This Saturday marks the junior featherweight title unification clash between multi-divisional champion Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) and famed Cuban amateur Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Both fighters possess one-punch knockout power, athleticism and veteran tricks. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Footsy, with a twist.
Typically, when a southpaw meets an orthodox fighter, the two combatants battle for outside positioning with their feet to establish better angles to land with their dominant hand. Rigondeaux, the southpaw, will definitely attempt to follow this plan. His best punches are thrown with his left hand – straight left and left uppercut. However, Donaire is a different beast. An orthodox puncher, his most devastating punch is actually his left hook. This changes the traditional foot positioning battle quite a bit.
Rigondeaux will move towards his right to position himself for his power shots, but he will then be in range for Donaire's hook. Essentially, Donaire can and probably will concede the outside positioning so he could land his hook with maximum impact. In addition, Donaire can land that punch from all sorts of crazy angles. Essentially, this battle of ring positioning will include power moving into power, providing opportunities for fireworks.
Both of these fighters have erasers. Donaire can put people to sleep with his left hook or straight right hand. Rigondeaux's counter left hand is one of the best punches in boxing. His left uppercut is also pulverizing. This fight may very well come down to who can better take shots.
On paper, Donaire seems to have the advantage. Over the last three years, he has moved up two weight classes and his chin hasn't been seriously dented. In his four fights at junior featherweight, Donaire has taken shots very well.
Rigondeaux was dropped by Ricardo Cordoba in 2010 and was shaken up by a couple of left hooks in his last fight against Robert Marroquin. In addition, once he gets hit hard, he doesn't fire back immediately. He needs a significant amount of recovery time.
Will Donaire's chin hold up to the best puncher he has faced at 122? Will Rigondeaux be able to recover from Donaire's power? If knocked down, will he be able to get up and be effective?
3. Patience, but not too much patience.
Perhaps Donaire's biggest flaw as a fighter is his recklessness in taking risks to land knockout punches. This leads to him absorbing unnecessary blows and/or loading up on big shots. Donaire sees himself as an entertainer and while this self-perception is excellent for boxing fans, it can be a double-edged sword. Because of Donaire's need to entertain, he can get out of his game plan and, in fact, start to look much less impressive in the ring. Sometimes the big shots never come. Meanwhile, his opponents can start to win rounds. Donaire can't take the same type of reckless risks that he did against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. or Jeffrey Mathebula. Rigondeaux is a powerful sharpshooter. If Donaire's out of position after wild shots, Rigondeaux will make him pay.
For Rigondeaux, he waits...and waits...and waits. Staring at his opponents, looking for countering opportunities, Rigondeaux can be outworked. In addition, he can take rounds off. Against Donaire, Rigondeaux may miss some shots and set himself up for Donaire's thudding counters, but he has to pull the trigger.
Donaire must not get sucked into Rigondeaux's waiting game and lower punch output. It's important that he starts out compact with his shots. If the opportunity for something really hard is there, he should take it, but he can't force the action with wide shots. Donaire must initiate offense, but responsibly. I think lead left hooks will be his way into the fight.
4. Conditioning and punch volume.
Donaire is one of the best conditioned athletes in the sport. Rigondeaux, although flexible, athletic and muscular, can tire throughout fights. In a match that could feature a lot of close rounds, Donaire's ability to step on the gas in the last 30 seconds of a frame could prove decisive. In addition, Rigondeaux takes breaks where he circles around the ring. Although this is artful, it often can be a tactic to buy some time and draw out his opponent. For Donaire, he needs to stay aggressive in these moments and hope that the judges will reward his activity level and forward movement. He should throw at least 40 punches per round.
Rigondeaux needs to realize that Donaire will be there for the whole 12 rounds. He won't tire or get softened up. Rigondeaux needs to keep Donaire's work rate down with his feinting, circling and quick counters. If Rigondeaux can keep Donaire's punch output below 30 per round, he'll have a very good chance of winning a decision. I think if Rigondeaux is throwing over 25 punches a frame, that's a very good sign.
Rigondeaux has a basket full of tricks. From using his forearms and elbows to keep his opponents in place to illegal shots during clinches, Rigondeaux would make former Cuban champ and dark arts master Joel Casamayor happy. In terms of legal maneuvers, Guillermo's side-to-side and in-and-out movement can be very tough to time. In addition, he'll also throw a half jab and left hand before he comes back with the exact same punches at full speed. He's a master at disruption and timing.
Donaire will take a big punch to encourage his opponents to be offensive. As he did against Toshiaki Nishioka and Jeffrey Mathebula, he'll lure his opponents in to land the perfect counter shot, usually his left hook, although his counter right is a real weapon too. Donaire has become excellent at setting traps. Don't be surprised if he plays possum at some point in the fight, doing his best acting to convince Rigondeaux that he's hurt.
Both fighters are probably aware of each other's psychological dimensions. However, it's not necessarily easy to prepare for them. It will be fascinating to see who gets the leg up in this area.
I'm going bold here with my pick. Honestly, I don't think Rigondeaux can take Donaire's best shot. It may take a few rounds for Donaire to land his Sunday punch, but when he does, I don't see Rigondeaux getting back up. I realize that this fight could play out a number of ways and that Rigondeaux has a good chance to win. However, I think that his chin is suspect, which is a bad problem to have against a power puncher like Donaire. Donaire feints the right, draws a counter and lands a crushing left hook. Game over.
Nonito Donaire KO 4 Guillermo Rigondeaux
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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