By Arran McLachlan
Junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux is arguably one of the greatest amateur boxers of all time. In nearly 400 fights, the Cuban lost only 12 times. Some of the highlights from his amateur career include: two Olympic gold medals, two gold medals at the World Amateur Championships and seven Cuban national championships. (Cuba has one of the best amateur boxing programs in the world; it doesn’t allow its citizens to become professional boxers.) After an aborted attempt at defecting in 2007, Rigondeaux successfully left Cuba in 2009. Now based in the U.S., in just 10 professional fights, he has rocketed up the junior featherweight division. He captured his first title in only his ninth contest!
But what is it exactly that makes Rigondeaux such a great talent? One only has to look at his KO win over Rico Ramos (in which he captured the WBA title) to see that the master Cuban technician is one of the best body punchers in boxing today. He does a spectacular job at feinting and walking his opponents into shots. He’s also very patient, placing his body punches expertly.
When watching him fight, another special attribute is his subtle footwork, which easily moves him in and out of position to punch. Against Teon Kennedy, his left hand rarely missed the mark; however, this could be attributed as much to his footwork as it could be to his accuracy. He consistently placed his right foot outside of Kennedy’s left, allowing him to land his straight left hand while staying in a balanced position ready to move to safety, if needed.
Rigondeaux’s style isn’t one where he comes forwards and throws a lot of punches. Instead, he likes to stand back and look for the perfect counterpunch, be it the left cross to the head, which dropped Kennedy five times, or the left hook to the body, which KO'd Adolfo Landeros in little over 20 seconds of the first round.
One of Rigondeaux’s more unusual counterpunching techniques is where he slowly throws punches (think half-speed), almost as if he is shadow boxing in the ring, to feint his opponent. These sequences confuse an opponent and create a false sense of security. As soon as an opponent throws back, that same sequence of punches will be fired again, but this time much faster and harder. This unique countering move is truly something special to watch.
There are also specific aspects of Rigondeaux’s defensive game which make him really stand out. One of his most impressive defensive manoeuvres is his front forearm block. You see a lot of fighters hold their front arm out slightly to catch shots as a way of defending themselves. Rigondeaux has evolved this move and taken it to the next level. Instead of using his hand, he uses his right elbow (and sharp reflexes) to catch his opponent’s jab. What this does is keep him perfectly in range to land his own left counter with little movement while staying out of range. Subtle moves like this one make him one of the best defensive fighters in the sport today and create unique counterpunching opportunities.
Rigondeaux has been criticized in the past for being a boring fighter. In 2010, on the undercard of Pacquiao-Margarito, he faced former world champion Ricardo Cordoba for an interim world title. The match was supposed to be his coming out party. Instead, he put on an uninspiring performance in which he got knocked down and escaped the fight with a split-decision victory. That performance was a huge setback for his career momentum. Instead of participating in a big fight in the junior featherweight division, his best opportunity was only a bout in Ireland to face little-known Willie Casey.
With dominant and exciting performances over Rico Ramos and Teon Kennedy, Rigondeaux was finally able to work his way into Top Rank’s good books. I believe that Rigondeaux learned from the Cordoba fight that it wasn’t enough to win; he needed to be fan-friendly if he wished to go further in boxing.
Rigondeaux also receives criticism for not using his right hand as an offensive weapon enough, and rightly so. When he uses it, he has shown a decent jab, but his right hand is mostly used as a defensive tool and for throwing the occasional lead right hook. If there is any room for improvement in Rigondeaux’s game, it is his right hand. If Rigondeaux develops his right hand into a useful offensive weapon (increasing his punch arsenal), it will allow him to become a better finisher and a more fan-friendly fighter.
Despite the fact that Rigondeaux has improved since the Cordoba fight, there are still questions that need to be answered. One of my main concerns about him at the moment is his ability to take a punch. While he is a great technical boxer with blinding speed and sharp power, against Cordoba, he was knocked down by a jab and he was very tentative for the rest of the fight. A lot of people claim that the knockdown was a result of a slip or a balance issue. To me, it was a legit knockdown. For the time being, Guillermo Rigondeaux has a question mark over his chin. Fights against power punchers such as Abner Mares or Nonito Donaire could prove to be excellent tests of how well he takes a punch.
The junior featherweight division (122 lbs.) is stacked. Potential fights for him include Donaire, Mares (whom he bet as an amateur), Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jorge Arce and Toshiaki Nishioka. Fights of this calibre would be great to show us just what Rigondeaux is made of. Even if these matches cannot be made at the moment – promotional concerns and boxing politics always play their part – Rigondeaux needs to stay active and fight more, as he is already 31 years old. He’s currently scheduled to face Robert Marroquin (22-1) on the undercard of the Martinez-Chavez Jr. match up on September 15th.
If Rigondeaux’s chin turns out to be solid, he improves on his right hand and his overall skills (and confidence) remain intact against top opposition, I believe that the sky is the limit for the one they call ‘El Chacal’.
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