NEW YORK, N.Y. – Sometimes it’s nice to be disconnected.
It can be a good thing to be able to sit there and have other people move their lips, gesticulate and criticize in a language you don’t really understand. You phase it out like white noise. A language barrier can be great insulation from the creeping perils that can seep into a fighter’s psyche. This way you stay impervious, sure of yourself, as clean as Cuban expatriate Guillermo Rigondeaux has.
This way you can stay true to what got you here – as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world.
It’s where Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 knockouts) finds himself today. Not long after the 33-year-old former amateur star dominated Nonito Donaire (31-2, 20 KOs) on April 13 to become THE RING’s junior featherweight champion, along with unifying the WBO and WBA 122-pound titles, Top Rank’s Bob Arum, Rigondeaux’s promoter, told the media of HBO’s reluctance to put him back on:
“Every time I mention him, they throw up,” Arum was quoted. “So I have to figure out who I could put him in with.”
But guess who’s back on HBO this Saturday at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall in the feature fight of a tripleheader?
Yep – the fighter that makes them puke.
Rigondeaux will be putting his titles on the line against rugged two-time bantamweight titleholder Joseph Agbeko (29-4, 22 KOs). The card also includes a pair of 10-round middleweight bouts, one marking the nearly 21-month return of James Kirkland (31-1, 27 KOs), who will take on Glen Tapia (20-0, 12 KOs), and the other TV fight will pit former middleweight title challenger Matthew Macklin (29-5, 20 KOs) against Lamar Russ (14-0, 7 KOs).
Rigondeaux can be grateful he’s only able to grasp English in bits and pieces. He didn’t have to consume the spilled pollution that came out after he twirled around Donaire.
In reality, Rigondeaux’s defensive brilliance is only second to Floyd Mayweather, the best boxer in the world today. In fact, Rigondeaux is as close to Mayweather as any contemporary.
And Rigondeaux has had the same aspersions cast in his direction as Mayweather did coming up. Too defensive. Too safe. Doesn’t take risks.
And just like Mayweather, Rigondeaux remains steadfast to what makes him so special: the sublime kinesthetic awareness to get out of the way of an oncoming punch.
It’s been maddening to opponents. It’s also been maddening to watch for many fans, and some commentators.
“I wouldn’t blame HBO for never putting Rigondeaux back on,” Hall of Fame color analyst Larry Merchant said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Rigondeaux is a talented, beautiful boxer, but prize fighting is about entertainment. If the people want to come back and see you again, what’s the use?
“You want a fighter that can excite. People want to be entertained. He still has that amateur style.”
So maybe Agbeko can make Rigondeaux work, to coax him out of his comfort zone to the point he’s willing to openly exchange. Maybe the 33-year-old veteran’s aggressive savvy, caginess can elicit a different side of the gifted southpaw.
One thing is for certain, the two-time Olympic gold medalist has no problem looking past who he’s going to face on Saturday. In Rigondeaux’s mind, Agbeko appears merely a tune-up for a rematch with Donaire.
As Agbeko spoke during the final press conference in New York City leading up to the fight Wednesday, Rigondeaux sat there expressionless, shaking his head from side-to-side, as if in another world.
“Donaire, I thought was easy; he was the easiest fight out there,” Rigondeaux said. “I hear he wants a rematch and I have no problem giving it to him, but that’s if he wants to come down to 122. I would be willing and more than happy to give him a beating again. We’ll see. I’d really like to see him win another belt so I can take that from him, too.”
Rigondeaux doesn’t carry so much a visceral urge to please blood-thirsty fans – but a visceral urge to win.
“I do want to put on a great show and I’m ready to go and I’m ready to fight,” Rigondeaux said.
But Agbeko was emphatic about something that continues to be pushed into Rigondeaux’s face continuously – that he’s not in the amateurs anymore, despite snuffing out Donaire, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, in only his 12th pro fight.
He made Donaire miss 270 times. Before that, he made Robert Marroquin miss him 288 times.
“This is not amateur boxing where you punch one punch and you can get away with it for the whole round,” Agbeko stressed. “This is professional boxing. You come into the ring to give the crowd what they want to see. So you go in, take a punch and punch and at the end of the day the crowd enjoys the fight.
“They want Rigondeaux to prove to me and to the whole boxing world to prove that he’s just not a boxer but he can come in and fight, as well. I want Rigondeaux to come in as a fighter and let’s kill each other. Let’s punch and at the end of the day everybody’s gonna know that Rigondeaux has got the heart to come forward, not just to run in the ring. I know I’m gonna beat him!”
Rigondeaux merely smirked at Agbeko’s statement.
“He could say anything he wants, all the talk is over, it’s time to go,” Rigondeaux said. “It’s funny how my [amateur background] is always brought up. I hear it all of the time, and what happens in the end, I win. I’m just really happy that HBO is giving me this opportunity again.”
Then he seemed to phase everything out again.
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank, Al Bello-Getty Images