When looking at a fighter whose record is 17-0 (with 11 knockouts), boasting a two Olympic gold medals and a strong reputation as one of the greatest defensive boxers of all time, that screams all-time great. But that isn't the case for Guillermo Rigondeaux.
He moves up two weight classes to face WBO junior lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko on Saturday, Dec. 9 from The Theater at Madison Square Garden (9 p.m. ET), and instead of celebrating the first-ever fight between fighters who have each won two Olympic gold medals — and both are in the conversation for the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet — we are speaking of it as a legacy-defining fight.
The sky appeared to be the limit for Rigondeaux after he dispatched Nonito Donaire, at the time the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter and the reigning Fighter of the Year. It was a masterful performance by Rigondeaux who made Donaire look like an average fighter. Somehow, all the fight did was hurt the 37-year-old defector from Cuba.
The casual fan doesn't like or recognize a boxing masterpiece: Rigondeaux vs. Donaire wasn't exciting to any degree. It even made then-promoter Bob Arum (coincidentally, Lomachenko's current promoter) complain during the post-fight press conference — with Rigondeaux beside him — about how boring the fight was, and questioned Rigondeaux's marketability.
Truthfully, as great as Rigondeaux is, he is a high risk with a low financial ceiling. Unlike defensive wizard Floyd Mayweather who would throw counter punches to keep his opponents honest, Rigondeaux is content on just making opponents miss with no punches thrown back their way. While that style will win fights, it won't win fans, which Rigondeaux feels he deserves.
Due to his stubborn nature and refusal to alter his fighting style to get the fights against the bigger names in the sport, the super featherweight champion is forced to jump up two weight classes to get the opportunity he feels he should have gotten a long time ago.
"I went up to 130 (pounds) because it was the only way I could get this fight made," Rigondeaux said through a translator on a conference call. "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."
Rigondeaux just can't go out there on Saturday and do what he's done in his 19 previous fights. Lomachenko is one of the best pure offensive fighters in boxing and should force Rigondeaux into a type of contest he isn't accustomed to.
If Rigondeaux wins in a lackluster manner, he will go back to being what he was before this fight. He has to win emphatically, make a statement, as it will help secure his legacy and give fans a reason to watch him compete.
It's easier said than done against a fighter the caliber of Lomachenko, but if Rigondeaux wants to be known as an all-time great, this has to be the fight to prove it. The fans know that, as does he.
"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."
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can listen to his podcast, "The Fight Junkies" here. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA.