NEW YORK — History belongs to Vasyl Lomachenko, who painted a masterpiece against Guillermo Rigondeaux in the first-ever professional fight between two-time Olympic gold-medal winners.
Lomachenko did as he pleased until Rigondeaux quit on his stool with an injured left hand after the sixth round of what had been an utterly one-sided fight before a sellout crowd of 5,102 on Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Lomachenko has made his past four opponents in a row quit: Rigondeaux, Miguel Marriaga, Jason Sosa and Nicholas Walters. In fact, Lomachenko said before the fight he might make Rigondeaux quit and said he should be nicknamed “No Mas ‘Chenko.”
“Listen, the only thing I can say is you guys are seeing something really special,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said of Lomachenko. “The body of work from this kid is something that is virtually incredible. I’ve never seen anything like this. I never have. He gets these guys, he frustrates them, it looks like he’s gonna knock them out and they quit because they can’t answer back. This is something really unique. Rigondeaux goes in with Lomachenko and he is totally bewildered. He can’t hit him with anything.”
Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) retained his junior lightweight world title for the fourth time and easily won the much-anticipated fight against junior featherweight world titleholder Rigondeaux, who moved up two weight classes to face fellow southpaw Lomachenko in a battle between two of the world’s elite pound-for-pound fighters.
“I lost, no excuses,” Rigondeaux said through a translator. “I injured the top of my left hand in the second round. He’s a very technical fighter, he’s explosive. I’m gonna come back because that’s what I do. The weight was not a factor in this fight. It was the injury to my hand.”
The smaller, older, less active Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs) — who had fought just three rounds in the past two years — showed almost nothing as Lomachenko toyed with him from the outset.
Rigondeaux said the pain in his hand got a lot worse in the third round. Despite the history involved in the fight, Lomachenko said he didn’t consider it that big of a victory for him, even if many others will.
“This is not his weight, so it’s not a big win for me,” Lomachenko said. “But he’s a good fighter, he’s got great skills. I adjusted to his style, low blows and all.”
It was the first loss for Rigondeaux since a 2003 amateur bout.
“I think [Lomachenko is] the most unbeatable fighter I’ve ever had,” said Arum, who has promoted numerous greats during his 50-plus-year career. “The only one that was different was [Muhammad] Ali before the 3½ years [he was idle].”
The fight began with Lomachenko, 29, and Rigondeaux, 37, trying to establish their jab, but it was Lomachenko setting the tone with his activity level, although Rigondeaux landed a few body shots.
When Rigondeaux tried to hold in the second round, Lomachenko forcefully broke away and nailed him and then landed a solid right hand moments later. It was a big round for Lomachenko, who rattled Rigondeaux and refused to allow him to tie him up. Rigondeaux continued to hold in the third round, drawing a forceful break by referee Steve Willis.
Lomachenko continued to pepper Rigondeaux with shots in the fourth round, and by the time it was over Rigondeaux had some swelling around his right eye. In the fifth round, when Rigondeaux held yet again, Willis warned him not to keep doing it. But Lomachenko was dominating, so he had little choice but to grab onto him or risk getting nailed.
Lomachenko, perhaps frustrated by the constant holding, threw a punch at Rigondeaux after the bell. Willis finally took a point from Rigondeaux for holding in the sixth round, drawing cheers from the crowd and putting Rigondeaux into an even deeper hole. When the round was over, Rigondeaux quit.
The New York State Athletic Commission sent him to the hospital after the fight to have his hand examined.
“He said couldn’t throw his left hand at all,” said Roc Nation Sports’ Dino Duva, Rigondeaux’s promoter. “I gave Rigo the first round, but after that it was all Lomachenko. It just amazes me what this guy does to his opponents. He frustrates them with his athletic skills. He frustrates them so bad they don’t even know what to do. He didn’t even know what to do, Rigo.”
The fight was heavily anticipated, and sold out two months ago, mainly because of the fact that Lomachenko and Rigondeaux not only rank among the elite fighters in the world pound for pound but they are widely considered two of the best — if not the best — amateur boxers in history. The fellow southpaws won a combined 859 amateur fights, with Lomachenko going 396-1 (avenging the loss twice) and claiming Olympic gold medals for Ukraine in 2008 and 2012, and Rigondeaux fashioning an amateur record of 463-12, which included Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 for Cuba, before he defected and settled in Miami. For good measure, they each also won two world amateur titles.
None of that meant anything when the fight began because Rigondeaux could not hang with Lomachenko. But even before the hand injury, Rigondeaux didn’t appear to have much. Going into the sixth round, Lomachenko was ahead 60-53, 59-54 and 59-54. According to CompuBox punch statistics, Lomachenko landed 55 of 339 punches (16 percent) and Rigondeaux connected with only 15 of 178 (8 percent). Rigondeaux never landed more than three punches in any round.
“What I sense is I am seeing something so special it will have to be part of history,” Arum said. “I’ve been around great fighters, [Sugar Ray] Leonard, [Marvin] Hagler, Floyd [Mayweather], [Manny] Pacquiao. I’ve never seen a fighter like this, even Ali.
“I thought Loma would win. He’ll take anybody. He’ll go to 135 pounds and he’ll make a joke of [world champion Jorge] Linares. He’ll make a joke of [titlist Mikey] Garcia. They’re really good fighters, but this guy is super special. You’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe he’ll go to 140, I don’t know. He’s going to do this to everybody. We’ll be able to make the fight. With ESPN behind us we have plenty of money to offer for big fights. ESPN wants the best and this guy is the best.”
Lomachenko, who also won a featherweight world title before moving up in weight, may go to lightweight as soon as his next bout in the spring, but for now he plans to enjoy the holidays and his overwhelming victory.
“I’m gonna rest and see what they want me to do next,” he said. “But I am ready to go.”