Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux: Fight prediction, preview odds, line, tale of the tape, pick
Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux will go toe-to-toe on Saturday night
Saturday's junior lightweight title bout between Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux is so historically unique as the first professional boxing match to feature fighters who have each won multiple Olympic gold medals, that putting it into proper context hasn't been easy.
In many ways, it's a Super Bowl of the lower weight classes, featuring a rising star in Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), who captured world titles in two weight divisions in just his seventh pro fight, and the enigmatic Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), among the greatest defensive geniuses in history.
You can just as easily call it a showdown for current pound-for-pound supremacy. Heck, Roy Jones Jr. went as far as. But for all its ravenous appeal to hard-core fans within the very niche world of the sports science, it was difficult to imagine it would ever connect to a greater audience beyond that.
Although Lomachenko is getting close, neither fighter speaks English full-time in interviews and both have styles which are heavier on technical wizardry (Rigondeaux has been regularly deemed boring) than bone-crushing knockouts. But something happened along the way to challenge that theory.
First, legendary promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank announced a four-year deal with ESPN earlier this year, which included Lomachenko's August victory over Miguel Marriaga, and secured prime real estate for the fight (9 p.m. ET) immediately after the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Secondly, the fight sold out the 5,500-seat Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York two months ahead of time. The result has been a steady stream of crossover buzz for a fight pairing a fighter (Ukraine's Lomachenko) who might already be the best in the sport after just 10 pro bouts against maybe the only man equipped to disarm him (Cuba's Rigondeaux).
Even the occasionally gruff Arum, who turns 86 on Friday and enters the 30th event he has promoted at "The World's Most Famous Arena" throughout 50-plus years in boxing, had to admit he was pleasantly surprised at how the fight has been received.
"I was gratified by the interest and how this has caught on, but understand that I'm involved with boxing, I love boxing, and I felt always that this fight is deserving of the attention that it, in fact, has received," Arum. "Was I assured of that coming in? No. It's something that is well merited. It's not a fluke that it's getting the attention that it's getting because of the participants involved.
"It's historic. These are two of the greatest amateur fighters in boxing history and the fact that they are going at each other is something truly splendid. I'm honored to promote this fight."
Tale of the tape, odds
|Fighter||Vasyl Lomachenko||Guillermo Rigondeaux|
El Chacal (The Jackal)
9-1, 7 KOs
17-0, 11 KOs
WBO junior lightweight
WBA junior featherweight
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Gary Russell Jr. (MD, 2014), Roman Martinez (KO5, 2016), Nicholas Walters (TKO7, 2016)
Rico Ramos (KO6, 2012), Nonito Donaire (UD12, 2013), Joseph Agbeko (UD12, 2013)
Orlando Salido (SD, 2014)
What's at stake?
Along with potential for the winner to be declared the P4P king of the sport (and many outlets already consider Lomachenko as such), the WBO junior lightweight belt will also be on the line. But the bout offers much more to each fighter on a macro level.
For Rigondeaux, 37, his professional career has been a constant battle of one step forward and two steps back. Often avoided due to his talent level and lack of marketability, Rigondeaux has typically been his own worst enemy when it comes to business decisions and his reluctance to fight in a style other than cautious.
But a win over Lomachenko would offer Rigondeaux a bookending victory to his career, pairing with his surgical decision win over Nonito Donaire that made his name professionally in 2013. It would also offer Rigondeaux a chance to play spoiler for a second time against his former promoter Arum, who dropped him after his contract expired in 2013.
While you could argue that Lomachenko would benefit more from a commercially satisfying victory to further help build his star, a win over Rigondeaux offers something critically that no other fight can match. And for those who have been slow to anoint Lomachenko so early in his career as one big-name fighter after another as avoided him, this is important.
Who has the edge?
1. Power: Both have relied more on speed and accuracy to finish opponents than heavy hands over the years. And even though Rigondeaux likely has more power comparable to his own division than Lomachenko, considering he has, it's hard to overlook he will be moving up two divisions to face Lomachenko. Rigondeaux has also proven susceptible to flash knockdowns at both 118 and 122 pounds. Advantage: Lomachenko.
2. Speed: It's going to be fun finding out exactly who has the edge. While Rigondeaux is naturally smaller and has long relied on a lightning quick counter left hand, he's also 37 and has been a victim of inactivity. Lomachenko, meanwhile, appeared to shock featherweight Gary Russell Jr. -- known universally at the time as owning the fastest hands in the sport -- by out-peppering him during their 2014 title bout. Advantage: Even.
3. Technique: Just how good are these two from a technical standpoint? Let it be known, from now until the end of their respective careers, that this is the only time either one will enter a fight without owning a dominant advantage in this category. That's what makes this fight unique to any other. Advantage: Even.
4. Defense: Part of what makes this matchup so fun is that both are polar opposites in terms of their natural inclinations. Lomachenko is a flashy offensive whiz who uses footwork and awkward angles to break opponents down. Rigondeaux is more comfortable avoiding punches and exposing his opponent than necessarily making him pay. Like his contemporary Floyd Mayweather, "El Chacal" is in the conversation among the greatest defensive fighters who have ever laced up gloves. Advantage: Rigondeaux.
5. Intangibles: Lomachenko is in the midst of his physical prime at 29 and has been both active and ambitious in his short career, having fought for a world title in his second pro bout. Rigondeaux is a different story. In fact, there are more things going against him than for him in this fight, including age and weight. As someone who identifies more as an in-ring artist than prizefighter, Rigondeaux's brilliance doesn't always lend itself to easy translation (and appreciation) by judges. Advantage: Lomachenko.
Lomachenko has promised to walk through Rigondeaux "like a tank" and knock him out. While the bold proclamation births the potential for entertainment, it also threatens to summon a dangerous version of Rigondeaux only seen the rare times opponents have forced it out of him through pressure.
What should decide early what kind of fight this turns out to be is just how much the difference in size ends up playing a factor. If Rigondeaux is able to make Lomachenko pay for closing distance without without being defied dramatically by age and his own chin, this one has all the makings to be high-speed chess at its finest.
Lomachenko isn't big for 130 pounds and doesn't employ a style (similar to how Orlando Salido leaned on him in his lone pro defeat) where the extra weight will make much of a difference. Should Rigondeaux survive the early rounds, it will be interesting to see which boxer is forced to alter his style first and make an adjustment. It's a scenario that will be predicated upon who wins the early battle of hand and foot speed to control pace and distance.
Rigondeaux has been a maddening fighter to watch because of how pedestrian he can look when opponents are unwilling (or unable) to bring out his best. For every flash knockdown he has suffered through a lapse in concentration while coasting on the scorecards, Rigondeaux has equally dazzled when pushed (think the opening rounds against Donaire) to remind just how absurdly talented he is.
It's because of that feast-or-famine style as a purveyor of the Cuban school of boxing, doubled down by inactivity and marginal competition, that Rigondeaux is so polarizing as an equally under and overrated figure. The fact is, we don't quite know how good he still is or his true ceiling. What makes that dangerous is that neither does Lomachenko.
A lot of what this fight will look like is dependent upon whether Rigondeaux can still be the guy he was against Donaire in 2013. If he can force Lomachenko to lower his output with pinpoint counter shots, both the pace and entertainment level will diminish, thus playing into his hands.
But what happens if he can't? What happens if Rigondeaux is so flummoxed by Lomachenko's speed and angles that he's forced, for the first time in his pro career, to be anything but a frontrunner? That's where the danger zone lies for a fighter who has never had a rock-solid chin and is seemingly more inclined to throw less punches as a form of survival than throw more as a means to rally.
If Rigondeaux was unable to summon his inner beast against overmatched opponents, what gives the confidence he can do the same should he find himself down on the scorecards? It's a point that can't be overlooked.
What also can't be overlooked is how perfectly suited Rigondeaux might be to solve Lomachenko's offensive puzzle and how motivated he is entering his first fight of this magnitude since Arum dropped him, with four years of spite coiled up and ready to strike.
In fact, Rigondeaux might be the only fighter in the world capable of pulling this off thanks to his speed, smarts and willingness to reduce the bout to its simplest possible form of hit and not be hit. Provided the judges appreciate what they are seeing, great defense can still beat great offense when its executed by someone on Rigondeaux's level. Love it or hate him, it's a place very few have ever been.
Pick: Rigondeaux by majority decision.
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