By: Eric Lunger
Last night in the Theatre of Madison Square Garden, the world’s two most decorated amateur boxers met in an historic clash: two two-time Olympic gold medalists clashed in the professional boxing ring for the WBO World super featherweight title. Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), the brilliant and unique stylist from Ukraine, took on Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), the troubled Cuban exile whose defensive skills, while legendary, have earned him enmity and scorn from a significant portion of the boxing public.
Despite moving up two weight classes, the undefeated Rigondeaux hoped to match Lomachenko’s unworldly skills, and perhaps pull off the unthinkable – a defeat, a stoppage even, via the Cuban’s fearsome overhand left. There were other possible outcomes, of course, and much more likely ones. Loma, younger and naturally heavier, would dominate the Cuban and knock him out. Or, Rigondeaux, having promised to come forward and attack, would lose on knock downs and a number of 10-8 rounds. Or, less likely, maybe Rigondeaux, with his hand- speed and counter punching still sharp, would finally be the one to solve the “Hi Tech” attack.
But none of these outcomes were to be. The first round was a chess match, the type of fight the Cuban wanted: slow and cautious, a feeling out, and a few surgical punches here and there to score points. I even thought that Rigo landed a few flashier shots, and just nipped the round, 10-9. Even in the second, Rigondeaux was staying in the center of the ring, something I did not expect to see. But in this round, Lomachenko began to let his hands go in a probing, testing way. Rigo’s reaction was to duck and hold, an odd tactic, to be sure, especially against a puncher of Lomachenko’s accuracy
By the third, the Cuban was consistently holding, and his defense of ducking very low was obviously going to get him in trouble, as the Ukrainian sharpshooter began to get the timing and range of that move. Significantly, Rigondeaux threw no lefts. In fact, I commented to a writer sitting next to me that the Cuban had not thrown his left in almost two rounds. But then, I thought, this is not necessarily out of character for Rigo, as he will hold and hold the left, wait and wait, until he can fire it. It didn’t even cross my mind that Rigondeaux had injured it.
By the fourth round, Lomachenko was taking over with supreme confidence, feinting, digging to the body, controlling the tempo and pace. The last minute of the round was typical “Hi Tech:” odd angles, throwing multiple combinations, appearing at strange places in the ring, throwing multiple uppercuts, and then hooks from unexpected angles. And that was it, really. The fight was becoming a Lomachenko masterclass. For fans of the Cuban champ, the fifth and sixth rounds were tough to watch: he was tentative and confused, resorting to holding at all opportunities. His frustration boiled over as he hit out of the break, earning an irate roar from the pro-Ukrainian crowd.
And then came the stoppage in the corner. The reaction in the theatre was a deafening combination of bewilderment, jubilation, frustration, and disappointment. And in the midst of all the confusion, there was Rigo, sitting hunched over on his stool, totally alone in that crowded ring, with a look of complete defeat on his face. I could not help feeling that, out of all the possible outcomes for this historic fight, this was the saddest. I hope the hand injury is the real reason for his throwing in the towel. It is too sad to contemplate that Lomachenko broke his will to fight, and that the Cuban super bantamweight, who has overcome so many obstacles in life and in the ring, ended his career (and let’s face it – we probably will not see him in the ring again) sitting on a stool, the object of derision from the crowd and the whole boxing world.