Cuban legend Guillermo Rigondeaux saunters into Wales this weekend, offering British 8st 10lb king Jazza Dickens a crack at his WBA Super belt at Cardiff Ice Arena.
Glynn Evans unearths some titillating trivia about the most gifted pug to have fought on these shores this decade.
1) Born in Santiago De Cuba and raised on a humble coffee farm, ‘Rigo’ is commonly heralded as one of the greatest amateur boxers ever.
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.
2) ’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 current WBA light-middle king 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.
3) 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]
4) 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.
5) Over the ensuing three years, ‘Rigo’ has fought just four times and achieved little more than a rep as the most widely avoided champion in world boxing.
Possibly the most technically gifted boxer in the sport and armed with Cuban missiles to render opponents senseless in both gloves, Rigondeaux has frightened off all potential suitors in the 122lb division....yes, you Mssrs Mares, Santa Cruz, Frampton and Quigg!
All know they have little chance of victory and a big chance of getting hurt and humiliated!
6) Alas, the consummate easy with which the Cuban negates quality opposition, before sporadically dispensing his own pain, has seen him dubbed ‘Rigon-dull’!
Marketing a non-English speaking defensive specialist to the mass market has not been easy. Ring magazine call him ‘untouchable but unwatchable’ while octogenarian ex-promoter Bob Arum once quipped: ‘Every time I mention his name to HBO, they vomit!’
A perfectionist whose priority is to avoid, ‘Rigo’ is way too good for his own good. One senses, like so many of his kin, that he’ll be treated far more kindly by the critics once he’s left the sport.
7) Now a resident of Miami, Florida, ‘Rigo’ is now unbeaten between the ropes since conceding to Azerbaijan’s Aghasi Mammadov at the 2003 world amateur championships in Bangkok.....13 years ago!
Undefeated in 16 as a pro with 10 stoppages, he has been inactive for eight months. He was initially scheduled to square off with Dickens in a non-title 10 rounder at Liverpool’s Echo Arena in March but left it too late to secure a UK visa from his Russian base.
Stripped of his WBA Super belt for inactivity late last year, he has subsequently been re-instated – don’t ask (!) – and his title is now up for grabs against the lively Liverpudlian this weekend.
Thirty-six in September, he dreams of unifying the division and becoming a Cuban Bernard Hopkins by fighting into his late 40s!