2009 Ring Fan Poll: Rigondeaux is Prospect of the Year
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR VOTING RESULTS
Guillermo Rigondeaux: 60 percent
Luis Ramos: 16 percent
Erislandy Lara: 12 percent
Miguel Garcia: 12 percent
Note: These are not the official RING awards. Those will be announced next month in the magazine.
It’s not every year that the sport’s best prospect is a 29-year-old boxer as skilled and seasoned as Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, but it’s not often that a fighter is ready to take on the best fighters in his division just seven months and four bouts into his pro career.
Rigondeaux (4-0, 3 knockouts) is not a typical prospect. The 5-foot-7 junior featherweight southpaw was arguably the best amateur boxer of this decade.
In fact, one could easily make a case for Rigondeaux, a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2000 and 2004) and two-time amateur world champ (2001 and 2005), being one of the best amateurs in history.
Boxing insiders who watched him box live at the Sydney and Athens games touted him as hands-down the best talent of both Olympic competitions.
Even as an amateur, Rigondeaux exhibited the finer points of the professional style of boxing, such as head- and upper-body movement, the gauging of distance, timing, counter punching and a body attack that would make Julio Cesar Chavez proud.
American promoters and managers joked about smuggling the 119-pound phenom from various international competitions back to the U.S. in their suitcases. However, those aspirations remained jokes throughout the first half of the decade as Rigondeaux seemed satisfied as citizen of his communist nation and a standout on the island’s renown boxing team, which he helped win the 2006 World Cup.
But Rigondeaux wasn’t happy, as evidenced by his attempt to leave his team at the 2007 Pan-American Games in Brazil. He failed and was eliminated from the national team for his ambition, but he continued to try to make a new life for himself as a professional boxer. In February of this year, he defected to the United States and settled in Miami.
Rigondeaux turned pro in May and after two easy knockouts of lesser opposition, he joined the world-class stable of Freddie Roach the same June weekend the noted coach picked up his Boxing Writers Association of America award for 2008 trainer of the year.
By the end of the summer, Roach was so impressed with what he saw of Rigondeaux in sparring sessions at his Wild Card gym in Hollywood, Calif., he stated on record that the crafty Cuban could beat former 122-pound champs Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez.
Those who witnessed Rigondeaux befuddle 108-pound beltholder Rodel Mayol, go toe-to-toe with lightweight puncher Abraham Lopez and knockout unbeaten lightweight prospect Jesus “Pollo” Hernandez in gym sessions believe Roach’s bold claims.
With a perfect blend of defense and offense that reminds many of the junior lightweight version of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and former flyweight champ Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, it didn’t surprise anyone that Rigondeaux dominated a 71-bout veteran in only his third pro fight.
With Roach in his corner for the first time, Rigondeaux dropped Giovanni Andrade (60-11, 49 KOs) twice before dispatching the Brazilian bomber in the third round of a scheduled 10-round bout on Sept. 18.
That performance and his one-sided eight-round decision over ultra-tough Ghanaian spoiler Lante Addy (who had held prospect Teon Kennedy to a draw in his previous fight) on Dec. 16 proved that Rigondeaux is the most advanced of this year’s top prospects, which included fellow Cuban defector Erislandy Lara, other mature Olympians such as Matt Korobov and strong young guns like Miguel Angel Garcia and Luis Ramos.
Those other prospects might be eligible for this award next year. Rigondeaux won’t. If Roach has anything to say about his career, Rigondeaux will be a bona fide contender by his sixth or seventh pro bout and he might have a title around his waist before the end of 2010.