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Sticking Guillermo Rigondeaux in Main Event Is like Selling Tickets to Smallpox


By Ivan G. Goldman

Twelve rounds of Rigondeaux is too much Rigondeaux. No amount of cajoling by Max Kellerman can change that.

If baseball games were scheduled to go 18 innings they’d be a close cousin to one of this guy’s fights — and America would have to look for a new national pastime because no one would be watching. As he showed against Joseph Agbeko in Atlantic City, Rigo’s got to be taken in smaller doses.

It’s instructive that HBO’s Kellerman is more excited about this somnolent refugee from the Cuban team than the fighter’s own promoter Bob Arum, who frankly admits that the guy just doesn’t put fans in seats. But notice that Max gets paid whether fans show up or not. Arum has to keep a business going, and putting Rigondeaux in your main event is like trying to sell tickets to smallpox.

True, knowledgeable fans tend to appreciate Rigondeaux’s deft moves and stellar ability to slip punches, but I find after five or six rounds – or less — we’ve plunged into a supernatural time/space continuum where each three-minute round steals a solid week from the spectator’s life.

No amount of debating tricks can make you believe a movie that’s boring you is exciting. We know tedium when we feel it. Same goes for fighters like Rigondeaux. The first few rounds can be interesting as he tames his opponent – poor, frazzled Agbeko on Saturday night – teaching him that if he throws punches he can get hurt. But if he remains in his shell and doesn’t let a fight break out Rigo will be content to throw just enough shots to win rounds and score a dull decision.

Trouble is, professional sport is a branch of entertainment, and it stops being professional if you don’t entertain. Fans don’t pay to watch a leaky faucet and wait for the next drip to drop.

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Rigo wins snoozer over Agbeko (Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank)

Ask yourself how many people with working brain cells can enjoy looking at Andy Warhol’s rendition of a soup can for any length of time. Does such work really compare to the creations of masters like Van Gogh or Picasso? Or do fools pretend that it does so they can look cool? Part of Warhol’s artistry resided in the realm of con artistry, and I have my suspicions about the sincerity of anyone who claims that watching Rigondeaux for 36 minutes is a great experience.

I suspect that some fans, listening to the siren call of Rigondeaux fanatics like Kellerman, believe that if they pretend to enjoy watching him then everyone will think they’re terribly knowledgeable – just like Kellerman.

But Max never explains why, if this guy is such a fantastic fighter, he has such dismal punch stats. Against Agbeko, who was coming up from bantamweight and hadn’t fought for 21 months, Rigo connected on only 144 of 859 shots for a miserable 17 percent connect rate. In what way is this masterful? Agbeko landed just 48 of 349.

Rigo is lightning quick, clever, powerful, and beautifully conditioned, but I ask myself whether Max really and truly loves to watch round after repetitive round or is he another one of those dilettantes pretending that he could stare at a soup can for hours?

Roy Jones at his peak used to fight something like Rigo only he didn’t take it to the same extremes. Jones, who didn’t like taking shots, would let the other guy live if he took on the subservient role of sparring partner. As Jones grew older and opponents found more openings his fights became more exciting. The same pattern will repeat with Rigondeaux, 33, if he stays in the game long enough.

What I do like about him is that he sparks debate, but I wish he inspired more intellectual honesty and less posturing. In the meantime Rigo retained his two super bantamweight belts and improved to 13-0 (8 KOs) while Agbeko sank to 29-5 (22 KOs). But I rather doubt the victor will make it onto Jim Lampley’s Gatti list anytime soon.

Goldman’s novel The Barfighter, set in the boxing world, was nominated as a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Available online & at better bookstores everywhere. Purchase HERE

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