In his interviews, Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux appears serious and workmanlike. You get the sense that boxing is simply his oficio—the method by which he can help his family back home. For them, he labors inside a ring and grinds out victories born in dreams of freedom and prosperity.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs) defected while in Brazil in July 2007, along with fellow national team member Erislandy Lara. He quickly was returned, but defected again in early 2009 and made his way to Miami.
It can be said that for a man who’s had to leave behind his family and former life in this way, stepping into the ring would be easy by comparison. But as it is for any immigrant who flees political or economic hardship, success is not measured solely in the leaving. What counts is what is done with the opportunity.
It is true that Guillermo Rigondeaux is perhaps the best amateur boxer to come out of Cuba. But the pro game is a very different beast. Miami-based boxing promotor Richard Dobal said recently that this Saturday’s fight against Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs)—Rigondeaux’s biggest opportunity so far—should show us what kind of professional fighter “El Chacal” can be. So far, at least, he has won the fights he was supposed to.
He dispatched Panamanian Ricardo Cordoba in November 2010 to win an interim version of the World Boxing Association super bantamweight title. He then traveled more than 4,000 miles to put in less than two minutes of work in knocking out Willie Casey in Dublin, Ireland, in March 2011.
Guillermo Rigondeaux again used his powerful left hand to put down the previously-undefeated Rico Ramos to win the “full” WBA 122-pound title in January 2012. He followed that with a technical knockout win over Teon Kennedy in June, then went the distance in a unanimous decision victory over Roberto Marroquin in September.
What Guillermo Rigondeaux must do to win
“We will have to see the best Rigondeaux, which we have not seen yet, in order for him to defeat Nonito Donaire,” Dobal told me. Rigondeaux was rocked by Cordoba and Marroquin, so he has proven he can deal with adversity during a fight. On offense, his left hand will be his biggest weapon against Donaire, particularly if he is able to target the champ’s body with his powerful left hooks. He will have to be careful to leave his right hand up as he moves forward, however, or he could end up being another one of Donaire’s knockout victims.
Donaire breezed through 2012 with four victories, earning well-deserved honors and accolades. But things won’t be that simple against Guillermo Rigondeaux. Both fighters are quick, talented and have knockout power, so it might come down to preparation. If Rigondeaux’s work with new trainer Pedro Diaz can match Donaire’s unorthodox training regime, he’ll have a good shot at dethroning one of the sport’s pound-for-pound kings.