Nonito Donaire (left) and Guillermo Rigondeaux size each other up ahead of their April 13 fight. (AP)
NEW YORK -- Sporting a red sweatsuit and a toothy smile, and with a palpable confidence that seemed to radiate from him, Guillermo Rigondeaux paraded around the lobby of the Theatre at Madison Square Garden Wednesday like a man who had already won. He walked up to his promoter, Bob Arum, who also promotes Nonito Donaire, the man Rigondeaux will face Saturday night in a super bantamweight unification fight at Radio City Music Hall (HBO, 11 p.m.) and a fighter Arum has significantly more invested in and said, "You better have a Plan B." Later, he glad-handed an HBO executive and declared, "Next time, you owe me some money."
Saturday night is a big opportunity for Rigondeaux (11-0), a man with a sparkling résumé -- two Olympic gold medals, two World Championship titles and a full-fledged world champion in just his ninth pro fight -- but perhaps more anonymity than any top fighter in the sport. A language barrier -- Rigondeaux speaks Spanish -- a dull style and the fact that most of his greatest achievements came while fighting for Cuba contributes to that.
"Obviously," Rigondeaux said, "the public does not respect me because of the number of [professional] fights I have had."
Beating Donaire -- SI.com's 2012 Fighter of the Year and one of the top pound for pound fighters in boxing -- would go a long way towards gaining that respect. Donaire is Top Rank's Golden Boy, an HBO staple with a bright -- and lucrative -- future.
For Rigondeaux, a win would put him in the same conversation Donaire is in.
"The amateur accomplishments that I have had, I want to repeat on a professional level," Rigondeaux said. "Beating Nonito would be beating the best in the division. I have great respect for Nonito and I think he is a great fighter. Beating him would be a great accomplishment in itself. He can stop talking about me as an amateur."
"It would be a huge accomplishment to add to my amateur accomplishments. A victory over Nonito would show the world that I can compete against the best in the world in a professional capacity."
Donaire has a reputation as an action fighter, willing to absorb some punches to get his opponent to engage. That philosophy has significantly increased Donaire's popularity. Despite some questioning his chin -- Rigondeaux has been knocked down and wobbled in recent fights -- Rigondeaux says he intends to stand in with Donaire on Saturday.
"In this fight I will try to engage more than I have in the past," Rigondeaux said. "I want to give the fans what they want to see. Nonito is an aggressive boxer and I will be coming for him. I expect the same from Nonito. He is a great boxer and a great technician. I think there are going to be a lot of fireworks."
-- Chris Mannix