Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko vs. Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux.
This epic pairing deserves a sentence unto itself; not only a must-see affair, but one you have to watch live, as it’s happening, versus recording and watching later. Top Rank Boxing on ESPN airs this unprecedented event Saturday, December 9th, from the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City (8PM CST). This is one present fistic fans will gladly open before Christmas Day. In the storied and illustrious history of our sport, two-time Olympic gold medalists have never shared a ring as professionals. You’d have to reach as far back as “Sugar” Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran I, to match the cumulative level of skill Lomachenko and Rigondeaux bring to the table.
Vasyl Lomanchenko (9-1, 7 KO’s) had an unfathomable amateur record of 396 wins, 1 loss, and that lone blemish was avenged twice. Lomachenko captured Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, at Featherweight and Lightweight. As a pro, the Ukrainian has won world championships at 126 and 130 pounds, currently possessing the WBO Super Featherweight strap. He’s also universally regarded as one the five best active pugilists on the planet, and sits atop that list in the minds of more than a few. Loma’s very well rounded, adept at counter punching, has no problem leading, is usually two or three chess moves ahead of his opponent and is on the short list of the more athletic fighters in Boxing history. “Hi-Tech” is lively, dynamic, energetic, passionate, confident and he exudes these attributes every time he performs. All that said, he’s likely better than advertised.
In stark contrast, Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KO’s) is stoic, subdued and bordering on disinterested, if his out of ring body language is any indicator. Bringing home gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics (both at Bantamweight) and amassing an estimated ledger of 463 wins, 12 losses, is quite the feather in one’s cap. But being a Cuban National team boxer, which also produced three-time gold medal winning countrymen like Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, it’s easy to see why Rigondeaux is perpetually unimpressed. A natural 118-pounder, “El Chacal” currently holds the WBO Super Bantamweight title and was a unified titlist at the same weight, back in 2014. Rigondeaux is among the most lethal counterpunchers to have ever laced up a boxing glove. He can be stubborn to a fault in his refusal to initiate contact, but every opponent that’s dared to do so has paid a hefty toll.
“Loma vs. Rigo” has been on the big-fight radar for several years now and made more sense when Lomachenko was campaigning at 126, one division above Rigondeaux. But Top Rank promoter, Bob Arum, blatantly undermined the proceedings, citing the lack of action in some of Guillermo’s bouts and his lack of drawing power in terms of generating ticket sales. Only difference now is “Rigo’s” 37 (or older), fought just three times since 2014, and just three rounds total since 2015. Oh, and he’s moving up two divisions, to challenge “Loma” for his 130-pound title.
Despite being an under-dog, Rigondeaux carries a decided edge in experience. More amateur fights, more pro fights and heightened level of competition. Lomachenko has yet to face a pound for pound ranked foe, whereas Rigondeaux schooled one in Nonito Donaire. Donaire was the 2012 RING Magazine “Fighter of the Year”, made to look amateurish and contributed to Guillermo garnering pound for pound acclaim until inactivity removed him from consideration.
Undeniably, this is an uphill climb for Rigondeaux, on paper. Lomachenko is bigger, stronger, faster, younger, and has a shorter man moving up two divisions to face him. But tactically, there will come a point where something has to give. As noted previously, the Cuban is notorious for refusing to lead with shots, despite the concussive power he possesses in each hand. More times than not, opponents bring the fight to Guillermo, initially, until a counter or two lands. But like a kid eating vegetables, “El Chacal’s” pop isn’t easily digested, and typically puts adversaries in survival mode. The beauty of this bout is the Ukranian is not only cool with firing first, he’s adept enough to throw faux leads with the intent of countering Rigondeaux’s counter. Long story short, there will be exchanges.
The safe pick is Lomachenko by unanimous decision; possibly a late TKO. But it’s safer to wait and gauge Loma’s reaction to those first few precise, pinpoint counters Rigo will inevitably land. If those shots are absorbed with little to no acknowledgement, it’ll be long, painful night for Rigondeaux.