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The final lap for Guillermo Rigondeaux

Guillermo Rigondeaux
Steve Marcus/Getty Images
Matt Christie wonders if Guillermo Rigondeaux has enough left to overtake the fearsome John Riel Casimero

HOW we got here is complicated in the extreme but Saturday’s (August 14) bantamweight 12-rounder between old maestro Guillermo Rigondeaux, ranked fifth in the world, and number three John Riel Casimero should be fascinating nonetheless. Casimero surprised many when he thrashed Zolani Tete atop a Queensberry Promotions show in November 2019. That bout came three weeks after division leader Naoya Inoue defeated Nonito Donaire in the fight of the year. Coronavirus had already started its invasion but the world was blissfully unaware of the devastation to come; within a few months the subsequent pandemic quashed a planned Las Vegas showdown between Casimero and Inoue.

With fans unable to attend events and deliver the prize-fund required, fallback plans were hatched. In September of 2020, Casimero took out Duke Micah in three while Inoue flattened Jason Moloney the following month. Donaire re-entered the mix this year when he walloped Nordine Oubaali to set up an all-Filipino showdown with 32-year-old Casimero. The winner would fight Inoue. Or so we thought.

At the end of June, Rachel Donaire – Nonito’s wife and manager – alleged that Casimero was dillydallying with VADA’s requests for drug-testing forms to be completed. She also claimed that Casimero had insulted her more than once via sexually derogative language. The Donaires pulled out of the fight (and today are in negotiations to face Inoue in the winter). It subsequently emerged – via an email from VADA’s Dr Margaret Goodman – that Casimero’s team did return the forms the day after they were requested. But for Donaire, it was too late. Casimero, who also questioned his rival’s Filipino roots, had clearly irked the family. They would not, they stated, partake in a contest that would see Casimero earn good money.

Enter Guillermo Rigondeaux, a stubborn egomaniac who is now under the umbrella of show promoters, PBC. The 40-year-old Cuban’s professional career has perpetually promised greatness but only sporadically delivered. A fighter so brazenly brilliant it’s always been a struggle to get anyone in the opposite corner, and a man so anti-establishment it’s borderline impossible to promote him. He outclassed Donaire back in 2013 (to win the world super-bantamweight title he forfeits by engaging in his second consecutive bout at 118lbs), but the only crossover fight that followed came in 2017 when he had to jump up to super-featherweight to take on Vasiliy Lomachenko. Outsized and outwitted, he quit on his stool after six rounds, citing a hand injury.

Since then, Rigondeaux has won three bouts, most recently doing just enough to edge Liborio Solis in February 2020. A victory for Guillermo would be second only to the win over Donaire as the most noteworthy of his paid career. And victory – which could yet lead to one last hurrah at the very top table – is far from out of the question.

Casimero’s skills do not compare to 20-1 (13) Rigondeaux’s. “El Chacal”, in fact, is arguably the most skilled boxer around today. That argument is far from bullet-proof, however. At 40 he has to be past his best and there’s the perennial criticism that he does not throw enough punches; there have been times when Rigondeaux appears not just disinterested inside a ring but bored out of his skull. Some might say that against a fighter as revered as Casimero, 30-4 (21), he will surely be able to remain switched on and composed, but one only has to look at his showing against Lomachenko for evidence of the contrary. Yes, he was far too small to really stand a chance but the way he raised the white flag proved to critics what they had long suspected: Rigondeaux is so used to having things his own way he simply cannot cope when the opposite occurs.

The crux of this contest, then, might be what happens in the early going. The bad news for the veteran is that Casimero is a fast starter.

Comparatively crude but far from unskilled, he throws punches with such venom – to both head and body – that Rigondeaux, particularly now he’s in the twilight of his career, may struggle to repel his foe. The Filipino is adept at cutting off the ring, bustling forward with his hands high, hooking downstairs, uppercutting high. It’s likely that Casimero – the WBO belt-holder – will struggle to catch Rigondeaux clean but, as his blowouts of Tete and Micah proved, it may only need one to connect for the Cuban to unravel.

The other scenario to consider is one of Rigondeaux being outworked. Though clearly the better fighter, he’s found himself in several close encounters in which he is outworked for large periods because of how uber-economic he is with his own output. Yet that lack of activity is also one of the southpaw’s biggest strengths. He only throws a punch when he’s certain it will land and, importantly against a fighter as dangerous as Casimero, when he’s confident that a counter-attack is not forthcoming. That incredible precision and defensive prowess might be enough to get the victory here.

This one is very hard to call. Rigondeaux – inactive for 18 months and ancient for a bantamweight – is something of an unknown quantity at this stage of his career. But the feeling is that the spidery stylist will be too cute and too accurate for his onrushing opponent, that he’ll make the most of his three-inch advantage in both height and reach and be canny enough to survive the odd scare en route to a potentially controversial 12-round decision. Whether it will be enough to convince either Donaire or Inoue to fight him down the line is a conversation for another day.
There are two other bantamweight bouts on the undercard at Carson, California’s Dignity Health Sports Park. Number four-ranked Emmanuel Rodriguez represents a huge step-up for the promising but unproven Gary Antonio Russell. Like his brother – No.1 featherweight, Gary Russell Jnr – he is naturally right-handed but fights out of a southpaw stance. In Rodriguez he encounters a formidable challenge.

The Puerto Rican was the victim of a bad decision last year when he somehow lost a split decision to Reymart Gaballo. Ringside analyst, the esteemed Steve Farhood, scored the bout 118-110 for Dominguez. Boxing News also felt that Dominguez was the clear victor. His world ranking did not suffer. Nonetheless, he might be a little apprehensive about getting a fair trial by the judges here. Before that bout he was stopped in two rounds by the aforementioned Inoue and you have to go back to 2018, when he decisioned Jason Moloney, for the last time he officially won a bout.

Washington’s Russell has not yet operated in such company. His most recent contest, a technical decision win over Juan Carlos Payano, was the biggest of his career but important to point out that Payano came into that one with only a single victory in his previous four. Dominguez can grind out a points win, then do everyone a favour and chuck the stinking prize, the WBA interim bauble, in the nearest bin.

Tenth-ranked Raus’hee Warren, a southpaw from Cincinnati, is in reasonably tough but expect him to dominate much of his 10-rounder with Las Vegas resident, Damian Vazquez.

The Verdict Watching Rigondeaux go to work is always fascinating.

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