Cuban legend Guillermo Rigondeaux returns to BoxNation on this weekend's Gary Russell Jr undercard, taking on Liborio Solis for the vacant WBA World Bantamweight Title.
‘Rigo’ - commonly heralded as one of the greatest amateur boxers ever - turns 40 later this year, and now has the chance to win a belt in a second weight class.
BoxNation unearth some titillating trivia about one of the most gifted boxers to have fought on British shores in recent years:
TWO OYLMPIC GOLDS
In addition to seven national senior titles, the super slick southpaw won a brace of World Titles in Belfast (2001) and Mianyang, China (2005) – bagging the Boxer of the Tournament gong at the latter – plus Olympic gold in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). He is rumoured to have melted his medals and they now reside in his mouth as glistening gold teeth!
Several touted him to become the first boxer to win four Olympic Titles by replicating his success at Beijing (2008) and London (2012) when he’d still have been only 31.
FROM HERO TO 'TRAITOR'
’El Chacal (The Jackal)’ frequently dined at the table of President Fidel Castro who rewarded him with a banana yellow Mitsubishi for his Olympic triumphs.
However, the ruthless dictator disowned him as "a traitor ...worse than an army deserter" after Rigondeaux – alongside Erislandy Lara – attempted to defect to the US during the 2007 PanAm championships in Brazil. Though the prodigal son begged forgiveness, none was forthcoming and the grandmaster was permanently excluded from the Cuban national squad.
In February 2009, ‘Rigo’ hid in the hold of a smuggler’s speedboat – with 30 others (!) – and crossed the shark-infested waters from Pinar Del Rio to Cancun, Mexico and freedom. "The most traumatic experience of my life," he says.
He was subsequently disowned by his own father for being disloyal to the Revolution and unable to attend his mother’s funeral. Today, government cameras are permanently transfixed on the house of the wife and two sons that he left behind.
FRESH START IN THE STATES
He docked at Freddie Roach’s Wildcard gym in Hollywood and immediately demanded to spar Manny Pacquiao! Roach wouldn’t allow but was hugely impressed, labelling Guillermo ‘definitely the best counter-puncher I’ve ever seen and probably the greatest talent.’ ‘Rigo’ later eloped to Houston, Texas to work with ex-Mike Tyson trainer Ronnie Shields.
During an eight-fight apprenticeship before challenging for a World Title, Rigondeaux only completed eight rounds once. After his fifth gig with Adonis Landeros, he donated his entire $100,000 purse to the Haitian earthquake relief fund.
After all his technical film equipment was stolen, Rigondeaux’s Vancoeuver-born biographer Brin-Jonathan Butler gambled his final $1000 – at odds of 20-1 - on the Cuban winning in round one during his WBA ‘interim’ title defence with Limerick’s Willie Casey in Dublin. Rigondeaux duly delivered with 22 seconds to spare!
[Image credit RTE]
HBO DEBUT V DONAIRE
By June 2012, in only his ninth pro fight, Rigondeaux was able to style himself as WBA Super-Bantam Champion after a six round slaughter of Puerto Rico’s previously-unbeaten Rico Ramos in Las Vegas. He successfully retained half a dozen times and, in April 2013, announced himself as a serious P4P contender by adding Nonito Donaire’s WBO belt at Radio City Music Hall, New York.
The Cuban maestro entered as a 3-1 underdog for his debut as a HBO headline. However, despite just 59 pro rounds on his ledger, he toyed with ‘The Filipino Flash’ – tipped as a natural successor to Manny Pacquiao and ranked fifth pound-for-pound – and lodged a comprehensive unanimous decision.
MOST AVOIDED WORLD CHAMP?
Over the ensuing three years, ‘Rigo’ fought just four times and achieved little more than a rep as the most widely-avoided World Champion.
Possibly the most technically gifted boxer in the sport and armed with Cuban missiles to render opponents senseless in both gloves, Rigondeaux frightened off all potential suitors in the 122lb division....yes, you Mssrs Mares, Santa Cruz, Frampton and Quigg!
DICKENS CRUSHED IN CARDIFF
British fight fans were graced with Rigo's presence in the summer of 2016. He was initially scheduled to square off with Jazza Dickens in a non-title 10 rounder at Liverpool’s Echo Arena in the spring but left it too late to secure a UK visa from his Russian base.
After the bout was moved to July in Cardiff, and with his WBA Super-Bantamweight Title on the line, he wasted no time in defending his crown - breaking the brave Liverpudlian's jaw in two rounds.
BOUNCING BACK FROM LOMA LOSS
Alas, the consummate ease with which the Cuban negated quality opposition, before sporadically dispensing his own pain, saw him dubbed ‘Rigon-dull’. A perfectionist whose priority is to avoid, ‘Rigo’ looked too good for his own good...until he met Vasyl Lomachenko.
Still, ‘Rigo’ has lost just once since the 2003 World Amateur Championships in Bangkok, though that high-profile, December 2017 defeat against the pound-for-pound king saw him quit after six rounds.
With two wins on his slate since, now he has the chance to become a two-weight World Champion and add to his legacy. One senses, like so many of his kin, that Rigondeaux will be treated far more kindly by the critics once he’s left the sport.
Buy BoxNation to watch Guillermo Rigondeaux and Gary Russell Jr on Saturday night.