Guillermo Rigondeaux, Pugilism and Purgatory


When two-time Olympic gold medallist and Cuban boxing legend Guillermo Rigondeaux first arrived in the U.S. in 2008, his handlers believed he could earn $100 million fighting professionally.

And when he dismantled Nonito Donaire to unify the 122-pound titles in April, he believed he’d finally claimed a hard-earned spot among boxing’s top performers, and thought more main events and bigger paydays awaited.

But after the 33-year-old Rigondeaux makes his belated return to the ring Saturday night against Joseph Agbeko, we can’t be sure we’ll ever see him in the spotlight again.

Not when his own promoter, Bob Arum, dismisses him as too boring for TV.

Not when neither Arum and Donaire seems interested in a rematch, despite the fighter’s tough talk on Twitter.

And certainly not when Rigondeaux’s follow-up fight comes a month after Donaire’s comeback, and is programmed against a Showtime telecast that includes three world title bouts. When Rigondeaux’s bout doesn’t draw viewers, Top Rank and HBO will have a the stats to prove he doesn’t deserve big-money bouts.

From there, either Rigondeaux heads back to boxing purgatory, or into a showdown against another transcendent amateur who took the fast track to a pro title — the Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko.

Rigondeaux

But his reward for disrupting Top Rank and HBO’s coronation of Donaire as Boxing’s Next Crossover Superstar seems to be that he’ll never receive another Donaire-sized payday.

That’s a shame, but because Rigondeaux merges skill, style and sabrosura more seamlessly than any fighter this side of Floyd Mayweather. And when confronted with the toughest challenge of his pro career against Donaire, he didn’t hesitate, let alone wilt under the intense pressure. Instead he neutralized a power puncher with technique and tactics, shaking off a knockdown to thrash Donaire over 12 rounds.

But a masterful performance against one of the sport’s biggest stars can’t force Top Rank to get behind a fighter whose southpaw stance and cerebral style allegedly make him boring.

Nor can it force Donaire to take him on anyplace besides Twitter.

When the Miami Herald asked about facing Donaire again, Rigondeaux said he’d be happy to provided Donaire weighed in at 123 pounds or less, and gained fewer than 10 pounds before the fight. When Donaire read that news he tweeted out his belief that the man who battered him in April was somehow scared of him now.

But Donaire leaves the bulk of the Rigondeaux trash talk to his followers, whom he promptly retweets.

Like this guy:

And this one:

And occasionally, team Rigo responds.

Translation:

“If you want another beating, you know what you have to do.”

But neither Donaire nor Top Rank want him to risk losing again. If either party were comfortable with a Rigondeaux rematch they could have arranged for autumn 2013. Instead they matched Donaire with a diminished Vic Darchinyan last month, while Rigondeaux is up against both Agbeko and a stacked Showtime card on Saturday.

After that?

Maybe high-risk showdown with Lomachenko.

Probably not a rematch with Donaire.

Or maybe a probably returns to the sidelines, marginalized by the very people charged with moving his career forward.

Which is a shame, because if Rigondeaux wanted to spend the final years of his year in boxing limbo he could have just stayed in Cuba.

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