SAN DIEGO, Calif., December 8, 2017 – Two of the finest technicians in boxing meet on hallowed ground at Madison Square Garden Saturday, making history as they battle to determine possible pound for pound supremacy.
Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine (via California) and Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba (via Florida) appear on ESPN and worldwide Saturday, with a starting time of 9 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT. It’s a throwback to the glory days of boxing in many ways. But this bout may not reflect your personal preference in combat sports.
This pair of undeniably talented athletes will make history they step into the ring. It will be the first time in boxing history – that’s EVER – two men who’ve both won two Olympic gold medals face each other. After the bout, their gloves will be donated to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
The reputations of “Loma” and “Rigo” are based in large part on impressive amateur records. Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), age 29, is 396 and 1, won his Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), age 37, fought in the storied Cuban amateur system before defecting to the U.S., putting together a record of 463-12, and winning Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004 and finished his amateur career with a record of 463-12.
It’s the amateur pedigree which permits two men with less than 20 profession fights each to be among the top five pound for pound professional boxers in the world today. It’s possible for one of these men to make the top of the list with a solid or even dominating performance over the other.
“It is a historical bout. It is very, very interesting and all of the boxing fans wanted to see the bout, and finally we can deliver it,” Lomachenko said. “A lot of people, a lot of media, a lot of fans want this fight. If it’s important for them, it’s important for me. This bout is special.”
“”It is going to be a very good fight,” promised Rigondeaux. “It’s going to be a great fight for the fans and it’s going to be a great historical fight that fans will forever look back on. I have been anticipating this fight for a long time.
“It’s going to be a masterpiece. People should anticipate a masterpiece. I’ve got to do my job, and I have to win convincingly so they can’t rob me.”
Masterpiece – or master class? Who will be the teacher, and who will be the student? Both men have their advocates and fans. Boxing purists who love the beauty of the skills behind The Sweet Science are salivating like hungry dogs with anticipation for Saturday night’s 130-pound championship fight.
Both men are southpaws. Both are known for their technical excellence, rather than sheer knockout power. Both possess impressive speed, balance, and ring awareness. They seem able to sense punches coming, before those punches can be seen. Their situational awareness is as keen as any U.S. Navy Seal.
Lomachenko won a featherweight world title in his third professional fight, tying the record for fewest bouts needed to win a title. He moved up to junior lightweight and won a second title in his seventh professional fight, another record for two weight classes. He’s beaten solid opponents including Gary Russell Jr., Roman “Rocky” Martinez and Nicholas Walters. His only loss came to a much larger Orlando Salido who was wiling to employ every aggressive trick in the book, a rude awakening for Lomachenko to the realities of the professional ranks.
Rigondeaux hasn’t lost a fight since 2003. He won a junior featherweight title in his ninth professional fight in 2010. He has defended that title at 122 pounds eight times. “El Chacal” (The Jackal) unified titles in his 2013 win against 2012 Fighter of the Year Nonito Donaire, a dominating performance.
For Saturday’s bout, Rigondeaux agreed to move up to super featherweight, 130 pounds. Lomachenko’s WBO title is on the line. If he win, Rigondeaux will score another first: first current 122-pound champion to jump up two weight classes and win a super featherweight title. He says moving up in weight was the only way to get the fight made.
Rigondeaux denies the jump in weight is a factor in the fight. “No, not at all. If this is what it takes to fight the big fights, then you guys are going to see on (Saturday) if I am ready or not. This fight isn’t about the size of us or who weighs what. It is man against man. He knows I have the power. He knows who is going to get hurt real bad. I am anxious to face him. Let’s get this on.”
One thing both fighters have in abundance is confidence. Neither gives an inch to his opponent and both have sounded off in the weeks leading up to the anticipated showdown.
“I am going to walk through him like a tank and knock him out,” Lomachenko said. “I am like every single fighter — going into the ring, I have in my mind [finishing] the bout before all the rounds are over and to get the victory. There is a good possibility that the fight will end before the 12th round. I am not promising to knock him out, but I am promising to squash him.”
“If Lomachenko was reborn ten times, there wouldn’t be a version of him that could beat me,” responds Rigondeaux. “I feel stronger than ever. Moving up has had no negative effect whatsoever on my speed or power.”
Lomachenko defeated Miguel Marriaga in a lopsided beatdown after seven rounds in August. One year ago, he crushed former bantamweight champion Nicholas Walters of Jamaica, making the Axe-Man throw in the towel and say “No Mas” after seven rounds. In between, “Hi-Tech” stopped a tough Jason Sosa after ten rounds.
Rigondeaux has only fought three rounds in the last two years, compared to 28 for Lomachenko. His last fight in June against Moises Flores was declared a no contest when the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled Rigondeaux delivered a first round knockout punch after the bell. He stopped James Dickens of Great Britain in two rounds in July 2016. Before this, Rigondeaux put on a lackluster 12 round performance against Drian Francisco of the Philippines on the Canelo vs. Cotto undercard in November 2015, causing fans to rain down boos and catcalls on him.
When a fighter is 37, and carrying a Cuban birth certificate, age is a factor. Rigondeaux appears to be in phenomenal shape, and weighed in at a fit 128.4 pounds Friday. Rigondeaux has long been admired for his defensive skills. He sees punches coming nearly from the moment they are formed in the mind of his opponent. But these skills deteoriorate with age, no matter how good you are.
It would be tough for anyone to match the phenomenal physical condition of Vasyl Lomachenko. Thanks to his father/trainer Anatoly Lomachenko’s creative cross training techniques using swimming, gymnastics, weight training, and mental focus games in addition to traditional training, Lomachenko could join Cirque du Soleil tomorrow.
Lomachenko is more interested in putting on a show for fans. Rigondeaux often doesn’t care. He knows how to score points on the cards and cruise to a victory. But he’ll be egged on by the crowd at Madison Square Garden. He’ll need to resist the pressure on him to fight a showy fight, not his natural inclination.
Both men hit hard, but they stop opponents by volume and attrition, not one-punch KO power. This is likely to be a cat and mouse fight, with enormous tension in the air. You’ll catch yourself holding your breath numerous times watching this fight.
Rigondeaux will be a puzzle Lomachenko must solve in the early rounds. He needs to guard against getting frustrated and attempting to brawl with him. Lomachenko needs to engage “The Matrix,” using his focus to anticipate Rigondeaux, work around him and tire out the older, smaller fighter. He has the edge in height and distance, one more asset among many for Lomachenko. He needs to use them all to avoid getting caught by Rigondeaux, who could deliver some hurt to the Ukrainian if he doesn’t maintain focus.
If both men fight at the top of their skills, Lomachenko should gain the edge, go to work more aggressively in the middle rounds, and start to dominate the Cuban fighter. Lomachenko might not be able to stop him, but when the final bell rings at the end of 12 rounds, he should have eight rounds solidly in the bank on the scorecards.
On the undercard, 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson (3-0, 1 KO) will open the ESPN telecast against Oscar “El Coyote” Mendoez (4-2, 2 KOs) in a six round featherweight bout. Another two-time Olympian, Michael Conlan of Ireland (4-0, 4 KOs) will face Luis Fernando Molina (4-3-1 1 KO) in a six-round featherweight showcase for the popular young Irishman.
The vacant NABO junior lightweight title will be on the line for Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz (21-0, 13 KOs) and Bryant Cruz (18-2, 9 KO), who stepped in with less than a week’s notice after a November 18 third round knockout.
Streaming live on the ESPN App, lightweight Mikaela Mayer (2-0, 2 KOs) faces Nydia “Dha Phenomenal” Feliciano (9-8-3) in a women’s four round lightweight bout. Former world heavyweight title challenger Bryant “By-By” Jennings (20-2, 11 KOs) meets Don “Mr. JBT” Haynesworth (13-1-1, 11 KOs) in an eight-round fight. Jennings hasn’t fought since an admirable performance in his loss to Wladimir Klitschko, followed by a more troubling loss to Luis Ortiz in 2015. Jose “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (8-0-1, 2 KOs) takes on Adan Gonzales (3-1-1, 2 KOs) in an eight-round featherweight bout.
If you like your boxing aggressive and wild, watch the card on HBO Boxing After Dark featuring Orlando Salido, Tevin Farmer, and Francisco Vargas. But if you want to see two men representing the finest boxing skills on the planet, you’ll be glued to this fight.
Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux, along with three undercard bouts, will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 pm PT, with the entire card streaming on the ESPN App beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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