Saturday’s junior lightweight title bout between Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux is so historically unique since the first professional boxing game to feature fighters that have won several Olympic gold medals, that putting it into proper context has never been simple.
In many ways, it is a Super Bowl of the lower weight classes, including a rising star in Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs), that captured world titles in two weight divisions in only his seventh ace fight, along with the eldest Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), among the best defensive geniuses ever.
You may just as easily call it a showdown for present pound-for-pound supremacy. Heck, Roy Jones Jr. went as far as saying it is the best battle on paper that expert boxing has ever seen. But for all its ravenous appeal to hardcore fans within the very niche world of the sports science, it was hard to envision it would ever connect to a greater audience outside that.
Though Lomachenko is getting close, neither fighter talks English full time in interviews and both have styles that are heavier on technical wizardry (Rigondeaux has been regularly deemed dull ) than bone-crushing knockouts. However, something happened along the way to challenge that theory.
First, mythical promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank declared a four-year deal with ESPN earlier this season, which comprised Lomachenko’s August success over Miguel Marriaga, and secured prime property to the struggle (9 p.m. ET) instantly after the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Secondly, the battle sold out the 5,500-seat Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York two months beforehand. The result was a steady stream of crossover buzz for a fight matching a fighter (Ukraine’s Lomachenko) who might already be the very best in the sport after only 10 pro bouts against possibly the only person equipped to disarm him (Cuba’s Rigondeaux).
Even the sometimes gruff Arum, who turns 86 on Friday and enters the 30th occasion he has encouraged at”The World’s Most Famous Arena” during 50-plus years in boxing, had to acknowledge he was pleasantly surprised at the way the struggle was received.
“I was gratified by the attention and how this has caught on, but understand that I am involved with boxing, so I really like boxing, and I felt always that this struggle is worthy of the attention it, in actuality, has received,” Arum told CBS Sports on this week’s”In This Corner” podcast. “Was I confident of that coming in? No. It’s something that is well merited. It’s not a fluke that it’s getting the attention that it’s getting due to the participants.
“It is historic. These are two of the greatest amateur fighters in boxing history and also the fact they are going at each other is something really fantastic. I’m honored to market this fight.”
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