On Saturday night, December 9, 2017, ESPN will announce the winner of college football’s prestigious Heisman Trophy award, which is long regarded as the grand prize for individual contributors as they prepare to make the leap from college to the NFL.
Immediately following the broadcast, ESPN will turn its attention to boxing, where Junior Lightweight world champion Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), who is widely regarded as a once-in-a-generation boxer, will fight for the third time this calendar year.
His opponent on Saturday, Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), has a similar pedigree to that of the Ukrainian star: amateur stardom, two Olympic gold medals and technical skills that dazzle under the lights and bewilder opponents and fans alike.
Combined they have over 850 amateur victories between them.
Lomachenko has made the meteoric ascent from the boxing pound-for-pound list to more a mythic folk hero, which made his promoter Bob Arum proclaim that he is the most talented boxer he has seen with his own eyes since Muhammad Ali. Rigondeaux will move up two weight classes to make this historic bout between two two-time Olympic gold medal winners come to fruition.
“I was surprised when Egis [Klimas] called to tell me he signed the contract,” said Lomachenko in Russian before a media workout at Mendez Gym seven city blocks from the Theater at Madison Square Garden where the bout will take place on Saturday. “For about two years we talked about the Rigondeaux fight and first he said he was going to fight then he said he wasn’t going to fight. We heard different excuses so when in fact he signed the contract I didn’t believe it at first.”
Lomachenko understands the significance of this bout and what a win would mean for his career.
“I am happy and proud to be a part of history. I came into boxing to cement my name in history and fights like these are what helps move boxing forward,” said Lomachenko.
Neither of Lomachenko’s other two opponents this year posed any real threat to him as he stopped Jason Sosa back in March in Oxon Hill, MD and had an easy time with Miguel Marriaga this past August in California. In the Cuban Rigondeaux, Lomachenko will find a defensive specialist whose style, while not fan friendly, has proven to be the catalyst for an otherwise unblemished career.
“I fought Cuban fighters many times in the past,” said Lomachenko regarding Rigondeaux’s style. “It’s true they are defensive. They are also very quick and deceptive. I have a different plan for him and we worked on a strategy that everyone will see on Saturday. I came here to win and to win decisively and to make it exciting.”
Rigondeaux, meanwhile, has only fought three rounds since 2015, most recently a one-punch knockout of Moises Flores last June on the Andre Ward–Sergey Kovalev II undercard that was later ruled to have been delivered after the bell, changing the outcome to a no-contest.
Lomachenko is not worried about encountering any dirty moments in the bout and also is not worried about how the judges will score the bout if it goes the distance.
“I don’t need the judges,” said Lomachenko. “I won’t be surprised if he quits in the ring.”
Lomachenko said he will absolutely look to move up to 135 pounds at some point after the Rigondeaux bout and will not wait to unify the Lightweight division.
“I wanted to unify when I was at 126, but as you saw no one wanted to fight me,” said Lomachenko.
As for now Lomachenko will focus on the toughest test to date of his career and said he won’t even bother to watch how Orlando Salido will fare on Saturday night in his own bout against Miguel Roman.
Salido handed Lomachenko his sole defeat in what was then the Ukrainian’s second professional bout.
All photos by Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing