On December 9th, in the historical Madison Square Garden, Christmas will come early.

True fans of the Sweet Science are viewing the showdown between Guillermo Rigondeaux and Vasyl Lomachenko as the gift that keeps on giving. I should know, as it has somehow offered me the opportunity to travel to New York for the main event. The purist’s dream!

The making of this fight has been incredibly one-sided however, with Cuban magician Guillermo Rigondeaux playing every card possible in an attempt to seal the showdown.

Having spoken to Rigo previously, I was aware of the hunger he possessed for the contest awaiting him in The Garden. Moving up in weight, he had used sketches, insults, speech bubbles and video clips in an attempt to goad Top Rank into an agreement. Eventually, it had all paid off.

“I am not the kind of boxer that likes to run his mouth. Really, I am not. But for this fight, I found myself in a position where doing just that was extremely necessary. I haven’t seen anyone promoting this fight other than me. I haven’t seen Lomachenko promoting this fight or ESPN.”

Neither man was renowned for talking trash. Both supreme amateurs, possibly the best ever, and now ridiculously successful professionals.

I got the impression Rigondeaux felt hard-done-by. Double Olympic gold medalist, unbeaten World champion yet still relatively unknown outside of boxing itself. Lomachenko however, with far lesser fights had commanded a viral audience with highlight clips and ‘Matrix’ comparisons. Cuban boxing, time-and-time-again lacking the limelight shone upon American or Eastern European regimes.

“The people are interested, in part, because many of them want to see me lose vs Lomachenko and many others rightfully believe I will show up to deliver a great, masterful performance. And I will do just that…. believe that!”

It would be hard to ignore the step up in weight-class that faces the Guantanamo native, now residing in Florida. He will attempt to step up two weight divisions in facing Lomachenko. This is something he hasn’t done and hadn’t planned on doing, but being frozen out of bigger fights and facing Father time have forced his hand. I asked Guillermo how the transition had been going?

“There is nothing simple about moving up in weight. But, I have in my corner one of the best trainers in the game of boxing. I will be ready for December 9th. Pedro Díaz and Pipo Díaz have done a great job preparing me physically and mentally for this (fight).”

Putting weight on, training the body in an altogether different way required expertise. Rigo puts so much faith in the work of Pedro Diaz it is comforting to hear. They have a tight, family-like bond and appear to be working very well as a unit. No late, last-week cut required this time around. But, loading the body with food and having no real need for excessive cardio is a tightrope for any athlete. It is one they feel they’re managing correctly.

It was hard for me to tell if Guillermo genuinely disliked Lomachenko. He is hunting him, make no mistake. He is turning up in New York to destroy his opponent. Though, real emotional attachment was tough to detect. When we spoke, he was keen to emphasise the element of ‘respect’ he felt had been missing from the Ukranian’s previous contest.

“He thinks he’s got this in the bag! He is acting like the good guy and I have been forced to be the bad guy. But guess what? Good guys don’t play around in the ring when they have so much advantage over their rival like he did vs Marriaga.”

“People know I have always been respectful to everyone in this game. Or who knows, maybe he is quiet because he is scared I will make him eat his words come December 9th.” 

The respect of a battle-hardened and streetwise Rigondeaux will be hard-earned at this stage for the little Ukrainian. Murmurs from the Rigo camp about a same-day weight check for Lomachenko signal only positive things for the Cuban. Hydration capped at 138lb by 9am of the day of the fight, perhaps negating the drastic size advantage some had feared.

As I embark on my journey overseas, I was keen to figure out what message El Chacal (The Jackal) had for his supporters or detractors. Many doubt him now, but they always have since he signed professional papers. The disillusionment boxing fans feel towards Cuba and their elite pugilists had always irked me. It seemed though, that the fighters had come to accept it.

“For everyone that thinks I am losing to Lomachenko, I only have one message. Bet as much as you can. That way my fans would get a lot more for their money! How am I feeling? Better then ever, ready to yet again spoil the party for Top Rank!”

On December 9th, the Rigolution will be televised. The protagonist, the underdog, the peoples champion… is simply not afraid.

Written by Craig Scott