Photo By Chris Farina/Top Rank
If you don’t know who Sod Kokietgym is, you don’t know boxing.
Okay, so that’s not exactly fair. But that’s who Guillermo Rigondeaux is matched up with, for better or worse, this Saturday in Macau, China. The immensely talented Rigondeaux is fighting as a non televised co-feature on the Zou Shiming card.
If you’re wondering how a guy who is at worst, the sixth or seventh best fighter in the world is relegated to non-televised undercard status, you can consider that there are six or seven different forms of torture many people would rather endure than to watch him fight.
While there are fans who enjoy watching Rigondeaux make utter fools of anyone attempting to fight him, many, many others do not.
It is a weird problem to have–he’s simply too good. However, you can be that good and still entertaining. Take Roy Jones circa 1998. He was untouchable against even solid competition, but he was mostly handed a steady diet of busboys and civil servants to munch on.
His fights were utter mismatches, but Roy was still compelling to watch. Rigondeaux has not been, and he doesn’t seem to care in the slightest. And while that is rather admirable, the I’m not changing, that’s my style, take it or leave it attitude, it also makes it very difficult for him to build a solid following, no matter how warm and tingly he makes Max Kellerman feel.
It’s also caused his promoter, Bob Arum, to throw in the towel on the whole marketing thing and stick him in against a guy who shouldn’t be in the same arena with Rigondeaux, much less trying to defeat him.
Rigondeaux is content to buzz around the ring, land the occasional combination, and be out of harms way before he’s even remotely close to being hit. That’s the sweet science at its essence–swim without getting wet. However, his defense-first fighting style coupled with a stoic, aloof personality make him a ratings disaster.
Rigondeaux’s 2013 should have been lauded as a brilliant campaign. He started by dominating the suddenly shaky Nonito Donaire, outboxing the Filipino star with shocking ease. He won by unanimous decision and did so without seeming even moderately interested in the fight. Indeed, he’s so good, he’s almost bored in there, even against someone as skilled as Nonito.
He hit Donaire with whatever he felt like, whenever he felt like it. We were all left thoroughly impressed, but also thoroughly disappointed that he didn’t feel like hitting him more.
He ended the year by humiliating the rugged, volume punching Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko. Agbeko wasn’t in the fight for a single second. While it was an absolute clinic–all three judges scored it a shutout, 120-108–it also had people sprinting for the exits like Godzilla had dropped down into the ring looking for a snack.
So what can he do?
He can start by putting the pedal down against Kokietgym. While the Thai fighter’s record is impressive–63-2-1–he’s amassed wins against competition that Deontay Wilder would be embarrassed of. In fact, the only notable opponent on his record is Daniel Ponce De Leon.
They fought two fights, one in which Ponce De Leon won by unanimous decision, and then the rematch. That fight lasted about as long as it took for Jim Lampley to erroneously refer to Kokietgym as “Lod.” Kokietgym was housed and left unconscious on the mat for several seconds, the victim of a first-round knockout.
While it’s hard to envision Rigondeaux going for broke and hammering his opponent into submission, he would go a long way toward helping his cause if he were to throw a few more punches than he’s normally accustomed to. Kokietgym is 37 and has never fought anyone even remotely as skilled as the Cuban gold medalist. He isn’t hard to find, and certainly won’t be hard to hit.
Of course, Rigondeaux doesn’t need to adjust. He’s undefeated for a reason, he takes few risks and scores enough points to win pretty much every round. He’s also been as exciting to watch as mold spores. If he wants television exposure, he has to boost the aggression.
It certainly has to sting the ego of a guy like Rigondeaux. He’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He’s a world champion, and just a year ago, he took down the great Donaire with startling ease.
And now he’s off television, with a promoter who has given up on him and a fan base that couldn’t fill up a banquet room.
The good news is that it probably wouldn’t take much to get him back into the spotlight. Freakish talents like him don’t come around that often. A solid performance or two, performances that don’t act as substitutes for quaaludes, and he can be back on either HBO or Showtime, most likely with a new promoter. I hear Oscar De La Hoya needs some guys.
Leo Santa Cruz is in need of a big name opponent at junior featherweight. If Rigondeaux is the perfect matador, Santa Cruz is the angriest bull he’ll have ever seen. Just four pounds above him stand guys like Vasyl Lomachenko, Nicholas Walters, Abner Mares, and Jhonny Gonzales.
There are options, but Rigondeaux won’t get them by boring the pants off of anyone watching him fight.
No one is saying he has to suddenly morph into the Cuban version of John Molina. But Rigondeaux has a better offensive attack than most people give him credit for. It’s not absurd to ask that he stand in the pocket more. He has ridiculous reflexes, so he’d still be able to avoid anything in return, and he’d probably score a few knockdowns, or possibly some stoppage wins. That’s all it takes.
Fans don’t need an Arturo Gatti impression. But they do want their money’s worth, or at least a fighter who is interested in giving it to them.
Guillermo Rigondeaux might find that fan entertainment and success go hand in hand.
Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Sod Kokietgym will not be shown on HBO 2, but there will be a showing via same-day delay on Tecate Solo Boxeo/UniMas beginning at 11:00 p.m., EST.
Check out photos of Guillermo Rigondeaux training in Macau. All photos by Chris Farina/Top Rank.