Champion Guillermo Rigondeaux needs to start swinging if he wants to be a TV hit

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Three months from the most significant win of his professional career, Guillermo Rigondeaux sits idle, no bouts scheduled, his future uncertain.

He's learning that, indeed, a near-perfect night could turn out disastrous.

Rigondeaux defeated Nonito Donaire on April 13 in an HBO-televised match at Radio City Music Hall in New York, a bout that was largely designed to be a jumping off point to bigger and better things for Donaire.

But Donaire showed – and not for the first time – a complete lack of understanding of how to fight a southpaw, and Rigondeaux boxed him into oblivion.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist for Cuba, Rigondeaux was exultant when the final bell sounded and judges handed him a 114-113, 115-112 and 116-111 unanimous decision win.

But neither his promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, nor executives from HBO were thrilled with what they saw.

Donaire could barely touch Rigondeaux, whose mastery of the defensive art was never better. But in a problem that has vexed matchmakers for years, putting two counter punchers against each other often leads to fights in which neither boxer is willing to commit.

Repeatedly, Donaire was vulnerable for counter shots after Rigondeaux ducked, dodged, slipped and slid away from his punches. More often than not, though, Rigondeaux was content to slide away and reset, choosing not to throw and not make himself even a little vulnerable.

Hardcore fans loved it.

But Rigondeaux, and the hardcore fans who appreciate him, are learning a very difficult reality: The percentage of those who appreciate the technical purity of Rigondeaux's defensive game is minute.

The harsh truth Rigondeaux now faces is, despite all of his wondrous skill, he is just another nameless champion hoping to catch his big break, done in by the reality that the large majority of fans who watch fights on television want to see fights, not defensive genius.

They want to see men who are willing to stand in the pocket and trade, who don't mind taking two to land one, whose goal is as much to put on a show as it is to win.

They make up the crowd who revered the late Arturo Gatti, who was the antithesis of Rigondeaux. To that group, it was heresy even to debate whether Gatti belonged in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, let alone to not vote for him.

That crowd hasn't, and will never, fall similarly in love with a boxer like Rigondeaux.

And so, Rigondeaux has no fight scheduled and HBO executives aren't burning the phone lines trying to arrange one.

"We had a meeting with HBO and we mentioned Rigondeaux and, honestly, there wasn't a lot of interest from them," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said.

He said he met with Rigondeaux and his team on Tuesday and is hoping to include him on one of Top Rank's pay-per-view shows in the second half of the year. Top Rank is promoting an Oct. 12 pay-per-view in Las Vegas between Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, and a Nov. 24 pay-per-view in Macau, China, between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios.

The burden is going to shift to Rigondeaux to prove he can adapt and add offense to his game. He was fairly exciting in a Sept. 15 victory over Robert Marroquin, but too often has been content to make his opponent look foolish by swinging at air.

It may not be fair, but it's business reality.

"People in boxing recently have shown a greater appreciation for the warrior, the action fighter, the Arturo Gattis, the Julio Cesar Chavez Seniors, the Manny Pacquiaos of the world, as opposed to a defensive fighter," duBoef said.

"Look at the interest in Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, after their fights. Bradley and [Ruslan] Provodnikov prove the same point. That's what the consumers want, that kind of fight."

Floyd Mayweather, the sport's top pound-for-pound fighter, has always been one of the best defensive technicians in the game. But unlike Rigondeaux, Mayweather has been willing to open up against elite opposition. Rigondeaux has fought offensively only against limited, or second- and third-tier opponents.

Perhaps the defining fight of Mayweather's career was his 2001 victory over the late Diego Corrales. Mayweather knocked Corrales down five times and stopped him in the 10th round in the type of bout that showed a fighter using defense to create offense.

The ultimate goal in boxing is to hit, and not be hit. Rigondeaux has the not-be-hit part down, but at almost 33 and after two gold medals, a professional world title and nearly 500 amateur and pro fights combined, he's still learning the offensive side.

Rigondeaux's plight will enrage many, but it's the reality of boxing in the 21st century.

If Rigondeaux wants to get another chance at the big time, he's going to have to sacrifice some defense for offense.

If he doesn't, he'll spend the rest of his career in anonymity, fighting meaningless bouts off TV.

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