By Graham Houston
Photo: Ed Mulholland
Although the crowd at Radio City Music Hall got restless at the tactical nature of the bout, I enjoyed the exhibition of boxing skill put forth by Guillermo Rigondeaux in his unanimous decision victory over Nonito Donaire on Saturday night. I must confess I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much had I been a Donaire backer.
Rigondeaux’s win reminded me of a southpaw version of the way Floyd Mayweather Jr. outboxed a taller puncher in Diego Corrales but without the knockdowns and stoppage.
It was a case of “I hit you; you don’t hit me” for round after round. Even when Donaire rocked Rigondeaux with a left hook in the fourth and dropped him with a heavy left hand in the 10th I always had the sense that Rigondeaux was in control of the fight. When Rigondeaux suffered the knockdown in the 10th he “went down well” as the great Mickey Duff would say, meaning that he kept his composure and didn’t look as if everything was falling apart when he hit the canvas.
HBO’s Max Kellerman obviously enjoyed the fight, remarking on the incredibly high level of skill on display in the clash of 122-pound champions.
When previewing the fight for my subscribers I made this note: “The key, to me, is whether or not Rigondeaux can land the left hand early, steady Donaire — preferably hurt him — and get right into the fight.”
Rigondeaux followed the script perfectly, driving in a left hand that sent Donaire back across the ring in the opening round. It was the ideal beginning, and I never had a doubt after this that Rigondeaux would win the fight.
This intriguing contest had fans, the boxing trade and the betting fraternity divided. There were those who fancied Donaire strongly, those who liked Rigondeaux’s chances with equal conviction and a third group who just couldn’t form a solid opinion on the fight’s outcome.
Rigondeaux’s former trainer, Ronnie Shields, was one of the latter group. He felt that each man had an equal chance of winning. I asked Shields what he thought was particularly outstanding about Rigondeaux, thinking he might say “defence” or “reflexes” and he replied: “Everything stands out with this guy.”
We now know that Donaire didn’t have the best of preparation. His wife is expecting their first child in July and I think this might have taken away some of his focus. Even on his best night, though, I think that Donaire would have struggled with Rigondeaux. The Cuban former amateur great was too smart, too fast, too tricky and too talented. Donaire did his best to close the distance and land his heavy hooks, but Rigondeaux seemed to be anticipating everything, at times causing the Filipino Flash to miss wildly and flounder embarrassingly in the wrong direction.
Several rounds were close, but Rigondeaux seemed to be landing most of the clean, scoring blows, and he just looked so much more comfortable in the fight than did his opponent.
Still, Rigondeaux was, at times, a little too defensive, giving Donaire the chance to steal a couple of rounds just on effort. Rigondeaux’s swollen right eye showed that he didn’t dodge all of Donaire’s jabs and hooks. Julie Lederman’s 116-111 score looked the right one to me.
Rigondeaux did what I like to see a fighter do by finishing the bout strongly. His biggest round was the 12th, when he backed up Donaire and half-closed his right eye with a left-hand shot. I had a moment of dread when Jim Lampley informed us that the officials at ringside were “re-tallying the scorecards” but the right man won, although, interestingly, if Donaire and not Rigondeaux had won the 12th we would have had a split decision.
I advised my subscribers to invest in Rigondeaux, if only because, to me, it was the sharper play to be on the side of a very live underdog rather than be on tenterhooks after laying the price on a favourite who could very easily lose the fight.
It was a fun weekend of boxing. I bought the Epicentre.tv PPV coverage of the big show in Indonesia and the stream held steady all through the two title fights although there were technical issues during the preliminary coverage. The three-round finish in the Chris John-Satoshi Hosono fight was disappointing, with John cut in two places from head clashes. I am puzzled as to why the ending was announced as a technical draw rather than a “no decision”, but maybe local rules applied.
In the other fight in Jakarta we had an upset, with South Africa’s Simpiwe Vetyeka stopping Indonesia’s Daud Cino Yordan in the last round to win the IBO featherweight title. Was it my imagination or was the Aussie commentator bullying the British analyst during the telecast? Photographer Sumio Yamada sang the Japanese anthem quite beautifully in Jakarta. Sumio originally intended a career as a singer when he arrived in the U.S. but gravitated towards journalism and photography. If any promoter is featuring a Japanese boxer in the main event and wants a singer who can give a flawless rendition of that country’s anthem, Sumio’s your man.