Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux: Traditional Kung Fu vs. Jeet Kune Do

By Caryn A. Tate on December 8, 2017
Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux: Traditional Kung Fu vs. Jeet Kune Do
Both men probably have more in common than they have differences. (WillyDesignz)

No boxer wins an Olympic gold medal, much less two of them, without being a tremendous fighter…

On Saturday, December 9, two of boxing’s most skillful artists collide. Two-time Olympic gold medalist and current WBA super bantamweight world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux is moving up two weight classes to challenge another two-time Olympic gold medalist, Vasyl Lomachenko. On the line is Lomachenko’s WBO super featherweight title.

Both men are top talents and probably have more in common than they have differences. But because there’s so much overlap at this skill level, I’m going to focus on their differences and individual tendencies that can lead to victory.

Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs)
Height: 5’6”
Reach: 65.5”
Reported amateur record: 396-1

The Ukrainian is a highly athletic fighter. As he’s progressed in the pros, he’s added increasing flash to his style which appeals to a lot of fans. Loma has power in his right hook, perhaps more than any other single punch in his arsenal. He uses his hand speed to good effect by flurrying and throwing in combination. The flurries in particular are chiefly to distract his foe and land scoring blows as he forces the opponent to move his hands. It’s really the right hook that he’s looking for.

If his hand speed is undeniable, his foot speed is also a thing of beauty. Lomachenko pivots around his opponents quickly once he’s in mid-range, and he displays awkward, but highly effective, foot positioning, similar to a prime Manny Pacquiao.

Habits & Flaws
A converted southpaw, Vasyl has a tendency to square up with his feet when he lets his left hand go. Sometimes, he also lifts up his left foot (rather than rotating it) when throwing his power hand, which of course diminishes the power delivered and puts him off balance. He’s so fast that thus far as a pro, he’s rarely been made to pay for these offensive lapses; plus, since his right hook is really his biggest weapon, it’s not typically a major issue if his left hand doesn’t have much power on it.

Because of his flurries of activity, letting both hands go so much versus his more recent opponents, he is very good at masking what he’s really aiming for: a great right hook shot. When he’s stopped opponents, it’s been with the right hook. He has achieved a knockdown or two with the left, but if one looks closely, those were actually balance knockdowns more than just a solid or sharp left hand from Lomachenko.

There have only been two fights so far where Lomachenko has been made to pay for these habits. The first time was when he fought Mexican veteran Orlando Salido, who handed Vasyl his first loss as a professional. Orlando is largely considered a journeyman, yet he clearly defeated one of the best fighters in the world, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. This is at least partly due to the way these two fighters match up as far as their schooling: Loma hails from Eastern Europe, and while he’s adopted several tactics that are considered American in style, there are certain things Salido exploited that are particular to the Eastern European school of boxing. On the opposite end, Salido is from Mexico and like many fighters from that country, he began boxing as a professional as a teenager, taking on grown men and learning on the job. Being rough and pushing the boundaries of boxing rules are an essential part of Salido’s arsenal, and his style and schooling benefited Salido when in the ring with the more “properly” schooled Lomachenko.

Salido effectively pressured Loma and took him out of his comfort zone, which for the first seven or eight rounds of the fight threw Loma off significantly. Salido also committed to body work and did particularly well on the inside, which added to Loma’s troubles. Some excuse the performance by claiming that it was too soon for Loma, that Salido was significantly larger, and that Orlando was allowed to get away with a lot of low blows. All are true, but the fact is that Loma and his team believed Salido and his title were easy pickings going in and learned the hard way that they were wrong. When Salido couldn’t make weight and lost his belt on the scale, Team Lomachenko chose to move forward with the bout (so there can’t reasonably be much shock that Salido came in heavy on fight night). As far as the low blows, they were egregious, and referee Laurence Cole did a poor job that night. But after round upon round of fouling from his opponent, Loma continued to look to the referee for help despite Cole repeatedly showing that he had no intention of stepping in. At some point, a fighter has to take matters into his own hands and make the adjustments. When Loma did finally come on, in the last few rounds, it’s unclear whether it was because he made those adjustments or because Salido grew tired. Regardless, it was still too late in the match and Salido won a clear decision.

When Vasyl faced Gary Russell, things were decidedly different, yet still gave us something to look for in his fight with Rigo. Of particular note, in round nine, Russell threw a flurry of punches and landed several on Lomachenko, catching him when Loma was off balance from having his feet squared up (as mentioned earlier). Loma went down, and referee Jack Reiss called it a slip. It’s understandable why—if one watches the replay, their feet basically clashed, but from the camera angle, one can see there was no trip. Russell landed at least one clean punch that actually caused Loma to go down, so it looks like a knockdown that wasn’t called. These things happen and it’s not the end of the world, but it’s an example of Loma being made to pay for having his feet in an improper position.

Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs)
Height: 5’4”
Reach: 68”
Reported amateur record: 463-12

The Cuban is a very economical and practical fighter. He wastes no movement, including punches. He sometimes paws with his jab, not intending to land it, but even that has purpose. Rigo uses it to distract or blind his opponent to either his sweeping right hook or his left hand. Unlike his opponent, Rigondeaux is a natural lefty, and his left hand is perhaps his best weapon (though his right is also formidable, as either a jab or a hook). Rigo also carries a whole heck of a lot of power, as shown in his fights with James Dickens (when he broke Dickens’ jaw in round two with an overhand left) and Hisashi Amagasa (when he delivered so much damage that Amagasa’s face swelled grotesquely, observers speculated that he may have broken Amagasa’s orbital bone and/or jaw).

Where Lomachenko places his feet in a flashier, more unorthodox way, Rigondeaux’s foot placement is nearly textbook perfect, and he conserves energy by not moving his feet much. Rigo avoids most punches while staying in the pocket much of the time, which is a rare trait, particularly in modern boxing. Guillermo is highly skilled at using angles for both offense and defense, and parrying or catching punches even when swarmed by a bigger, stronger opponent.

Habits & Flaws
Rigondeaux has been down four times as a pro, and in general the shots have been punches Rigo didn’t see; it appears the knockdowns have largely come more from a mental lapse or an error in judgment than from a hole in his defense. But regardless, he sometimes gets so caught up in landing his own shots that it leaves him open (whether mentally or physically) to counters. That could be dangerous against Lomachenko, who typically throws in combination.

Against certain opponents, Rigondeaux’s economy could get him into trouble. Lomachenko, if he’s anywhere near as busy as normal, could either legitimately land more punches than Rigo or, perhaps more likely, fool some judges and spectators into thinking that he did simply by virtue of his activity.

This is outside of Rigo’s control, but he is now 37 years old and hasn’t been as active as he’d like the past few years. As the saying goes, “Father Time is undefeated” and Lomachenko is the wrong opponent to show age against. These factors could also play into the fight on Saturday, though he hasn’t shown any obvious signs of slowing down and his legs (often the first thing to go on an older fighter) still looked as bouncy as ever in his last fight in June.

Keys to Victory
Because of Rigondeaux’s pinpoint accuracy Vasyl needs to be careful not to fall in love with his speed, like Amir Khan, who sometimes throws incredibly fast four- or five-punch combinations and leaves himself open to counters. Lomachenko needs to use his speed and unorthodox movement to work his way into his preferred mid-range. There he could take control with his superior activity level and try to land that right hook which could potentially upend Rigondeaux.

It’s highly likely that, because of Rigondeaux’s skills, we won’t see nearly as much punch output from Lomachenko on Saturday. If Loma allows Rigo to dictate the pace of the fight, and if he isn’t able to get inside Rigo’s longer reach, it’s likely it would result in another loss or at least a very close bout. Loma has got to dictate the pace and take control of distance away from his foe.

To call upon a boxing trope: Don’t hook with a hooker. To take away Lomachenko’s right hook, Rigondeaux needs to jab much more than he normally does to ensure Lomachenko isn’t able to lure him into a mid-range hooking contest as he loves to do—this would put Rigo right where Loma wants him. Rigo will need to keep Loma on the outside and use his 2.5” reach advantage to good effect, and land clean and crisp left hands.

Just as importantly, Rigo needs to stay sharp and not get hit with something he doesn’t see. If he allows Loma to throw a lot of shots, this could be very difficult. Against such a formidable foe Rigo can’t afford any mental lapses. So keeping Loma outside, forcing him to keep his hands at home more than usual, and landing his own cracking power will be necessary to keep the odds in his favor.

The Bottom Line: Traditional Kung Fu vs. Jeet Kune Do, or Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

In many ways, this match-up is very similar to Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, or at least the fight most fans envisioned while the fighters were at their peaks. Like Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux, it featured two fighters who are good representations of the above martial arts. One boxer has a flashy, unorthodox, and eye-catching style with a lot of movement to potentially throw off his opponent (like traditional Kung Fu, or Pacquiao in the above example). The other wastes nothing, is technically sound, and is economical with his movement and punch output (like Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, or Mayweather in the above example).

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t see the weight difference being an issue on fight night. Not only is Rigo used to fighting bigger opponents, Lomachenko isn’t a natural super featherweight either. The most important number in this bout is reach, not weight, and Rigondeaux holds the advantage there.

Another important aspect of this fight that is often mentioned is who has been knocked down and who hasn’t. It’s often implied that a fighter who hasn’t been knocked down has an inherent advantage over a fighter who has gone down. I disagree—it completely depends on how the boxer who has been dropped handled it. In fact, it’s something of a relief when analyzing a fighter because he has shown how he deals with that particular challenge. With a boxer who has never been down, one doesn’t know how they’ll deal with it when it does happen.

Rigo has been down multiple times, but he has kept a cool head and even when he’s been hurt, he knows not only how to survive until he’s recovered, but it often brings out the dog in him. Since Loma has never been down, officially, it’s hard to say how he’ll deal with it.

Personally, I think Rigondeaux’s accuracy and efficient defensive skills will slow Lomachenko’s output enough for the Cuban to win. But if it goes to decision, it’s entirely possible the judges will score it for Lomachenko regardless, due to his flash and boxing politics.

However the fight plays out, it will be a joy as a boxing fan to see two fighters square off who both basically epitomize different aspects of the sport that we all love. Both fighters deserve a round of applause for making it happen.

Follow Caryn A. Tate on Twitter@carynatate

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  1. Eduardo gomez 02:21pm, 12/08/2017

    Good article . Is going to be an interested fight . Boxing fans are the winner

  2. don from prov 01:47pm, 12/08/2017

    Good analysis.  I always like this author’s work.

  3. Gogea Mitu 09:54am, 12/08/2017

    @Koolz-Thanks! That was very enlightening.

  4. Gogea Mitu 08:19am, 12/08/2017

    @Red Plains-Jesus! It took a long time but you finally got there! We knew you would call Rigo and then you out did yourself and wrote that even if Lomo won it would be a bad decision! Larry Cole is not worth a shit…..you got that part right but despite your revisionist writing Gary Junior didn’t knock Lomo down….nice try though!

  5. Koolz 05:31am, 12/08/2017

    Kung Fu which is a lot of Wing Chung and other Chinese styles follows the flows of movement.  It has no foot work !!!!  To give you an example let’s say you are going against a Kung Fu Master.  You on the other hand are a wrestler, with speed and good movement.  Who do you think is winning that fight.  Of course the wrestler! 

    Jeet Kune Do is Use the way that is No way.  Use the fastest path with the best result to stop your opponent.  Stop them at the knee, Kick to the head, get inside and get them to the ground locking up there arm…Use your abilities to stop and weaken who you are fighting, find what works for you.  Your movement is contract and expand energy.

    Both are a concentration of your inner energy.  in Chinese Martial Arts this is called Chi. In India this is called Brahman,  In Kabalah this is called Makabrah, in science this is called the Torsion Field, or Unified Field. 

    I think the one who wins this fight is the one who has the better movement and enforces their style on the other. 

    Lomachenko is the better athlete.


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