In the spirit of the holidays, ESPN is celebrating the season with our own "12 Days" wish list of the fights we want to see most, regardless of promotional or other entanglements. Keep checking back over the coming days to see new fights revealed, discuss our choices or even suggest some of your own in the comments section or via Twitter using #ESPN12Days.
Guillermo Rigondeaux wants you to know something: He doesn't care a whit whether you like him.
He hasn't put it in those terms, not exactly. And surely the sentiment is nothing personal. But the former Cuban amateur titan and current professional pariah to a seemingly growing legion of fight fans -- one whose sensibilities are offended by any bout that falls short of a Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios bloodletting -- clearly isn't interested in what you think of his style.
Otherwise, why else would Rigondeaux (13-0, 8 KOs) have coyly toyed with Joseph Agbeko for the first half of his Dec. 7 junior featherweight defense and then gone into boxing's version of a four corners offense down the stretch? After the curmudgeons shook their fists at his brilliant but slow-played points win over Nonito Donaire to unify belts at 122 pounds in April, the fight against Agbeko -- traditionally a high-volume puncher -- should have been Rigondeaux's get-out-of-jail-free card. All he needed to do to get back into the good graces of fight fans was, when Agbeko nibbled, to hook him hard and reel him in.
Instead, Rigondeaux waited for his fish to jump into the boat.
At his best, Rigondeaux is a quicksilver athlete, a defensive savant and an unrivaled ring general -- half-warrior and half-warlock. Try hitting a shadow and then dodging a lightning strike. That's what it's like to face Rigo -- assuming you take the fight to him. Because at his worst, he's languid and disengaged, unwilling to press opponents -- even those who are hopelessly overmatched. He's always ready to fight, but only on his terms.
So who do you put in with that kind of fighter to create the sort of combat theater we can all appreciate? How about someone who will take Rigondeaux's terms, try to pound them through his teeth and won't quit coming until the bell or the referee puts a stop to the punching? How about Leo Santa Cruz?
Yes, I'm aware of the promotional issues surrounding a Rigo-Santa Cruz fight. And guess what? I couldn't care less about them. This exercise isn't about speculating on which matchups will be made next, handicapping likely opponents or considering whether there's enough money or power to go around for two grown men to stop behaving like child-pageant brats long enough to make a compelling fight. Hey, Tricky Dick and Uncle Bob: Sit this one out.
Why let those two jokers ruin the great fun of pondering how Rigondeaux, one of the least-busy punchers at nearly any level -- let alone a champion in the lower weight classes -- would approach (or, more aptly, evade) the human windmill that is Santa Cruz? Simply put, LSC throws more punches per round than any active, CompuBox-tracked fighter in boxing. And it's not even close.
So, Irresistible Force, meet Too-Movable Object. All that's left is to debate which gives out first: Rigo's feet or Santa Cruz's arms? The unified champ's cardio or the titlist and challenger's fists? Or will it be the icy hearts of all those former Rigondeaux-haters when the world's fastest turtle finally comes out of his shell?
And about the last question -- who wins? -- that's easy: Everyone who loves boxing.
You know that Mayweather vs. Pacquiao HAS to be the top fight at the end of the list #ESPN12Days
— Will Bryant (@WBSupreme12) December 18, 2013
— Nick Olney (@The1andOlney) December 18, 2013