Nonito Donaire had no answer for the quick counter punching, savvy footwork and defensive prowess of Guillermo Rigondeaux, who lifted the Filipino star’s RING and WBO 122-pound titles with a unanimous decision victory.
NEW YORK – When Guillermo Rigondeaux fled Communist Cuba more than four years ago, he did so with dreams of a night like this.
Fighting at the historic Radio City Music Hall on Saturday in an HBO main event for THE RING’s junior featherweight championship and against one of the best five pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Nonito Donaire, Rigondeaux proved his mettle and class with a display of boxing skill rarely seen in the ring.
He bounced on his toes, fired pulverizing overhand lefts and when Donaire missed with wild shots, the master counterpuncher made him pay. It was a boxing lesson.
After 12 rounds, Rigondeaux prevailed by unanimous decision – scores of 114-113, 115-112 and 116-111 – and is now clearly the best 122-pounder on the planet.
“As I told you before I would do my job and I did what I said I was going to do,” said Rigondeaux, 32. “The people that saw this fight, the people that know boxing, saw quality tonight. I made him look bad.
“He’s a disciplined and great fighter. I’ll fight anybody next who wants to challenge me.”
Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 knockouts) put on a clinic from the very start. The two-time Olympic gold medalist showed his supreme technical skills. He was patient in his counterpuncher role and landed some nice stinging overhand lefts – one staggered Donaire early in the first round – and he punctuated the frame with a solid right hook.
For the first four rounds, it was all Rigondeaux, as a visibly-frustrated Donaire missed time-and-again.
Rigondeaux timed Donaire well and scored well to the body.
The fight came to screeching halt in the fifth. Neither fighter wanted to lead, which left a chess match that the sell-out crowd of 6,145 furiously booed.
But the fight picked up in a big way in the 10th round when Donaire (31-2, 20 knockouts) was able to tie-up Rigondeaux on the inside, use his right forearm to create space, and unloaded with a massive left hook that dropped Rigondeaux to the seat of his pants.
Rigondeaux beat referee Benjy Esteves’ count, took a bow, and weathered the oncoming Donaire storm. Donaire connected on several more hard shots, but Rigondeaux got his bearings back and began to land some nice counters of his own.
Rigondeaux seemed reinvigorated by the knockdown and started a paint job on Donaire in the championship rounds. Everything he threw he landed: overhand lefts, straight lefts, right hooks; Donaire had no answers. In the final round, Rigondeaux blasted Donaire with a straight left and opened up a massive cut under Donaire’s right eye, which forced him to hold his right glove high for the remainder of the bout.
Rigondeaux continued to unleash, seeing his prey was wounded, and uncorked big shots that buckled Donaire, but “The Filipino Flash” saw the final bell.
According to CompuBox, Donaire averaged six-of-29 punches per round; Rigondeaux connected on 10-of-33.
Rigondeaux said: “You saw it, moving, boxing – you can’t win by landing one shot. Donaire is an excellent fighter, but you can’t win a fight with one shot.”
It was a major disappointment for the reigning Fighter of the Year.
Donaire competed four times in 2012 – rare for a fighter of his caliber in this day-and-age – scoring victories over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce. The banner year inched him ever close to being the heir apparent to countryman Manny Pacquiao’s throne as the top fighter in the Philippines, but Saturday presented a setback.
“I apologize, I wanted to deliver,” said Donaire, 30. “During the last two rounds I got stupid. I felt his power in the last round; I wanted to put him away. There was a lot of pressure on me, I’ve got ligament damage in my shoulder and I need surgery. It was my mistake for not changing up throughout the fight. I have no excuse, he beat me tonight.”
Donaire says he didn’t study tapes of Rigondeaux before the bout and that he struggled to make weight and will move up to the featherweight (126-pound) division.
But Saturday night – boring performance or not – was about an emerging top fighter in the sport, a man promoter Bob Arum hailed as “one of the best defensive fighters he’s ever seen.”
Rigondeaux took a leap of faith when he fled Cuba in 2009. He’s already considered perhaps the best amateur of all-time, if Saturday was any indication, he’s on his way to greatness in the pros.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda
Follow Mike Coppinger on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger