By George Ogier
Another hotly anticipated title fight comes and goes and once again some fans are left feeling slightly flat. The hype surrounding Saturday’s contest between Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux had reached almost fever pitch but for many the event itself was a damp squib.
In the end Rigondeaux triumphed by unanimous decision and it was a result that most observers agreed with. Donaire struggled to deal with the Cuban’s cagey approach, finding himself on the receiving end of sharp counters for much of the night. Whilst the bout was far from a fight of the year contender are fans right to feel let down by the lack of action on such a big stage?
“If you’re not going to even try to entertain, people won’t watch, won’t buy tickets and the TV nets won’t put you on”. ESPN’s Dan Rafael on Twitter
We live in an era where like never before, sport is big business. When rolling news channels became the norm sport got caught up in the need to provide constant dialogue. As a result the television networks now give us every possible news angle relating to the pastimes we love. To make this information overload palatable the networks tried to convince us all that sport is the most important thing on the planet.
One of the side effects of this change is that sport is no longer “just a game”. The win at all costs mentality filters down to the participants and it isn’t enough just to give a good account of yourself on the field or in the ring. As Tiger Woods’ latest adverts (misguidedly) tell us, winning takes care of everything.
Winning ugly has always been acceptable but now, with the huge sums of money on offer to certain teams and individuals, it has become far more prevalent. How many cup finals do we see where the teams are so terrified of making a mistake that the spectacle is thrown by the wayside? As fans we have bought into the “winning is everything” mantra peddled by the media and it now makes it difficult to complain when a sports event doesn’t live up to the hype around it. We want guaranteed victory from those we support but perhaps conversely we want to be entertained at the same time.
However, in spite of all this, was Guillermo Rigondeaux’s performance so bad? I don’t think so. El Chacal didn’t break the rules, he didn’t use spoiling tactics. In Nonito Donaire, the Cuban faced one of the biggest punchers in any weight division. Can we blame Rigondeaux for not opening up? It was simply a case of Rigondeaux out-thinking Donaire. Nonito himself said, “He played a beautiful boxing game, it was my mistake for not changing up”.
This seems to be the real problem at the heart of many gripes about the fight. What we saw on Saturday was boxing, what people wanted to see was fighting. There is a reason that Hagler – Hearns and the Gatti – Ward fights top many lists of the greatest contests of all time. They were wars with real heart on the sleeve action. They were also just one facet of what I think is the greatest sport in the world.
Boxing is ostensibly about the art of hitting your opponent and not getting hit. Guillermo Rigondeaux displayed both skills excellently on Saturday night. He came out on top in all the CompuBox stats against Donaire and deserved to win. In total, Rigondeaux landed 129 of 396 punches thrown while Donaire connected with just 82 of 352.
If we compare these statistics with a fight like Brandon Rios – Mike Alvarado II there’s a huge difference. Rios landed 241 of 823 punches and Alvarado managed 261 of 860. Obviously the punches thrown vary enormously but success percentages are comparable with Alvarado emerging victorious at 30% and Rigondeaux doing likewise with 33%. Most fans will say Rios – Alvarado was the better fight but I found Rigondeaux – Donaire no less compelling.
In reality it comes down to one question, should sport be viewed as entertainment? If people are going to make money selling a sporting event as a spectacle then yes. However, the entertainment should come from the struggle to succeed and not necessarily from the participants competing in a way that will please the fans. Often enough the former will result in the latter but I’m not convinced that the people involved should be held hostage to the art of entertainment.
When Guillermo Rigondeaux was growing up in Cuba I suspect that he had dreams of becoming a world champion. I am not convinced that he had dreams of getting Dan Rafael excited (that shouldn’t be anyone’s life goal). On Saturday night Rigondeaux cemented that wish. I can’t help but feel that anyone struggling to enjoy that doesn’t really like boxing, they just enjoy fighting.