NEW YORK – Guillermo Rigondeaux was a loser even on the night he scored the most significant victory of his professional career.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist raised his record to 12-0 Saturday by outboxing Nonito Donaire in their super bantamweight championship match. Judge John Stewart had it 114-113. Tom Schreck scored it 115-112 and Julie Lederman had it 116-111. Yahoo! Sports scored it 114-113 for Rigondeaux, matching Stewart's card in every round.
After the fight, standing defiantly with his belts draped over his shoulders and his hands on his hips, Rigondeaux proclaimed himself a legend.
"I'm a Hall of Famer at 12-0," Rigondeaux exclaimed.
Few agreed with him. The sellout crowd of 6,145 at Radio City Music Hall booed lustily throughout, unhappy with Rigondeaux's defensive wizardry. Rigondeaux spun, ducked, danced and made Donaire look bad repeatedly in winning a unanimous decision.
Asked why the crowd booed, Rigondeaux beamed.
"I was the matador and he was the bull," Rigondeaux said. "They don't like seeing the matador."
Donaire, who said after the fight that he had a shoulder injury that will require surgery, lost the decision because of a lack of action. Rigondeaux was excellent defensively, but Donaire simply didn't throw enough punches.
He was pursuing Rigondeaux for most of the fight, but he was frequently ineffective.
"It was my mistake for not changing up during the fight," Donaire said. "I didn't do my job. I didn't use my jab and go to the left. I have no excuse. He beat me tonight. It was close. I gave it all I got."
With a potential surgery looming and impending fatherhood – his wife, Rachel, is expecting their first child in July – Donaire is probably off until the fall, at which point he'll likely be a featherweight.
It won't be hard to sell him, because Donaire has appeared in a series of entertaining fights. But the outcome left promoter Bob Arum wondering what to do with Rigondeaux.
Championship titles don't necessarily sell tickets; exciting fights and action do. Rigondeaux is superb in making his opponent miss, but he doesn't counter nearly enough to win a large percentage of the fan base.
"We fought the Cuban boxing way: Hit and don't get hit," Rigondeaux trainer Pedro Diaz said. "We made Donaire look very bad."
In the process, though, he didn't make himself look that good either. Rigondeaux simply didn't throw enough punches. Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of the great defensive combatants in recent history, fights defensively like Rigondeaux and makes his opponent miss, but Mayweather brings the added element of landing clean, counter punches.
Rigondeaux did none of that and, as a result, is going to be a hard sell for Arum.
"I'm 81 years old and I'm probably going to have to do the best promoting job I've ever done," he said, laughing.
Arum, though, made a point when he noted that Rigondeaux has enough pop in his fists to be dangerous. Donaire clearly felt Rigondeaux's power in the final two rounds.
Rigondeaux simply didn't make him feel it often enough.
"It was the exact opposite of the last two HBO fights we had," Arum said. "It was not a very engaging fight. … When Rigondeaux stands and fights, the [expletive] has a lot of power and a lot of skill, but running the way he does really makes it not a watchable fight. I had Donaire up by one point heading into the 11th, but clearly, Rigondeaux won the last two rounds. Clearly."
Welterweight champion Timothy Bradley, a friend of Donaire's, called the fight on the Top Rank international feed. He had Rigondeaux winning 114-113 and said how one scored it depended upon the style one prefers.
Those who prefer slick boxers sided with Rigondeaux and those who like the aggressor would have sided with Donaire, Bradley said.
He laughed at the fans booing the action.
"That guy put on a great boxing clinic," Bradley said. "But boxing has changed in the last 20 years or so. People want to see action; they want to see guys just tearing into each other. The slick boxers, hit and don't be hit, they're not as much into that."
And that's why it was not a stellar night for Rigondeaux despite his big victory. It's not likely that many who watched the fight will be eagerly awaiting news of his next bout.
He's an elite fighter, but he's in no way an entertainer.
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