanimous decision victory over Robert Marroquin.
Donaire has displayed two-fisted power during his title-winning rise from 112 pounds to 122 pounds with stoppages of Vic Darchinyan, Fernando Montiel, Volodymyr Sydorenko, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce.
“This is going to be one of the most tactical fights,” said Donaire, who went 4-0 with two knockouts against former titleholders in the 122-pound class in 2012, and is after his third consecutive stoppage victory. “Power-for-power, speed-for-speed, let’s see who will prevail. That’s why this fight is going to be exciting.”
THE PURSE, OFFICIALS AND GLOVES FOR DONAIRE-RIGODEAUX
Donaire will earn just over $1 million to $750,000 for Rigondeaux, with their referee being Benjy Esteves, and their judges being Tom Schreck, Julie Lederman and John Stewart.
Esteves will be working a Rigondeaux fight for the first time, although he was the third man in the ring when Donaire made the final defense of his WBC and WBO bantamweight belts in October of 2011 against a defensive-minded Narvaez at Madison Square Garden.
“I always move around in the fights,” said Esteves. “You will never catch my butt in front of a judges’ face, because I’m always moving.”
Donaire’s trainer, Robert Garcia, said his fighter will be wearing Mexican Everlast gloves, while Rigondeaux’s manager, Gary Hyde, said his boxer will be wearing Grants.
Hyde initially said both sides were wearing Grants, but Garcia said Donaire was not. Rigondeaux’s will be black and red, and Donaire’s, green and yellow.
FELIX VERDEJO, GLEN TAPIA, MIKAEL ZEWSKI, SEAN MONAGHAN RETURN TO BIG APPLE
Saturday night’s Donaire-Rigondeaux card marks the return to New York of junior lightweight Felix Verdejo, junior middleweight Glen Tapia, Canadian welterweight Mikael Zewski and light heavyweight Sean Monaghan, each of whom were a part of January’s card at Madison Square Garden that was highlighted by a unanimous eight-round technical decision victory by RING and WBO featherweight champ Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia over Orlando Salido.
Verdejo (4-0, 3 KOs) and rival Steve Gutierrez (4-3-1, 2 KOs), of Fort Worth, Texas, were at 131.5 and 130, respectively. In January, Verdejo took only two punches and 21 seconds to knock out Tomi Archambault, and will be after his third consecutive knockout against Gutierrez.
Tapia (17-0, 10 KOs), of Passaic, N.J., and Puerto Rican opponent Joseph de los Santos (13-11-3, 6 KOs) weighed 154.5 and 153. Tapia is coming off his second-round stoppage of Ayi Bruce at The Garden.
Monaghan (17-0, 10 KOs), of Long Beach, N.Y., came in at 176 compared to the contracted maximum of 177 for opponent Rex Stanley (11-4, 5 KOs), of Kansas City, Mo. Monahan is coming off a crowd-pleasing decision over Roger Cantrell (15-3, 8 KOs).
Zewski (18-0, 14 KOs) and New York’s Daniel Sostre (11-8-1, 4 KOs) were at 148.5 and 147 — below their contracted maximum of 149. Zewski is trying to follow up his triumph over Brandon Hoskins, whom he dropped three times in the fourth and final round for the knockout.
THE REST OF THE DONAIRE-RIGONDEAUX CARD
Detroit lightweight Erik DeLeon (2-0, 1 KO) and counterpart Diamond Baier (2-4-1, 0 KOs), of Phoenix, AZ., were each at 131.5 pounds, New York junior middleweight Dario Soccia (2-0, 0 KOs) and Tyler Caning (1-1, 0 KOs) of Lander, Wy., weighed 153 and 150, respectively; Philadelphia super middleweight Jesse Hart (5-0, 4 KOs) and Florida’s Marlon Farr (2-2, 0 KOs) were at 169 and 170, and, junior lightweight Toka Khan Clary (4-0, 3 KOs), of Providence, R.I., and Gadiel Andulez (4-4-1, 2 KOs), of San Juan, P.R., were 131 and 131.5, respectively.
Farr initially tipped the scales at 171 pounds, but was given an hour to lose what amounted to eight ounces to make the contracted 170-pound limit.
A 6-foot-2, 23-year-old Hart is trained by his father, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, a premier middleweight out of Philadelphia through the 1970s.
Eugene Hart’s final record of 30-9-1 (28 KOs), included a victory over Sugar Ray Seals, a draw and a loss to Bennie Briscoe, and losses against Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Marvin Hagler, Vito Antuofermo and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
Jesse Hart debuted with a 33-second knockout of New Mexico’s Manuel Eastman on the undercard of a disputed split-decision victory by Tim Bradley over Manny Pacquiao in June at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“I plan to get my guy out of there in the first round, that’s what I’m planning to do,” said Hart, who knocked out his first three career opponents in the first round, and is coming off December’s unanimous decision over Steve Tyner.
“I won’t take no chances with him, and I’ll take him right out of there. This is another tremendous opportunity for me, being on the Donaire-Rigondeaux card. It couldn’t be any bigger, being at Radio City Music Hall, so it should be outstanding.”
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com