December 9th will bring one of the most anticipated boxing matches of the year. For purists, Vasyl Lomachenko versus Guillermo Rigondeaux will settle who the craftiest boxer of our time really is.
Rigondeaux (‘El Chacal,’ or ‘The Jackal’ if you’re translating – but we’re calling him ‘Rigo’ in this article) is a product of the purest, simplest boxing program on Earth. Cuban fighters are kept in a political silo, and taught how to win amateur fights on points. It’s the same style that makes Rigo ‘boring’ to many fans; he counter-punches with aplomb, and rarely seeks to lead while dancing.
The Cuban system has birthed some quality fighters of late, all with similar fates. Yuriorkis Gamboa was deflated by Terence Crawford. Yunieski Gonzalez walked into a fight with Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk with a yin-yang shaved into his head, apparently a lamb to slaughter defeated in his own way after being robbed of a decision against Jean Pascal in 2015 (he’s lost three of his last five bouts, including the Pascal fight).
Luis Ortiz and Mike Perez both seem to be fizzling out in their own right (promotional and doping issues for Ortiz, weight class changes for Perez). The closest success story to Rigo is Erislady Lara, who only has two very suspect decision losses on his record (please don’t get me started on that 117-111 card versus Canelo). He’s also chosen to abscond with his WBA Welterweight belt deep into the PBC, ala Adonis Stevenson.
All told, Rigo is the shining example of modern Cuban boxing, and he’s astoundingly boring. His skill is so slight it’s probably not fully appreciated until you comb through Lee Wylie’s examination. Until you watch it, Rigo’s skill is likely lost on you, but it’s a great example of why boxing ‘purists’ love him so much.
Lomachenko (‘Hi-Tech,’ or ‘Loma’) however, is Rigo’s stylistic foil. He’s flashy. He taunts. He talks shit. He makes bogeymen quit on their stool. He exposes great fighters in a matter of a few rounds. His lone loss was against Orlando Salido, who used veteran tactics (I won’t say he cheated) to steal a decision against a Lomachenko who was still very much fighting an amateur style.
Most feel Loma won that fight. Still, his only blemish seems to have hardened his resolve. His BoxRec stats read like a who’s who of the Featherweight and Super Featherweight divisions: Russel Jr., Koasicha, Martinez, Walters, Marriaga. Even the game Jason Sosa and Suriya Tatakhun were unable to mount a charge.
Even more telling are the results. The last three men Loma has faced retired on their stools. Walters, Sosa and Marriaga – all good-to-great boxers – gave up.
Rigo has had his fair share. Two of his last four opponents quit. Save for his last fight against Moises Flores being ruled a ‘no contest’ due to a severely late (and possibly purposeful) punch by Rigo, he has nothing but tallies in the win column.
Where Rigo’s Cuban background produces all-star caliber amateurs, the ‘Lomachenko system’ is giving us exciting professionals. Gvozdyk and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk both train with Loma, a dizzying array of physical conditioning, puzzles for the mind and skilled boxing training.
Much like Gonzalez’s silly haircut, Loma and Rigo represent the yin and yang of skilled boxing in 2017. One is a flashy, come-forward assassin who will make you question everything about yourself in a ring. The other a settled counter-puncher who lays traps so sublime opponents wonder how they ended up with a glove in their face.
Most assume Loma’s speed and style will carry the day. That’s fair. Like any fighter, Loma has ‘tells’ that predicate his next move. They’re faster and more confusing than a mortal boxer, but they’re evident. He often comes in both linearly and laterally, a sort of low bob-and-weave to see where his opening is. Fighters are typically confused by this, and retreat into their guard.
Rigo has no guard to speak of. Where Loma uses speed and footwork to open up avenues for offense, Rigo uses a metronomic jab and footwork to establish angles and distance. You’re sure he’s ripe for a straight right hand, but in that moment his lead right foot has slipped outside and his jab has blinded you to his incoming left. Throw the right if you like, but Rigo has decided which lane is available to you before you even flex a muscle.
Neither has faced a fighter like the other. For Rigo, discovering Loma’s tells will be key. The problem is Vasyl Lomachenko isn’t the same fighter round-to-round. That subtle move you start timing in the third round is gone by the fifth. A jackal is an opportunistic hunter; the key is to mitigate his opportunities.
Lomachenko will have to commit to the chase. His opportunity lies in Rigo’s retreat, which is often on a traditional path with gloves up near his temples. Rigo is also hesitant to exchange while going in reverse; he loves distance and dictating the pace.
Unfortunately for him, Loma considers pace and traditional exchanges easily bypassed constructs. While Rigo is pawing with his jab, Loma will be pouncing. In Rigo’s fifth step back, Loma will still be throwing.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is as natural a boxer as there is. Lomachenko has little regard for boxing structure. He also trains with killers, under his father who has crafted the best modern system on Earth. Rigo will have his moments, but expect Loma to do what he always does and frustrate an undersized Rigondeaux. Loma will knock him down a few times, but expect Rigo to ride the rounds out and lose on the cards to save face.
By Nate Swanner