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Rigondeaux ready to be rushed

08
Nov

As Guillermo Rigondeaux, a veteran of just six pro fights and 23 pro rounds, prepares to take on Ricardo Cordoba, a former alphabet titleholder with only two defeats in 41 fights, we must ask the question: What took so long?

That might sound like sarcasm, but it’s actually meant to be taken at face value. Imagine if Roy Jones, the Val Barker Cup winner at the 1988 Olympics, hadn’t turned pro until 1997, when he was 28. Close your eyes and picture the supreme fistic force that Jones was in the late ’90s. Wouldn’t it have been a complete farce for him not to have been fighting world-class opponents at that stage of his life?

Well, Rigondeaux was named the best boxer of the 2000 Olympics but didn’t turn pro until ’09, at age 28. Though stylistically very different from Jones, he boasts a similar level of talent. Just as Roy Jones didn’t need to be fighting six-rounders against clubfighters in ’98, Rigondeaux might as well step up and face a world-class foe like Cordoba right now.

And by “step up,” we don’t mean step up to a level of opposition he’s never seen. We mean step back up to a level of opposition roughly on par with what he’d been dominating in amateur world championships throughout the past decade.

Yes, two-time Olympic champion Rigondeaux is on an unusually fast track. But it still might be too slow for him, and he still might completely overwhelm Cordoba when they meet on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito pay-per-view undercard Saturday at Cowboys Stadium

You could say Rigondeaux is being rushed. But he’s being rushed for a good reason: because anything less would be a waste of everybody’s time.

“You couldn’t do what we are doing with any other fighter around today,” promoter Bob Arum said of Rigondeaux taking on a fighter this good this soon. “Cordoba owns a win over [Celestino] Caballero, so this is a very competitive fight and we wouldn’t have made it if [Rigondeaux trainer] Ronnie Shields hadn’t given us the OK. He has said this is the best kid he has seen in years and could fight anybody in the world.”

“Guillermo is not your ordinary fighter,” Shields echoed. “This kid is an exceptional fighter, and it doesn’t make a difference who you put in front of him. We’ll put a game plan together, and we’ll send him out, and I have no doubt in my mind that he can beat anybody.”

You’ll hear some people talk this week about how Rigondeaux is fighting for a “world title” in only his seventh pro fight, but don’t put any stock in that nonsense. This is for the vacant WBA interim super bantamweight title, which will make the winner the third fighter in the division whom the WBA recognizes as a “champion.”

So it’s deceiving to compare Rigondeaux to past fighters who fought for legitimate or even semi-legitimate titles so early in their careers. What’s more meaningful is to compare him only to past fighters who fought opposition this good within their first 10 fights. He’s in rare company.

The most famous cases are Pete Rademacher, who made what was essentially a gimmick challenge of Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title in 1957 in his pro debut, and Leon Spinks, who upset Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in ’78 in his eighth bout.

Kostya Tszyu waited until his 14th fight to compete for a title, but in just his fourth fight, he took on ex-titlist Juan LaPorte, then fought another faded former beltholder, Livingstone Bramble, in his 10th bout. Nobuo Nashiro upset the excellent Martin Castillo in his eighth fight. Jeff Fenech won a title in just his seventh fight, though you could make a strong case that the beltholder he defeated, Satoshi Shingaki, was a level below Ricardo Cordoba. The same could perhaps be said of Davey Moore (the 1980s junior middleweight, not the 1950s feather champ), Veerapol Sahaprom, Sot Chitalada or Muangchai Kittikasem.

Some of those fighters were stand-out amateurs, and some were experienced Muay Thai combatants who were already pro fighters long before they became pro boxers.

Some were moved quickly for the right reasons, while others weren’t.

“Leon was put into the position he was because he was a complete train wreck outside the ring,” matchmaker Bruce Trampler said of Spinks earlier this year. “He had to be moved very quickly, but not for the right reasons. It’s not like why we moved Davey Moore very quickly, or Oscar De La Hoya very quickly. Leon had just come off a draw [against Scott LeDoux] and clearly the wheels were already coming off.”

Nothing like that applies with Rigondeaux. His amateur record is reported to be 374-12, and after 386 unpaid bouts, a fighter has seen and done everything except go professional distances. There’s hardly any polishing that needs to be done.

The Cuban master is 30 years old and, as the clich├® goes, isn’t getting any younger. So his people are taking advantage of a prime opportunity in the co-featured bout on a card should draw about a million pay-per-view buys.

“This is a smart move, if they think he’s got the right stuff, to create some buzz about him,” said HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant. “I remember seeing Pacquiao, two fights after he fought [Lehlo] Ledwaba, he fought on the undercard of Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. It was a venue that gave an international media audience a chance to see him for the first time. It didn’t instantly turn him into a star, but it made people aware of him. And that’s what they’re looking to create here with Rigondeaux.”

Frankly, if Rigondeaux is as good as most experts believe he is — he has been called the greatest amateur fighter ever and there were some who asserted he was better than most of the fighters on the professional pound-for-pound list back when he was competing in the Olympics — then it’s Cordoba, not Rigondeaux, who’ll be stepping up in class on Saturday night.

The confident Rigondeaux certainly feels that’s the case.

“I believe that I have been a professional for a long time,” the Cuban said. “I come from a system where there are a lot of expectations of you, and I had to work hard to be disciplined, and that’s what they expected of me — to act like a professional.”

Actually, if Rigondeaux were acting like a professional, he’d be spending four or five years marking time against opponents with no hope of beating him. That’s what Roy Jones did after he turned pro at age 19, and that’s the way it’s usually done.

But Rigondeaux is a unique talent in a unique position. He turned pro not as a prospect, but as a finished product. So why not fight Cordoba in his seventh fight?

The truth is, Rigondeaux was probably ready for a challenge like this six fights ago.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó Bravo to Juan Manuel Lopez and Rafael Marquez for delivering the expected Fight of the Year candidate on Saturday night. I think we can stop calling the chin a weakness for either of these guys.

ÔÇó I wish there could be NFL games every Sunday of the calendar year. It’s not that I’m the world’s biggest football fan or anything; I just like the idea of Gus Johnson being unavailable every Saturday night.

ÔÇó Actually, it was a great weekend for boxing commentary all around. We got to enjoy a reunion of the outstanding Steve Albert-Al Bernstein team, we got first-rate, first-person insight out of having Antonio Tarver call a Glen Johnson fight, and the HBO trio of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones — in what I believe was only their second time working together — gelled on the spot.

ÔÇó Hey, something actually broke right for the Super Six! Glen Johnson’s victory last weekend means there will definitely be no Andre Ward vs. Allan Green II.

ÔÇó How many head-scratcher scorecards will Eugenia Williams have to turn in before she stops getting work as a judge? Robert Guerrero over Vicente Escobedo 100-88? If this is the world we’re living in, it’s only a matter of time until Rich Kotite is offered another head coaching job.

ÔÇó On the topic of scoring I didn’t agree with, from my seat on the couch, Lucas Matthysse deserved the decision over Zab Judah in the Boxing After Dark main event. Call me crazy, but in a close round, I favor hard body shots over range-finding jabs. I agree with Matthysse’s post-fight statement that anywhere outside of the New York-New Jersey area, that’s a unanimous decision for the Argentine.

ÔÇó Gee, that Rashad Holloway is a forgiving chap, isn’t he? He said on 24/7 that he suspects Antonio Margarito of hitting him with loaded gloves in sparring, but he's letting it slide. I recently interviewed Holloway and asked what he thought of Charles Manson. “I didn’t go pointing fingers at him,” Holloway said. Then I asked if he had an opinion on 9/11. “I wasn’t spiteful, I wasn’t bitter about it,” Rashad responded. So I inquired as to his feelings on the Rwandan Genocide. “It just was what it was,” he stated.

ÔÇó I know the levels and styles of opposition this past Friday on ShoBox were different, but my hunch is that Marcus Johnson goes a little farther than Edwin Rodriguez.

ÔÇó Someone must have threatened to strip Texas of its title of shadiest athletic commission in the country or something, because Dickie Cole sprung into action last week and assigned his kid to referee Pacquiao-Margarito. What, Earl Hebner wasn’t available?

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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