Rockettes in Our Pockets

By Gordon Marino on April 12, 2013
Rockettes in Our Pockets
Donaire's bombs come fast, hard, and from exotic angles. (Chris Farina/Top Rank)

Donaire has a sense of vulnerability. “I watched the Rios vs. Alvarado fight,” he said, “and I was thinking, man this is a scary sport…”

For decades, New York’s Radio City Music Hall has been home to the Rockettes, but on Saturday it will become the stage for one of the most significant prizefights in years.

Two of the world’s premier pugilists, Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs) and Guillermo Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs), will clash in the famous art deco theater that only once before has doubled as a boxing arena.

Donaire, the WBO super-bantamweight champion, received the prestigious Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America on Thursday. The man known as the “Filipino Flash” richly deserves it.

In contrast to other elites in the sport, who only fight once or twice a year, Donaire won the title in 2012 and successfully defended it three times in the same year.

Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank and promoter for the bout, said, “We brought the fight to New York because we wanted it to be a kind of coronation for Nonito. He was receiving his Fighter of the Year award from the Boxing Writers and the award ceremony was in the city.”

Arum originally planned to hold the event at Madison Square Garden, but the Garden was booked. Radio City is a far more intimate setting, with a seating capacity of roughly 6,000, and the venue has not hosted a fight since Roy Jones Jr. defeated David Telesco there in a light heavyweight world championship bout in 2000.

Lithe and almost delicate in appearance, Donaire has frequently talked of having lived in fear of bullies as a young boy. Pressed as to what the sweet science had taught him about the art of living, Donaire did not hesitate. “The main thing that boxing has done for me is to make me believe in myself,” he said.

Anyone who signs a contract to toe the line with Guillermo Rigondeaux had better believe in himself.

A 32-year-old Cuban exile, Rigondeaux is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and a veteran of nearly 400 amateur bouts. Boxing analyst Max Kellerman suggests that Rigondeaux may have been the greatest amateur boxer in history.

Rigondeaux defected to the U.S. in February 2009. Months later, he made his professional debut, and in 2010, in only his seventh professional contest, he won a world title. Rigondeaux is currently the WBA super-bantamweight champion (122-pound limit).

A few years ago, Rigondeaux’s former trainer, Freddie Roach, called him “a great talent. Maybe the greatest I have ever seen.” The boxer who was once the favorite of Fidel Castro has what the late Emanuel Steward characterized as “perfect balance.” A pure counterpuncher who seldom takes the initiative in attacking, Rigondeaux forces his opponents to lead, makes them miss and then, with potent, pinpoint punching, makes them pay for their misplaced blows.

The southpaw sensation has perfected a short and stunning right-hook counter to the left jab as well as a taser-like left-hand counter.

To make matters more challenging for Donaire, Rigondeaux’s defense is impregnable. According to Bob Canobbio, founder of CompuBox, opponents average a mere 13% connect percentage against the Cuban, and there are rounds in which he goes untouched by a jab.

By way of contrast, Floyd Mayweather, the grand master of defense, gets tagged with about 17% of his opponents’ shots.

Still, as Warren Zevon once put it in his ballad, “Boom Boom Mancini”: “Some have the speed and the right combinations but if you can’t take the punches it don’t mean a thing.” And Rigondeaux has yet to prove that he has the whiskers. As a professional, “Rigo” has yet to face formidable competition. And when a fist has come crashing through the gate of his guard, the otherwise Buddha-calm boxer has appeared flustered.

But Rigondeaux is brimming with confidence about this megabout. He said, “Donaire has been fighting guys who have been afraid of him. You can see it in their eyes. That will not be the case on Saturday night. Donaire has never been hit that hard…I am without a doubt the biggest puncher up against him. He knows it, too. His game is coming to an end. He knows that too.”

Donaire’s bombs come fast, hard, and from exotic angles. And like the fighter he is facing, Donaire does not waste punches, but lands his power shots at a remarkable rate of 47%. Nevertheless, when Donaire lets his gloved fists fly he leaves himself open and his chin with a bull’s eye on it.

Asked about his best performance to date, Donaire commented, “It was in 2012 against Toshiaki Nishioka. In that fight, I was patient. I listened to my corner and didn’t get drunk on my own power.” In other words, he attacked but did not recklessly leave himself open.

Depending on the outcome Saturday night, Donaire may be Arum’s next Manny Pacquiao. He can bang and he can talk. While ferocious in the squared circle, he has a sense of vulnerability. “I watched the Rios vs. Alvarado fight,” he said, “and I was thinking, man this is a scary sport. When you go in the ring you never know, you might not come back. But once I get in there all the fear is gone and my fighting instincts take over.”

A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. His “Quotable Kierkegaard” will be released by Princeton University Press this summer. You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

Special thanks to the Wall Street Journal.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. NYIrish 10:15pm, 04/13/2013

    Hard to lose heart when you chase the guy all night and dump him in the tenth.

  2. Gordon Marino 09:24pm, 04/13/2013

    You’re right Ted! I just hope Donaire didn’t lose his heart and confidence tonight a la Kelly Pavlik. I had it 116-112. Donaire kept looking for the big shot—and if he was going to land one it should have been feint the hook and throw the right uppercut.

  3. Ted 08:55pm, 04/13/2013

    Well, you convinced me and I was right, but you didn’t convince yourself and you were wrong. Hmm, does that make sense?

    Either way, your analysis was spot on.

    Also, the chess match resulted in a real stinker IMO.

  4. Gordon Marino 05:01pm, 04/13/2013

    I don’t know Ted I’m leaning towards Nonito maybe it is because I have had great talks with him - but he’s fast and can bang and I’m not convinced that Rigo is all that good on the inside and when he gets tagged. But I have to admit the guy is a life text book with his short shots and pivots. What a fight. Congrats again on the HALL OF FAME.

  5. Ted 02:18pm, 04/13/2013

    But Gordon’‘s analysis has just about convinced me that Rigo will win. Pinpoint counters indeed.

  6. FrankinDallas 01:54pm, 04/13/2013

    I don’t like Cuban fighters, with all the throat cutting gestures and mucho macho arrogance.

    I saw the Rockettes at Radio City hall back in the 1950’s/60’s. Got me a rocket in my pocket, sure did.

  7. Mike Schmidt 10:20am, 04/13/2013

    PS—GM—wayyyy back in I believe 1972 my mother took my brother and me to New York City—rocket in the pocket—we went to Radio City Music Hall and saw the girls dancing and then they put up a special screening of a movie “Butterflies are Free” with Goldie Hawn and Eddie Albert—my brother and I of course loved the dancing gals—hated the movie enough that we convinced our mother to take us to Dempsey’s that weekend which she did—the Champ was not there but we got a nice postcard—on the front was the artwork of Dempsey and Willard—so thanks for the quick memory jolt Sir. The only thing better than them dare dancing girls was the “Goldiggers” from the old 70’s TV show—Dino Martin time and the like….see ya.

  8. ted 10:18am, 04/13/2013

    Mike, you know something about the guys on the undercard. How about Monaghan? Also the guy with the Polish name?

  9. Clarence George 10:13am, 04/13/2013

    One genius per family, Professor.

  10. Mike Schmidt 10:10am, 04/13/2013

    Two high end skill guys of a different make up—gonna be interesting even if it goes chess match style—enjoy

  11. Gordon Marino 08:43am, 04/13/2013

    Thanks Mike. I wonder if Rigo is going to do his usual slow mo rehearsal of 1-2-3 tonight.

  12. Ted 08:31am, 04/13/2013

    Gordon is listed as panelist.

    Very interesting.

  13. Gordon Marino 08:18am, 04/13/2013

    Clarence, Alex is your brother. He is a genius starting that site—incredible. Too bad he didn’t have the smarts to become a boxing writer eh? LOL

  14. Ted 07:55am, 04/13/2013

    It’s all good, Gordon.

  15. Gordon Marino 07:18am, 04/13/2013

    Ted, Yes that left hook is something special. I hope he makes Rigo go on the attack a little - he is too comfortable sitting back. Hope all is well my friend!

  16. Ted 04:52am, 04/13/2013

    GM, Watch his left hook generated by a perfect hip-shoulder swivel and great hand speed. If he connects, the Cuban will be in for some tough times. But if Rig handles the shot, ND may be in for some Hell.

    Very enjoyable article on what could be a very nice fight.

  17. Clarence George 02:18am, 04/13/2013

    Excellent.  And I very much like the title, which reminds me of the time I had drinks with some Rockettes at the now-gone Assembly Steak House.

    By the way, Professor, you know my brother Alexander of AskPhilosophers.

  18. Mike Schmidt 12:56am, 04/13/2013

    Superb write up G.M.  An interesting scrap indeed…..enjoy fight night.

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