TKO by dejection: Vasyl Lomachenko forces Guillermo Rigondeaux to quit

WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko (left) vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux. Photo credit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

 

NEW YORK – After years of flaunting his maladjusted behavior, Guillermo Rigondeaux reached a new professional low on Saturday night at the Theater in Madison Square Garden, against the virtuosic Vasyl Lomachenko, when Rigondeaux, citing an injured left hand, declined to come out of his corner for the seventh round.

 

Touted as the only fight in history pairing two-time Olympic gold medalists, Lomachenko-Rigondeaux played out in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,102 and was broadcast on ESPN. Apparently, these elements were not incentive enough for Rigondeaux to hold off on his usual short-shrifting of the paying public. If not for the fact that the majority of fans in attendance were waving the Ukrainian flag, a shower of beers and boos would have been the expected response.

 

Like Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa and Miguel Marriaga before him, Rigondeaux, 17-1 (11), is the latest victim to capitulate to Lomachenko’s high-pressure, high-skill onslaught, making him part of one of the strangest streaks in boxing: TKO by dejection. Speaking to ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna in the post-fight interview, Lomachenko re-christened himself “Nomaschenko,” in reference to Roberto Duran’s infamous submission to Sugar Ray Leonard in their 1980 rematch.

 

Of course, it is ludicrous to try and compare Duran’s infamous night to Rigondeaux’s own. At his height, Duran was a bloodsport ideal inside the ring and a cultural icon outside of it. As entrenched as “No Más” may be in the minds of the sporting public, one typically associates Duran with another word: machismo. Ultimately, “No Más” was an aberration, an isolated event that barely reflects Duran’s legendary merits. If you have long believed that Rigondeaux’s career woes were mostly self-inflicted, then it is hard to see his outing against Lomachenko as anything other than a fitting coda to a career full of bungles.

 

Certainly, going into the contest, Rigondeaux faced crucial deficits in size (as a career 122-pounder) and age (37) but, during the course of the fight, he also appeared slower than Lomachenko, whose constant movement and feints neutralized the Cuban’s ability to land his usual counters. Indeed, Rigondeaux, unaccustomed to ceding control of a fight’s tempo, looked lost for large stretches of the rounds and resorted to repeated ducking and holding, for which he was docked a point by referee Steve Willis in the sixth round. In the last few seconds of the same round, Rigondeaux also illegally tried to land hard left uppercuts – via the supposedly injured hand – while holding Lomachenko around the neck with his right glove. Moreover, according to CompuBox numbers, Rigondeaux landed no more than three punches per round. Throw in a low blow and the myriad times he tried to touch gloves – this coming from a fighter who once used that occasion to score a devious knockout – and you had a man desperately looking for a way out. There is no reason to believe Rigondeaux will stop fighting anytime soon, especially once he gets back down to his normal weight class, but his days seem numbered. After the fight, RocNation Sports head Dino Duva said Rigondeaux was headed to Bellevue Hospital for X-rays. “He put a bunch of ice packs on,” Duva assured reporters.

 

Asked about Rigondeaux’s supposed injury, Lomachenko’s promoter and Top Rank CEO Bob Arum cracked, “Where did he hurt his hand? In the dressing room?”

 

In his most important moment as a professional fighter, Rigondeaux failed. Unlike Sosa or Marriaga, who at least made an effort to fight back as much as their limited skillsets could possibly allow, Rigondeaux decided to call it quits, as soon Lomachenko started landing heavier shots. This will be part of his legacy.

 

Not so for Lomachenko, who, in addition to improving his English, understands what is expected of him, as a prizefighter. In a manner that spoke volumes about his mindset, Lomachenko downplayed his victory over Rigondeaux because of the disparity in weight.

 

“He’s a top fighter,” Lomachenko, 10-1 (8), told Osuna. “He’s a king in his weight category (122 pounds) but (130 pounds) is not his size; it’s not his weight. So it’s not a big win for me.”

 

How many fighters today would look for a reason to marginalize a win?

 

“You’re not dealing with a regular fighter here,” Arum told reporters after the fight. “He’s almost like a scientist, when it comes to boxing. Who’s gonna beat this guy? C’mon. He’s special.”

 

Maybe too special. While a move to the “Big Room” at MSG is imminent for Lomachenko, the question of his next opponent is in perpetual limbo. Most likely, he’ll need to move up to lightweight to find any real challenges. While Arum, in his tireless soliloquy, floated the names of WBC titlist Mikey Garcia and WBA champion Jorge Linares as serious candidates, it remains unknown if Top Rank’s deal with ESPN can lead to working with rival networks and promoters. Luckily for boxing, Lomachenko, as his manager Egis Klimas explained in the post-fight conference, has no problems turning down unappealing fights. If it is not a good fight, “he goes nuts right away,” Klimas said. “‘Give me something interesting, something harder!’”

 

 

 

Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.

 

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