The Beast of No Nation: The Story of Guillermo Rigondeaux

Guillermo Rigondeaux may be one of the most prolific boxers of our time. Respected by many, but known by few, Rigondeaux has yet to capture the attention of mainstream boxing fans, despite the immense amount of success he has had to date. A Cuban born national that defected in 2009, Rigondeaux has peaked the interest of numerous fighters at the junior lightweight and featherweight divisions.

So who is Guillermo Rigondeaux and what makes him one of the most avoided fighters of today? The team at Eightcount.tv takes a deep dive into the life and story of the WBA Junior Featherweight Champion.

“El Chacal”

Known as “El Chacal” (The Jackal), Guillermo Rigondeaux Ortiz (17-0 w/ 1 NC, 11 KOs), was born and raised in a humble coffee farm in Santiago de Cuba on September 30, 1980. Rigondeaux is a world championship in the super bantamweight division, where he has held the WBA (super) and lineal titles since 2013, and previously the WBO and Ring magazine titles between 2013 and 2016. As of May 2017, Rigondeaux has been ranked as the world’s best super bantamweight by The Ring, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and BoxRec. Eightcount.tv ranks him as the sixth best active boxer, pound for pound.

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Unapologetic about his talent, Guillermo Rigondeaux is widely considered to be one of the greatest amateur boxers of all time, having accumulated a record of 463 wins and 12 losses. Additionally, as an amateur, Rigondeaux won consecutive gold medals in the bantamweight division at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics. He is also a seven-time Cuban national champion at bantamweight (2000–2006).

As a professional, Rigondeaux has been lauded by boxing trainer Freddie Roach as being, “probably the greatest talent I’ve ever seen.” Appropriately nicknamed, “El Chacal”, Rigondeaux was blessed with the physical tools that make him a perfect fit for the Cuban style of boxing. As a southpaw with knockout power in both hands, dexterity and supreme balance, he is known for his hand speed, sharp counterpunching, and excellent footwork.

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The Jackal

Much like a jackal, which is a type of canine, Rigondeaux is known to hunt and defeat his opponents in the ring. Jackals are very territorial in nature and zealously protect their area. With an undefeated professional record, Rigondeaux has successfully defended his “home” – the squared circle – 17 times, with 10 of those fights being successful title defenses. Furthermore, jackals are known to be vigorous runners, able to sustain a maximum speed of 16 km/hr. If you equate a jackals running speed to hand speed, there is arguably no fighter today that has faster hands than Guillermo Rigondeaux.  He embodies the characteristics of  the Cuban style of boxing – a risk based approach that prides itself on timing punches so that one can hit without being hit.

Communism in Cuba

The Cuban Revolution that took place on January 8th 1959, led by communists Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, resulted in Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista being overthrown and the Communist Party of Cuba coming to power. The Communist Party was supported economically and militarily by the Soviet Union while Batista had been supported by the United States of America. Not only was the Cuban Revolution a bell weather event for global geopolitics, as Cuba became the first communist nation in the western hemisphere, it was also a strategic victory for the Cold War was beginning to pick up steam between the USA the Soviet Union.

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Che Guevara (l) and Fidel Castro (r)

Due to Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union and its pro-Communist government, and hundreds of government approved executions, both the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United States imposed economic sanctions on Cuba that led to a complete ban on trade between the countries and froze all Cuban-owned assets in the US.

On the ground in Cuba, Castro’s regime was credited with reducing illiteracy, eradicating racism and improving public health care, but was criticized for thwarting economic growth and the political freedoms of Cubans, by the capitalistic and democratic nations of the west. The standard of living in the 1970s was “extremely spartan” and discontent with the government was widespread. Ultimately, Fidel Castro admitted the failures of Cuba’s economic policies in a 1970 speech. In 1975, the OAS lifted its sanctions against Cuba, with the approval of 16 member states, including the U.S. However, the U.S., maintained its own sanctions 

During Castro’s rule, Cuba was severely tested in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse in 1991 (known in Cuba as the Special Period). The country faced a severe economic downturn following the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually, resulting in effects such as food and fuel shortages. The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines, and cash until 1993. The lack of capital paralyzed the economic and infrastructural development of the country and the lack of medicine and nutrition led to increased medical epidemics and left many of its people living in extreme poverty.

Castro, Cuba and Defection

In Castro’s Cuba, Rigondeaux was a forbidden topic, but it wasn’t always that way. He regularly dined with Fidel Castro before his first, unsuccessful defection attempt in July 2007. At the age of 28, he and teammate Erislandy Lara failed to turn up for scheduled bouts at the Panamerican Games in Rio de Janeiro. The two were soon located by Brazilian police, who said the boxers regretted their decision and wanted to return to Cuba.

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Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara in 20117 after attempted defection from Cuba.

Fidel Castro blamed the United States for the attempted defections, saying the two had betrayed their country for money. As a result, both fighters were dropped from the Cuban squad for the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.

With Rigondeaux’s story, we see a stark inflection point. After his attempt at defection in 2007, overnight, he had turned from a legendary Cuban hero to Fidel’s Judas, a traitor to all of Cuba according to Castro. It was a nightly soap opera on Cuban television. Yet, fascinatingly, all Cubans had to weigh for themselves whether Cuba betrayed Rigondeaux or Rigondeaux betrayed them. If they agreed with Fidel they were free to discuss it, if they held opposing views they were forced to whisper.

It wasn’t until two years later, that Rigondeaux successfully defected from Cuba along with 30 men, women and children via a smuggler’s speedboat from Pinar Del Rio across hazardous, shark-infested waters to Cancun, Mexico.

Branded as a traitor in Cuba after arriving in the US in 2009, Rigondeaux was effectively banned from American television due to the lack of entertainment value his fights provided; thus forcing him to find refuge in the one place he knows best – the boxing ring.

The Sacrifice

Rigondeaux’s defection to the US and subsequent success in the ring is bittersweet as he remembers the family members he left behind in Cuba in 2009. “It makes me sad that my family are not able to be here to watch me fight,” lamented Rigondeaux. “I know they are watching back in Cuba and are okay, but I never feel 100% because I miss them.”

However, Rigondeaux knows that he left for good reason – to one day provide a better life for his loved ones. Times had become so hard for Rigondeaux and his family that at one point he was forced to sell his Olympic gold medals for a paltry $200 to feed his family back in Cuba.

According to Rigondeaux’s manager, Gary Hyde, as explained to Boxing Monthly, “Rigondeaux had a car parked outside but no fuel in it, so he couldn’t drive it for two months, but he had two medals sitting there gathering dust then some guy says, “I will give you $200 for them.” Two hundred bucks feeds the family and puts a bit of fuel in the car. His belly feels nice and his kids feel like he’s a great provider and that’s what happened. It wasn’t because he sniffed it up his nose with cocaine or drank it away with whiskey. It was to survive. For $200 in Cuba you could live for four months. Rigondeaux knows what it’s like to be in the gutter.”

“Those are great memories that I will never forget. It would be very special to get those Olympic medals back.”

The fighter dearly hopes to receive those two prized gold medals he worked so hard for in the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympiads. “Those are great memories that I will never forget. It would be very special to get those Olympic medals back,” he said, though the Cuban was mystified as to how Shiming received a gem-encrusted WBO ‘international’ belt in Macao and the same organization had not granted one to him, one of its most decorated world champions. “Maybe I will have to return to China to see if they can make a special belt for me!” joked the sharply-dressed Cuban. Rigondeaux already glitters inside and outside the ring having worn a pair of outrageously dazzling gold trainers for the pre-fight weigh-in at the Venetian Casino’s Bellini Lounge. “I bought them here in China. They were Versace! Very expensive,” laughed Rigondeaux, forever synonymous with gold.

Gary Hyde actively petitioned the Olympic Committee for replacement gold medals for Rigondeaux. Both he and Rigondeaux are awaiting a response from the committee.

His Trainer(s)

Needless to say, Guillermo Rigondeaux’s trainer relationships have been a bit of a game of hot potato, as he has bounced back and forth been trainers throughout his career. Most recently in 2016, Rigondeaux re-connected with former trainer, Pedro Díaz, after parting ways with long-time trainer Jorge Rubio. It had only been 2 years since Rigondeaux had made a similar change and left Pedro Diaz in 2014 to go train with Jorge Rubio, who had been Rigondeaux’s original trainer after defecting to the US. Due to a convincing but relatively boring performance against Filipino Drian Francisco, in late 2015, Rigondeaux decided to return to training with Diaz and get in touch with the roots of the Cuban amateur style.

Pedro Diaz
Trainer Pedro Diaz

After winning Olympic Gold in 2008,  Pedro Díaz moved to Montreal, Canada, where he worked as a technical advisor for Professional Boxing Groupe Yvon Michel. Pedro Díaz learned and gained experience as a professional boxing coach while in Canada. He worked with Yvon Michel, Marc Ramsay, the Grant brothers Howard and Otis, Russ Anber, Michel Desgagné and other friends and boxers. Díaz trained professional boxers Jean Pascal, David Lemieux, Herman Ngoudjo, Antonin Decarie, and others.

The most important fight to date for Díaz and Rigondeaux was the match between Rigondeaux and Nonito Donaire, at Radio City Hall, New York in April of 2013. In this super bantamwieght world championship unification match, Pedro Diaz and Rigondeaux faced the best boxer, Ninito Donaire (31-1), and best coach, Robert Garcia, from 2012. Boxing fans witnessed firsthand the final result and the masterful skill that Rigondeaux showcased during the fight. Donaire was 140 pounds when they fought and launched big hooks. Rigondeaux made him miss by centimeters at times. In the last round, Donaire threw 30 left hooks and missed with every one of them. Rigondeaux figured him out and adjusted, but was ultimately criticized for it. Rigondeaux defeated Donaire by unanimous decision to remain undefeated.

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Rigondeaux and Diaz in training camp

The Future for “El Chacal”

At 17-0 (w/ 1 NC, 11 KO’s) and superior boxing skills that invoke fear in other bantamweight fighters, there aren’t many boxers willingly stepping up to face Guillermo Rigondeaux. Rigondeaux is promoted by Roc Nation Sports and has called out fighters such as Leo Santa Cruz, Kiko Martinez and Vasiliy Lomanchenko. It’s clear that very few boxers can match the natural skill set and technical acumen that Rigondeaux possesses, which may force him to go up in weight to find fights. However, this would be a major risk as his speed, elusiveness and power may not translate.

 “It’s because I always prepare properly for every opponent, train very hard and stay in optimum shape. Other fighters are afraid because they don’t want to feel this power. They know they are going to lose the moment they enter the ring.”

It wasn’t until last week that the prospect of Rigondeaux facing off against highly talented and highly touted WBO junior lightweight champion, Vasily Lomanchenko, became likely. The plan according to Bob Arum, Lomanchenko’s manager is to have Lomachenko-Rigondeaux take place on December 9th at the Theater of Madison Square Garden in New York on ESPN. If the fight were to happen, it would most likely happen at 130 pounds – with Rigondeaux making good on his promise to move up by two weight divisions to take the fight. Rigondeaux’s last outing took place on HBO Pay-Per-View as part of the Ward-Kovalev II undercard, where he scored a controversial first round knockout of Moises Flores. The outcome was later reversed to a no-decision, after the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled that Rigondeaux had inadvertently hit Flores after the bell. The WBA ordered Rigondeaux to have an immediate rematch with Flores, but he will likely seek special permission to take the Lomachenko bout instead.

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Rigondeaux vs. Lomanchenko is one of the most anticipated fights that has yet to be made.

At the end of the day, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and two time world champion from Cuba refuses to compromise his talents for the loud and maddening crowd. Rigondeaux personifies the true definition of the sweet science and his irrepressible brilliance, so undervalued stateside, should be celebrated now before it’s gone.

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