Junior featherweight world titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux has never had an easy time getting fights.
One of the reasons is because he is the ultimate high-risk, low-reward opponent. Few can legitimately compete with his skills and he doesn’t bring big money to the table, so getting bigger names in his weight class, or even one division heavier at featherweight, to face him has been virtually impossible, other than Nonito Donaire, whom Rigondeaux outpointed in their 2013 title unification bout.
Rigondeaux said that the only way to get a top-quality opponent to step into the ring with him was for him to move up two weight classes and to cede the size advantage to junior lightweight world champion and fellow southpaw Vasiliy Lomachenko, whom he will challenge on Saturday night in meeting of two of boxing’s pound-for-pound best at the sold-out Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The fight, and three other bouts on the card, will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes beginning at 9 p.m. ET with the entire card streaming live on the ESPN App beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“I went up to 130 (pounds) because it was the only way I could get this fight made,” Rigondeaux said through a translator. “I would rather it have been at a lower weight, but I want to show the world that I can do it by moving up two weight classes.”
If Rigondeaux is victorious he would become the first reigning 122-pound world titleholder to jump up to 130 pounds and win a world title.
Rigondeaux said he does not believe the weight jump will be too much for him to handle, especially because Lomachenko agreed to a Saturday morning weight check at which neither fighter is allowed to weigh over 138 pounds without facing a financial penalty.
“If this is what it takes to fight the big fights then you guys are going to see on (Saturday) if I am ready or not,” Rigondeaux said.
Rigondeaux, 37, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, Florida, said he has wanted to fight Lomachenko when he held a featherweight world title before moving up in weight but could get nowhere with the match.
“I wanted to fight him when he was at 126,” Rigondeaux said. “And we tried and we tried and we tried and he wouldn’t step in the ring with me. Now he is at 130 and wants to step in the ring with me because he believes now he has the advantage over me.”
Said Alex Bornote, Rigondeaux’s trainer: “This is the fight the fans want to see and he has to go up two weight classes to do it. It’s the only way the fight was going to happen and it’s great for boxing.”
Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), 29, of Ukraine, who will be making his fourth title defense, said Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), is full of it. Lomachenko said he has seen a video in which a reporter asked Rigondeaux about fighting him when he was still at boxing as a featherweight.
“He said to the reporter, ‘Wait a second, what weight am I fighting at?’ And reporter said 122 and he said, ‘Well what kind of questions do we have? I am at 122.’ It is on video on YouTube. Anybody can find it. (What he said is) not the truth.”
The fight will be the first time in history that a pair of two-time Olympic gold medalists will fight each other as professionals. Lomachenko, who went 396-1 as an amateur, won Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 and Rigondeaux, who was 463-12 in the unpaid rank, won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004. In addition to their Olympic gold medals they also both won two world amateur championships apiece.