(Guillermo Rigondeaux, center, stands victorious and untouched; photo credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank)
All “names” prevailed on the final HBO boxing card of 2013, ending a very strong late year run for the network on a lower note than perhaps was intended when put together.
At the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Guillermo Rigondeaux left no doubt as to whether or not his talent and ability are at the upper echelon of the sport, as he handed the usually-spunky Joseph Agbeko a one-sided instruction on how to completely incapacitate a foe. And quite often, it wasn’t very thrilling.
It wasn’t all for naught, however, as James Kirkland prevailed in a slugging match with Glen Tapia, and Matthew Macklin proved to be more crafty than late substitute Lamar Russ could put up with.
Rigondeaux, 13-0 (8 KO), sniped, smacked and sliced his way to an extremely unanimous decision win over the Ghanaian wildcat with just about every manner of fist strike possible. The consensus proved correct, as Rigondeaux was simply too quick, too big and too stylistically unnerving for Agbeko, 29-5 (22 KO), to even spark much momentum.
Following a relatively interesting first two stanzas that saw Agbeko probing Rigondeaux’s defense for weaknesses, the latter struck out with a handful of thudding southpaw left hands that rendered Agbeko inactive. From that point forward, Agbeko threw what was almost certainly his lowest output in a fight. Rigondeaux practiced his combinations, intentionally telegraphed uppercuts before throwing them anyway — in effect, he did whatever he wanted, and Agbeko did about as little to stop him as he could have possibly done without doing nothing at all.
There were moments where Rigondeaux appeared as though he wanted the early ending, thwacking Agbeko with left hand after left hand, but it was a rough task finding openings on an opponent who refused to open up. Even so, Agbeko was placed in a veritable straight jacket by sharp punching through twelve often weary rounds.
All three judges turned in cards of 120-108 — an utter domination in favor of the two-time Olympic gold medalist Rigondeaux.
When asked by Max Kellerman in the post-fight interview about a rematch with Nonito Donaire, Rigondeaux responded, “Nonito, el pobre. Ha quedado muy traumado despues de la paliza que le di,” or, “Poor Nonito. He’s still traumatized from the beating I gave him.”
There will be talk of Rigondeaux being a boring “purist” type, and that the fight was too slow, but that’s simply what Rigondeaux does: he turns whatever his opponent’s advantage or ideal style is, into a harmless kitten. Every so often an opponent turns tiger, like Donaire did late in their fight, but more often than not, the crashing tide cannot be stopped. While it’s not blood nor guts nor testicular fortitude in the classical sense, there’s an art to what he does, and it takes a great amount of skill to pull off consistently. It may not be for everyone, as evidenced by the near-empty venue, but he’ll be quite a task for anyone in the 122-pound vicinity.
As for that pesky, non-throwing Agbeko, losing to a fighter like Rigondeaux isn’t necessarily and shouldn’t be a pugilistic “scarlet letter.” What was worrisome, though, was how few punches he threw, when that’s not the fighter he typically is. As discouraged as he looked throughout the fight, perhaps a long bout of introspection should be considered.
In a bruising undercard bout, James Kirkland successfully came back from a 20-month layoff to halt Glen Tapia in six rounds and improve to 32-1 (28 KO). Kirkland overcame a spirited early rush from Tapia, who appeared to waste most of his energy going for broke in round 1. Kirkland’s legs were shaky as Tapia threw and landed relentlessly — at least until apparently gassing out, unable to throw for the last 15 seconds of the stanza.
The action didn’t end there, though, and after Kirkland backed Tapia up consistently in the 2nd, they appeared to both wobble from mutual onslaughts late in the round, before again belting each other in round 3. But the momentum was still leaning toward Kirkland, and Tapia covered up for much of round 4, looking to maybe catch his breath in the face of a brutish gauntlet.
There was no slack given by Kirkland in this bout, and he continued hammering Glen Tapia throughout round 5, to the point where Tapia appeared to be falling asleep in his corner before the 6th round. That Tapia was totally spent was painfully obvious, and allowing him to walk out for round 6 should not have been allowed, as evidenced by the whipping he caught, which included a final huge left hand on a defenseless Tapia, that looked to render him partially-conscious, before being hugged and held up by referee Steve Smoger.
Should Tapia prove to have recovered well from the harsh penance laid upon him, he’ll be moving forward with a 20-1 (12 KO) record, no longer unbeaten, and no longer a stranger to taking a beating. But if he is indeed okay, I’d like to see him on my television some more. His courage, will and chin were all represented very well by a kid who just didn’t quite have it.
Kirkland will be a difficult, painful night for anyone who chooses to take him on, assuming he’s got his psychology in check. A somewhat erratic post-fight interview should be taken with a grain of salt, but Kirkland’s pressure and inability to show mercy or clemency on a victim is a sight, and speaks for itself. At junior middleweight, he’s going to raise a welt or two.
In the opening bout of the televised card, “Mack the Knife” Matthew Macklin improved his ledger to 30-5 (20 KO) with a unanimous decision in 10 rounds over “The Boxing Que” (your guess is as good as ours) Lamar Russ, who acquitted himself well considering the significant step up in class. In fact, Russ may have even taken a good two or three rounds from the former middleweight title challenger. Macklin’s face threatened to slough off unless he either got something going offensively, or minded his defense more. He chose the former, and opened up on Russ in the last half of the bout, whacking the taller man around at times and completely robbing him of confidence.
Judges scored the bout 96-94, 98-92 and 97-93. Macklin largely kept his career alive with the win, and at times he looked as though he still had his savvy. But one wonders if he’d manage to shift his luck in return bouts against the likes of Felix Sturm and Gennady Golovkin.
Russ, a former sparring partner for Golovkin, moves forward at 14-1 (7 KO), but he sure proved a respectable chin by standing up to a number of hard, flush punches. They need to ratchet down the defense, of course.
All in all, it wasn’t not a bad tripleheader for HBO, though it was also largely salvaged by the efforts of the men in the two undercard fights.