In any list of the greatest pure boxers in the world, Guillermo Rigondeaux's name should be at or near the top. An Olympic gold medalist in 2000 and 2004 for Cuba, Rigondeaux won nearly 500 amateur bouts while losing only about 12.
His success has continued into the professional ranks. On Saturday at the Cotai Arena in Macau, China, Rigondeaux knocked out a completely overmatched Sod Looknongyantoy in the first round of their bout, as Rigondeaux retained the WBO/WBA super bantamweight title.
It was Rigondeaux's last fight under his contract with Top Rank, and he's now a free agent, available to sign with any promoter.
The problem for Rigondeaux is that aside from a very small but very vocal cadre of hard-core fans, he has no fan base. It was an insult of epic proportions that executives of HBO2, a service that isn't even monitored in the Nielsen ratings, didn't want him on their air Saturday, choosing charismatic super middleweight contender Gilberto Ramirez instead.
Promoter Bob Arum told Yahoo Sports after the biggest win of Rigondeaux's career, a wipe-out of Nonito Donaire at Radio City Music Hall last year in New York, that HBO officials had no interest in him and that they got nauseous at the mention of his name.
Rigondeaux's style is largely to avoid being hit, and he's better at it than anybody, including Floyd Mayweather. While nobody would consider Mayweather to be a modern day Thomas Hearns when it comes to offense, he is an effective counter puncher who cracks his opponents after he makes them miss.
Rigondeaux, far too often, is content with making them miss. He doesn't return fire nearly enough and he often seems to lack that killer instinct. In his Dec. 7 fight with Joseph Agbeko, he made Agbeko look horrible by making him miss badly. Agbeko had little interest in engaging and Rigondeaux was content to peck away occasionally and mostly make Agbeko miss.
The sad part of all of this is that Rigondeaux, whom Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach once called one of the greatest talents he'd ever seen, actually has a powerful punch and sharp combinations. On rare occasions during his careers, he's flashed that and has caused jaws to drop.
It's why, for me, at least, he's been so frustrating. You see the talent there. This is a guy who could legitimately be at the top of the mythical pound-for-pound lists, if he would use all of his tools and not some of them. He's a slick boxer who has speed, power and all of the combinations.
But Rigondeaux is content to use his defensive majesty to rack up points and not worry about whether he's making fans. That's fine in a team sport, where winning is the only concern. But in an individual sport where a major part of getting better paydays and prime television spots is to bring a large, enthusiastic fan base, Rigondeaux comes up short.
The guess is that there won't be feverish bidding for his services. Given the type of fights Showtime seems to buy under Stephen Espinoza's watch, a defensive master like Rigondeaux may have difficulty fitting in there.
Rigondeaux vowed before the fight to be more offensive and, to his credit, he was against Looknongyantoy.
No one is suggesting he become a face-first brawler; All people want is for him to use the gifts he has and mix in his offense.
No one is more talented than the 33-year-old Cuban, but no one is more frustrating.
Here's hoping he's finally gotten the message and that when he signs his next contract, he delivers the kind of performances regularly that his talent suggests he can do.
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