Vasyl Lomachenko is banking on his skillful attacks to solve complex Guillermo Rigondeaux
It was one of the final negotiating points, and perhaps the most revealing.
Vasyl Lomachenko wanted the historic opportunity to fight fellow two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux in the first title fight matching such decorated amateurs.
The fact that it would provide him his third bout this calendar year, with expected strong viewership on ESPN following the Heisman Trophy presentation, sealed his interest for Saturday’s fight at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
But Rigondeaux’s team wanted World Boxing Organization super-featherweight champion Lomachenko (9-1, seven knockouts) to agree to a Saturday morning weight check to ensure he wouldn’t rehydrate beyond 138 pounds before stepping into the ring in the 130-pound division.
“Give him what he wants to make him sign the contract,” Lomachenko ordered.
So, as complex and deliberate as the 37-year-old super-bantamweight champion Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs) has proven to be in winning his medals and super-bantamweight belt, Lomachenko, 29, believes no such threat can derail him from the spot as one of the most entertaining fighters of the post-Floyd Mayweather era.
“Lomachenko has a seek-and-destroy mentality. I’m not sure Rigondeaux has that,” said veteran matchmaker Bruce Trampler.
Trampler and fellow Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman have watched Lomachenko astutely, from the time promoter Bob Arum landed Lomachenko out of the 2012 Games by vowing to get him in a title fight as soon as he possibly could. In his third pro fight, Lomachenko was a featherweight world champion, and the positioning toward a showdown against Rigondeaux was underway.
Lomachenko is “the bigger guy, he’s been more active, fighting better opposition,” Goodman said. “We always felt Lomachenko was the favorite, even when he was at 126. Nobody’s taking it for granted. We all think it’s a solid, real competitive fight. But we all believe in Lomachenko. They’ll put their wills to the test.”
There’s no question Lomachenko puts his mind into his fight career, but the appeal is that his default tactic is aggression. There is very little of the cautiousness that Mayweather and others have exercisedto the sport’s detriment. Lomachenko wanted that first title fight so quickly , he kept it even after then-featherweight champion Orlando Salido of Mexico came in overweight. Salido then edged the Ukrainian in a split decision.
The major question around this fight is whether it will rank as a dud. While Lomachenko routinely throws 60 punches a round, Rigondeaux has been known to average half that to ensure victory by decision.
“We all know what it could potentially be. When you match southpaws, it doesn’t always make for the best fight,” Trampler said. “In this case, I think we’re going to see a real cerebral fight – two of the best craftsmen, two very skilled fighters. It might be a chess match, I don’t know.
“But Lomachenko’s got a lot of pride and I think he’ll do everything he can to make it an exciting fight.”
He’s done that, particularly, in his past four bouts, bringing the action to a string of champions and title challengers, outclassing and discouraging Roman Martinez (fifth-round knockout), Nicholas Walters (quit on stool after seven rounds), Jason Sosa (quit on stool after nine rounds) and Miguel Marriaga (quit on stool after seven rounds).
All of those bouts have happened since June 11, 2016.
Cuba’s Rigondeaux, meanwhile, has fought only three rounds since Nov. 21, 2015, breaking James Dickens’ jaw last year and throwing a first-round knockout punch on Moises Flores in June that was later ruled to have been delivered after the bell, changing the outcome to a no-contest.
“He is 37 years old … and at this weight, it’s not like heavyweight, [where] you can still have one-shot power and fight long. When you’re in the smaller weight category, you need to have your reaction, your speed,” Lomachenko said. “After 30 years, your speed and reaction slows down. At 35, 36, your mind tells you can do things. You can’t, because it’s in nature. You can’t use the same speed like you used it 10 years ago.
“Half of the fight will be like a spy mission to find out what we can do. I need to open his defense. I need to chase him, and not forget about my defense. Because he’ll wait and wait and wait for me, and then I’ll open. So, for me, it’s twice harder. I’ve trained my patience. I need to do what is said by my father, my coach. If he says to wait, I wait. If he says go now, I go now.”
Lomachenko admitted he can’t guarantee this bout is going to be a slugfest. “I’ve shown my best skills in the fights when I have an aggressive opponent,” he said. “You know Rigondeaux’s style, how he’ll use his skill. If he wants to win, he needs to come forward, but he can’t. Because he trains every time to counter-punch. It’s an IQ fight.”
That’s what makes the bout so intriguing to Goodman.
“This may not be a good thing, Lomachenko being the aggressor,” Goodman said. “He might be better served as the counter-puncher. If he thinks he has to be the aggressor, that may play into Rigondeaux’s hands.”
The one known commodity is Lomachenko’s self-confidence as he’s shrugged off a slew of Rigondeaux’s social-media insults in the days before and after the fight was made, including, “I am not like those dead men [Lomachenko] has fought.”
Answered Lomachenko: “Ask him after the fight why he was talking so much, and why what he said would happen didn’t happen. That would be a very good press conference.”
A victory would allow Lomachenko to pursue a Salido rematch next year should the Mexican win his Saturday night fight in Las Vegas. Lomachenko has an eye toward a showdown with unbeaten lightweight champion Mikey Garcia saying, “For boxing history, we have to make this fight.”
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