Thursday, December 5, 2013

Recreating Greatness - Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Joseph Agbeko Preview and Prediction

As the sport of boxing becomes more digitized along with society at large, fight fans and even fighters themselves constantly seek to cherish snapshots of a career -- frozen moments perhaps closer to what we'd prefer than the present. In that sense, not only are fighters from the past revered in some apparent ageist conspiracy, but your average battler may actually have a need to psychologically live in a different time to succeed.  

But much like a photograph, it's impossible to recreate those moments. A fighter will never land blows in quite the same way, move in quite the same way, or produce quite the same results as that one moment. The outside contributing factors and intangibles will never combine in quite the same way. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

All three A-side fighters on this weekend's HBO tripleheader are hoping to recreate a sort of greatness, or even just very goodness. Cuban anti-superstar Guillermo Rigondeaux wants to reassure a doubting sport, network and public that his skills are legitimate; James Kirkland attempts a second act in the looming Greek tragedy that very well could be his career; Matthew Macklin returns to erase as much of his summer KO loss to Gennady Golovkin as is humanly possible. 


Former amateur prodigy Guillermo Rigondeaux, 12-0 (8 KO), notched his belt on the international stage before turning professional, reportedly fighting just shy of 400 times, winning two Olympic gold medals and multiple amateur titles. But in many ways, despite defeating one of the best fighters in the world, Nonito Donaire, in his last bout and unifying belts at junior featherweight in the process, the jury is essentially still out on the guy.

Thailand seems to have cornered the market on fighters who snatched up belts in their first handful or so of fights, but Rigondeaux winning even an interim trinket in his seventh fight is nothing to sneer at. Saensak Muangsurin won a belt in his third pro fight, Veeraphol Sahaprom in his fourth, and Muangchai Kittikasem in his sixth, but none had the amateur depth of Rigondeaux. The dark side to that, however, is that Guillermo Rigondeaux is 33-years-old and already destined for more shelf time than he may want. In reality, there was really no choice but to push Rigondeaux forward quickly.

To his credit, he's been ready for whatever thrown at him thus far -- even a Nonito Donaire left hook in the 10th round that threatened to undo it all. Unclear, though, is whether Guillermo Rigondeaux can consistently be as good as he was for maybe 30 plus minutes against Donaire. A few shaky or simply ho-hum performances, like against Ricardo Cordoba and Robert Marroquin, haven't aided him in a search for more television dates that as of yet had not yielded the desired result. And one of the surest ways to amplify the effects of age in the ring is inactivity. 

Ghanaian Joseph Agbeko has just about seen it all since winning the IBF bantamweight belt in 2007: high-action brawls, stylistic transformations, gratuitous foul punches. All but respectable activity, that is, as has become the calling card of every Don King-promoted fighter in the last little while. In fact, the only year since 2001 that he fought more than twice in a calendar year was 2007. At 29-4 (22 KO), he is 3-3 in his last six skirmishes. 

It's nearly impossible to look at his recent record without a sort of asterisk, though, as those three losses come against Abner Mares and Yonnhy Perez -- customers about as tough as they come, at their best. And the aforementioned "stylistic transformation" came about in a rematch with Perez, with Agbeko using skills many weren't completely aware of to brain his way to a decision win, despite the first go being a peach of a fight. 

Time ticks away for Agbeko, also 33, in a different way. While he may not have the same kind of unpaid experience as Rigondeaux, his last half-dozen fights may have had an as of yet unseen effect, as Agbeko tends to favor a high-paced output and his defense isn't stellar. It's responsible, just not stellar. And in Rigondeaux, it's likely he'll be facing a man capable of hitting him more cleanly and more often than any other before him. Additionally, Agbeko is a career bantamweight.

Agbeko could manage to surprise a few more souls against "El Chacal" Rigondeaux; he may take a trip to some well of skills we didn't know about and find a way to compete with the Cuban needle threader. But Rigondeaux's southpaw style advantage, and the fact that his last loss is to Azerbaijani amateur Aghasi Mammadov in 2003, should lead to a win. A slight size advantage for Rigondeaux should be negated by a sturdy chin on Agbeko, so make it a decision.

Something about the way junior middleweight James Kirkland detonated his foes in the late 2000s led to widespread skepticism in terms of how he would react against someone willing, ready and able to stand up to his firepower. He was ensnared for weapon-related crimes, twice, before that could even happen, however. And when it did happen, Nobuhiro Ishida bounced Kirkland off the canvas thrice before stopping him in the 1st round. 

A "redemption by fire" approach did his career a favor or two, bludgeoning Alfredo Angulo in six after an insane fight opening, and turning the tide on Carlos Molina, who gummed up the works by trickily boxing him for rounds at a time. Then Kirkland launched bizarre accusations at his trainer Ann Wolfe that, even in the wake of a lucky win, threatened to undo his career once more, and succeeded in stalling it considerably. All but gone is the promise he once showed. 

That's the roller coaster ride that has been James Kirkland's career, leading to a 31-1 (27 KO) ledger. No matter the product of it all, the way it unfolds will probably be intense and entertaining, opponent be damned. Kirkland will come forward, throw hard punches, get yelled at by Wolfe, and go home, win or lose. 

The questions reside mostly with his opponent -- or perhaps the slight showcase in this instance -- Glen Tapia, 20-0 (12 KO). Whereas just about everything Kirkland can and will do is obvious, Tapia strolls into this bout without having beaten a high level opponent, his tool belt perhaps missing a few essentials.

Tapia appears to have respectable punching power, but not the potentially division-transcending kind like Kirkland, and that's more than likely because Tapia shuffles about and punches without setting his feet quite often. He commits to a solid jab, though, and can move very well at times. And he'll have the advantage in activity here.

Unless Tapia can show boxing skills on a level we haven't yet seen from him, the result may very well depend on punching power and chin: which fighter's chin can better withstand the other's punching power? At only 23, Tapia could be getting a nudge too far, but in the spirit of limb-balancing, we'll say Tapia by decision.

Matthew Macklin, fighting in the opener of the card, is in the process of tracking down his own moment. At 29-5 (20 KO), Macklin was unbeaten from 2007-2010, but seems to have been snakebit ever since. He was savaged by a Gennady Golovkin body shot in his last fight, and beaten up by middleweight champion Sergio Martinez last year.

Strangely enough, Macklin's high point came after fighting then-belt holder Felix Sturm in 2011. Fighting the German-based Bosnian to a controversial loss moved his career along better than anything before it had, and got him a crack at the middleweight title. 

Intended opponent Willie Nelson would have been stepping into a role similar to that of Glen Tapia, but was forced to withdraw from the match up with an elbow injury. Instead Macklin will be facing Lamar Russ, 14-0 (7 KO), who hasn't quite waltzed into the average boxing fan's consciousness as of yet. While streaming video of previous fights shows a competent fighter with snappy punches and solid technique, he'll nonetheless be taking a gigantic step up in class. Having never gone past eight rounds, Russ will probably find himself overwhelmed before too long. But whether "Mack the Knife" can summon forth necessary heat to put Russ away is to be revealed. The TQBR Crystal Ball says "no." Macklin by decision. 

The fact that this particular HBO tripleheader is eclipsed in notoriety and quality (on paper) by a Showtime quadrupleheader across the figurative town is good news for the sport. We could be in for a slight lull in early 2014 -- at least when compared to the type of year 2013 has been for us. Whether any of these men can Xerox their previous outings and pass them off as genuine remains to be seen, but we're bound to see some explosive ordnance detonated along the way.


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