December 13, 2017
December 13, 2017
Guillermo Rigondeaux

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IT could be argued that watching a fight on the internet at four o’clock in the morning gives you a better, clearer understanding of what’s going on than if you are sat ringside seeing events unfold at a more civilised hour. Viewed through tired, sceptical eyes, battling the dreaded buffer (not Michael), the romance of it all is lost, the excitement diluted, and the need to sieve the hype and cut to the chase – basically, get to bed – becomes absolutely paramount.

Which is probably why, on Sunday morning, when Guillermo Rigondeaux realised he had no chance of beating Vasyl Lomachenko and decided to remain rooted to his stool ahead of round seven, I wasn’t mad.

It was probably why, as those who were mad chose to vent their frustration and call into question the heart of a professional boxer with world titles and Olympic gold medals to his name, I simply shrugged, closed my laptop and rolled into bed, for once pleased it was British winter and daylight had yet to creep through the gap between curtains; within seconds, I was asleep, no thought spared for Rigo’s perma-sad face, nor the soporific boxing match and its abrupt ending; all I could think was, thank you, Rigo. Thank you.

Elsewhere, of course, the reaction was quite different. Gutless. Quitter. Fraud. Rigondeaux’s legacy, they said, was tarnished, ruined and irreparable, while his opponent, Lomachenko, mocked him in a post-fight interview and rebranded himself ‘No-Mas-Chenko’, a nod to the growing rate at which opponents are opting to quit in his presence.

guillermo rigondeaux

No Mas.

Those two words haunted Roberto Duran for years and remain synonymous with the great Panamanian to this day. A phrase used to emasculate someone accustomed to being the most masculine bloke in any room he frequented, Duran’s no mas episode in November 1980 was noteworthy, as well as shocking and controversial, because it went against everything Duran, we were led to believe, represented. More than just out of character, it was akin to a barefaced lie, the slipping of a mask, and the ‘Hands of Stone’ reputation he’d built knocking out horses and lightweights took some time to restore.

Rigondeaux, I’m sure, will face no such backlash. But, if he does, here are twelve reasons why the forlorn Cuban should be left alone:

  1. Let’s deal with the obvious first: the injury. Rigondeaux said he hurt his left hand and, frankly, who are we to argue? The real question, I suppose, is this: should a hand injury, an affliction that affects many who throw punches in a boxing ring, be a good enough reason for a boxer to call it quits halfway through a fight.

    Admittedly, in the context of a sport that routinely showcases incredible feats of bravery, many of which are pain barrier-related, Rigondeaux’s sore hand excuse doesn’t sound great. But if Rigondeaux did damage his left hand, the one responsible for his money punch, I wouldn’t want to watch him cut shapes in a ring anyway.

  1. Rigondeaux, a cagey southpaw whose punch output is as low as his centre of gravity, couldn’t land anything on Lomachenko. Not a single punch. Not a jab, not his powerful and precise left cross, nothing. He tried everything he knows – fast, single counters, having changed angles and positions – but none of his tricks, learned over the course of (approximately) 475 amateur fights and 18 professional fights, appeared to work.

    “So what?” you might say. Plenty of boxers miss punches. But Rigondeaux isn’t any old boxer. In fact, his punch output is as low as it is because his accuracy and timing typically allow him to do a lot with very little. Take those things away from him, remove his ability to fight the way he normally fights, and you’re left with a boxer for whom missing punches is every bit as catastrophic as receiving them.

  1. The suspense, the not knowing what might happen next, doesn’t really work in this instance, either. Whereas Roberto Duran had already defeated ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard (five months prior to their ‘No Mas’ rematch), and was therefore seemingly capable of a repeat, we had no indication whatsoever that Rigondeaux was equipped to conquer Lomachenko, let alone do so from a losing position, having not landed a meaningful punch in six rounds.

    Yes, historically, every boxer has the chance to turn things around with a single blow, but it’s all relative to the context and fighter in question. Rigondeaux, in this instance, was never winning the fight. Not on points; not by knockout. He was for six rounds, as bizarre as it sounds, masquerading as an obscenely talented journeyman; stalling, spoiling, trying to get through it.

  1. Rigondeaux wasn’t beaten up physically, no, but he was for sure beaten up intellectually, strategically and technically. And, for a boxer who traditionally excels in each of those areas, who knows nothing other than to be the superior technician, that is just as detrimental to his psyche and wellbeing as punches to the head and body were to someone like Arturo Gatti. It might look better, and be far less painful, but it’s paralysing all the same.

    Furthermore, if Rigondeaux didn’t believe he could win, and wasn’t feeling it, what use is it having him in the ring, where he’s liable to take punches, for another six rounds? If the heart and the head isn’t in it, for whatever reason, a boxer should probably be nowhere near a boxing ring.

  1. There’s an honesty to Rigondeaux quitting after six rounds, as opposed to going through the motions and cruising for another 18 minutes, I can’t help but admire. Injured or not, he’d patently had enough and had the good grace to spare us seeing an already dull affair turn into something perhaps farcically one-sided. Moreover, let’s not pretend fighters who go the distance, the full twelve rounds, don’t sometimes mentally check out along the way. Many know they are beaten and throw in the towel even when offering the illusion of carrying on.
  1. Of all the pre-fight forecasts I’d heard and read, nobody predicted a scenario whereby Rigondeaux would lose the first six rounds and then, halfway through the fight, decide to pull his socks up, bite down on his gum shield, channel the spirit of Jake LaMotta and adopt a newfound kamikaze style to take the fight to Lomachenko, miraculously wining the next six rounds and perhaps even stopping the great Ukrainian with a last-gasp salvo. This scenario was never mentioned because it was never, ever going to happen. Wiser heads instead believed Rigondeaux, the great frontrunner, was only going to win if capable of getting off to a good start. But he never did.

    What’s more, if part of Rigondeaux’s brilliance is his ability to think six steps ahead of the opposition, we must deduce that against Lomachenko he was thinking six rounds ahead of us all and didn’t like what he saw.

  1. The knock against Rigondeaux – and, indeed, the fight itself – was that he was undersized and therefore unlikely to be any kind of match for Lomachenko physically. We then saw this play out on fight night, when the Cuban – 37 years old, remember – was not only outmanoeuvred by Lomachenko, a man eight years his junior, but also occasionally shoved around. Little Rigo, rest assured, wasn’t going to grow in the second half of the fight. He wasn’t going to become stronger. Quite the opposite.
  1. There’s nothing fun about watching a one-sided drubbing. In fact, one of boxing’s great perks is the power afforded to a boxer’s corner and their white towel. (I’ve often imagined a world in which football matches and other sporting events were cut short this same way.) If it’s getting out of hand, if all semblance of competition has vanished, what’s the point? Who needs to see more of it? Saturday night, though far from barbaric or uncomfortable to watch, and though Rigondeaux seemed capable of sucking it up and carrying on, was a fine example of an experiment gone wrong, curtailed before it went kaput.
  1. Rigondeaux was always likely to lose fights the way he wanted to lose them. Perfectionist and architect, if he isn’t going to win, he sure as hell isn’t going to let you, the opponent, or us, the audience, decide his fate on his behalf. He’s also too good and too clever to be beaten the old-fashioned way, which is to say bashed up, bludgeoned and eventually knocked out. On Saturday night, the old Cuban simply saved himself from humiliation, and saved us from witnessing said humiliation. He picked his poison, then knocked it back.
  1. Nobody ever cared about Guillermo Rigondeaux, so why should he care about us and what we want? A fighter without a following, Rigondeaux has never had to scrap for anybody other than himself and his loved ones. He has never been motivated and inspired by a home crowd. He has never boxed in front of one. Instead, Rigo’s a road warrior, a man without an identity, and that, I believe, is what makes it easy for him to hit eject when the going gets tough and the once possible all of a sudden seems impossible. Ultimately, the Cuban, as cold and clinical with his decision-making as he is when picking punches, nonchalantly strolled away from the fight because he is used to nobody giving a damn.
  1. No two boxers are the same. Some are more skilful than others; some tougher than others. There is no single trait, not even bravery, which all boxers must possess in order for them to call boxing their profession. They act differently, they think differently, and, on Saturday night, it’s safe to say Rigondeaux probably assessed his situation, his predicament, differently to most. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the decision was wrong – for him at least. Nor does it mean he is somehow inferior to those who would have carried on if only to uphold the notion of being tough.
  1. On Saturday afternoon, hours before Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux kicked off, word got around that Erik Skoglund, a 26-year-old super-middleweight from Sweden, had to have part of his skull removed following a bleed on the brain. It was a tragic, sobering jolt to the system no fight fan wanted to hear. Upon receiving news like that, it becomes difficult to view boxing, the sport that led to Skoglund’s plight, the way you viewed it the day before. Scheduled fights become tougher to stomach; premature stoppages easier to accept. Not only that, Skoglund’s injury, suffered in a sparring session just weeks before Christmas, is a reminder that none of us really know what goes on inside a boxer’s head, nor how much damage they have accumulated over the years.

For better or worse, Erik Skoglund is the antithesis of someone like Guillermo Rigondeaux. Basic in his approach, the Swede relies on heart, bravery, determination and stamina, all of which were on display the night he pushed Callum Smith to the wire in September. That was a losing effort, despite a beyond-the-call-of-duty performance, just as Rigondeaux’s on Saturday night was a losing effort. Two different fights, two different fighters; two very different endings. But that’s okay. The boxers make the strategy and the decisions, aware of their own limitations and pain threshold, and should always be allowed to do so. For us, a wrong decision leads only to disappointment and a waste of time and money. For them, the consequences are often greater.