Atlantic City, N.J. — It wasn’t really a matter of whether or not Guillermo Rigondeaux would beat Joseph Agbeko Saturday night in the feature fight of HBO’s tripleheader from Atlantic City.
That was almost a given.
Judges Robin Taylor, Ron McNair and Henry Grant verified that by awarding Rigondeaux with a unanimous victory with all three scoring it 120-108 (as did THE RING).
Rigondeaux was defending the RING, WBO and WBA belts – which he earned with defensive wizardry and aplomb.
Against Agbeko, Rigondeaux was being judged by a far different standard, by ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ criteria that would hopefully prove to be a strong enough lure to entice the viewing public and those watching live (the 3,200-seat facility was about three-quarters full – most of them there to see Glen Tapia, who was stopped by James Kirkland in the sixth) to come back and see him again.
“I did what I needed to do, I was trying to be more offensive,” Rigondeaux said. “Top Rank is trying to make two fights. I’m the No. 1 fighter. [Nonito] Donaire is still traumatized after the beating I gave him. I have no problems fighting [Vasyl] Lomachenko.”
Said Pedro Diaz, Rigondeaux’s trainer: “It was an easy fight because Agbeko didn’t come to fight.”
Rigondeaux (13-0, 8 knockouts), a two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist, possesses uncommon defensive skills, the kind that place him in the rarified realm of Floyd Mayweather Jr. But to those fans expecting to see Rigondeaux come out of his safe shell, they would have been more entertained by watching the faded ceiling paint of the Adrian Phillips Ballroom peel off than anything “The Jackal” did.
In fairness to Rigondeaux, he was the victim of poor timing. The heavily partisan Tapia crowd was just rewarded with a great back-and-forth, give-and-take, blood-dripping slugfest between Tapia and Kirkland.
Then they got Rigondeaux and Agbeko, two tacticians content on measuring each other and throwing one punch at a time. They inhaled the energy out the building like an industrial-sized vacuum.
Rigondeaux, in his sparkling purple and gold Los Angeles Lakers colors, came out in the opening round flat-footed. He still stayed in his cocoon, still played it safe, to a degree, as Agbeko (29-5, 22 KOs), hunched over, came charging forward.
He struck Agbeko twice with body shots as he got within range.
That same rhythm followed in the second. The Jackal kept snapping a left uppercut that landed flush on Agbeko’s chest, and then he leaned back and countered.
In the fourth, Agbeko tried pressing Rigondeaux to no avail. The Cuban expatriate was too sly, too quick and easily slipped out of harm’s way. Rigondeaux opened up briefly in the fifth, tagging “King Kong” with a couple fast shots to the face. He connected with another shot to the gut in the last 20 second of the round, showing why he’s the closest thing to Mayweather today in his ability to get in, land, and get out.
Through six, Agbeko was unable to muster any offense against the elusive, quick Jackal. With around 30 seconds left in the round, Rigondeaux connected with a straight left that caught Agbeko straight on the chin and had him reeling backwards.
Agbeko, the former IBF bantamweight titlist, could do nothing the rest of the way. Rigondeaux was in such control that the fight resembled a spirited sparring session more than an actual title fight.
Someone had it easy. Referee Benjy Esteves Jr. had very little to do, since there were rarely any clinches because both fighters kept a comfortable distance from each other.
Near the end of the eighth round a smattering of boos came from the crowd. At times in the 9th and 10th rounds, the crowd was so quiet the voice of HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley could be heard ringside.
Rigondeaux showed more brilliance with a three-punch combination in the 9th. Agbeko was too slow to react, but he did manage to land a pair of thudding, sweat-wringing body shots close to the end of the ninth. Rigondeaux shrugged it off.
The audience’s discontent grew more audible in the 11th. Still, Rigondeaux peppered away each time Agbeko came close.
Even in the 12th round, with his corner imploring him he had to throw more punches, he needed to be more active, Agbeko seemed satisfied in trying to probe and do little. There was the sporadic wide swing and miss, then back to the hunched-over defensive posture.
“I felt strong throughout the fight, it was tough to get to him,” Agbeko said. “I hurt my right hand early in the fight. It was tough to catch him. He’s very fast, he has good foot movement.”
The looming question might not be whether or not Rigondeaux can dazzle. It may be more a matter of Rigondeaux being so much better than anyone between 118 and 126 that no one could press him into actually fighting.
Did Rigondeaux win over new fans? Probably not. The loudest applause came when the final bell rang. But exciting fights do need two fighters.
Photos by Chris Farina-Top Rank