by Michael Gluckstadt
Guillermo Rigondeaux put on a masterclass against Joseph Agbeko at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He darted in and out, dancing circles around his befuddled opponent, landing uppercuts Agbeko never saw coming. Rigondeaux didn't lose a round on any of the judges' cards in keeping his 122-pound title-- and he didn't lose a second of the fight.
When he fought for Cuba in the Olympics, Rigondeaux was regarded by some as the greatest amateur to ever fight. He brought all those skills to bear tonight, outthinking his Ghanian opponent at every turn. Like a great chess player, Rigondeaux (13-0, 8 KOs) set up several moves ahead of time. In the early rounds, "Rigo" kept Agbeko's right hand at bay with a probing jab, punished him with lightning-quick counters every time he came in, and artfully set up a punishing left uppercut to land just as Agbeko leaned into a crouch.
Figured out, Agbeko (29-5, 22 KOs) simply gave up. According to CompuBox figures, Agbeko landed 48 punches in the entire fight, four per round. "It was an easy fight for me," Rigondeaux said afterwards, "because Agbeko didn't come to fight." The crowd agreed with the sentiment, serenading the fighters with a smattering of boos, and one man simply shouting, "Boring!"
This isn't the first time Rigondeaux has a made a world class athlete look like he just came off the street, and he's been criticized in the past for not pressing the action more in his fights. If the aim is simply to win, there's no doubting Rigondeaux is one of the top talents in the sport. But as an entertainer, he left the Atlantic City crowd wanting more.
More is what they got in the preceding fight, an exhilarating back-and-forth between James Kirkland and Glen Tapia. Wild swinging punches led to wild swings in dynamic, with Kirkland surviving several onslaughts to earn a TKO in the 6th, followed by some additional punches as Tapia collapsed into referee Steve Smoger's arms. The boisterous Atlantic City crowd, which had been vocal in their support for "Jersey Boy" Tapia throughout, made their displeasure felt strongly.
To start the fight, Tapia (20-1, 12 KOs) came out swinging, hard. He barreled punches into Kirkland's abdomen, and by the second round, had rearranged Kirkland's face into a bloody mess. But the third round saw dramatic shifts in momentum as both fighters alternated between hurting and looking hurt. There was no defense from either, just flurries of punches punctuated by periods of rest.
Kirkland (32-1, 28 KOs) forced Tapia against the ropes time and again. In the beginning, Tapia was able to slip Kirkland's punches and turn the action around. But as he spent more and more time against the ropes, he became parked against them, and Kirkland landed shot after shot.
Like Agbeko, Kirkland was coming off an extended layoff, having last fought almost two years ago. Unlike him, Kirkland came prepared to fight, after rejoining forces with his former trainer Ann Wolfe.
"I feel like a million bucks," he said after the fight. "It was a rough and down fight. I told everyone it would be this way. He hurt me with some good shots. I went through such hell in this camp with Ann. It was a war."
In the first match on the televised undercard veteran Matthew Macklin easily defeated Lamar Russ in a unanimous decision. Russ (14-1, 7 KOs), the lanky prospect from Wilmington, North Carolina was a long way from home and never got comfortable on the biggest stage of his career. Macklin (30-5, 20 KOs) tagged him easily with a lunging jab, careening right hooks, and shots to the body. Russ stood with his mouth agape throughout much of the fight, looking out of sorts. The British-Irish middleweight was unbothered by a small cut below his left eye and began to taunt his younger opponent in the final round of the fight. Russ responded by shouldering Macklin to the canvas, but it was a hollow victory, as he soon lost on the cards 96-94, 97-93, 98-92.