NEW YORK CITY — Radio City Music Hall was brimming with folks who didn’t look like they quite belonged in the hallowed halls of past music legends like Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Men in garish t-shirts and hoodies milled around the art deco palace waiting for a fight to break out. The two stars everyone had come to see, hitting center stage at the end of a dynamic knockout filled undercard were, Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux meeting up for a highly anticipated junior featherweight showdown.
When the stage lights came on Nonito Donaire learned very quickly that a fight looks a little different when you are not in the ring with a smaller, weaker, slower, older opponent, the kind he has made his name on throughout his career. Guillermo Rigondeaux, the standout Cuban amateur champion extraordinaire was no Jorge Arce or Fernando Montiel or Vic Darchinyan.
The 1st round, Rigondeaux immediately established that he was the faster man, stunning Donaire and knocking him into the ropes. Looking to make his imprint immediate, he peppered three consecutive showy straight right hands into the Filipino’s face to fill out the stanza. The pattern was set and for the remainder of the fight Donaire was clearly outboxed and outfoxed by the Cuban en route to a decisive points loss, his first in 12 years.
The beguiling footwork of Rigondeaux turned Donaire into a spark-less automaton, following the cagey Cuban around the ring eating potshots and not moving his hands or cutting off the target. As rounds ticked by it was clear that Donaire had no idea how to attack Rigondeaux or find any chinks in his defensive armor.
Rounds seeped away, with Donaire gaining few for his column, but one or two Rigondeaux seemed to take off. Finally as the curtain seemed poised to quietly fall on a disappointing show, Donaire woke up in the 10th round and seemed determined to attack. His biggest hit of the night came when he sent a scintillating left hand down the pike that sent Rigondeaux to his ass and onto the mat. The renewed aggression from Donaire, however, seemed to slip away in a Filipino flash and by rounds end Rigondeaux was back in control.
After Donaire’s one hit wonder, the final two rounds saw Rigondeaux continue his masterful ring generalship and look for the knockout in the final round. Donaire’s left eye damaged, Rigondeaux became more aggressive but failed to land a finishing blow to put a final stamp on his victory.
The Radio City crowd, heavily favoring Donaire, was restless for much of the fight as their man failed to attack. Boos rung out as Ringondeaux managed to stifle his opponents meager attempts at offense and catcalls echoed across the fabled halls like a Count Basie Orchestra brass run from years ago. The atmosphere crackled with electricity when they exchanged and if nothing else Radio City proved itself an amazing venue for future fights.
As a showcase for legendary stars of the stage and screen, Radio City Music Hall may not have produced a superstar tonight. But Guillermo Rigondeaux proved that he belongs on the elite stages of the sport and Donaire may have to look for a career-reviving hit to wash away this performance.