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Defiant Rigondeaux happy to keep winning fights his way

Photo: Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI

Undefeated Guillermo Rigondeaux (right) is favored to defeat Joseph Agbeko on Saturday.

NEW YORK -- Guillermo Rigondeaux settled into a corner booth at B.B. King's this week, an Armani sweater on his back, a defiant look on his face. It wasn't supposed to be like this. A decisive win over Nonito Donaire last April was supposed to springboard Rigondeaux to boxing's next level. Instead, Rigondeaux has been idle, an undefeated unified titleholder without an opponent, a toxic asset thanks to a style that can beat most but entertain few.

"Out of all the elite fighters I've worked with," Bob Arum said, "I can't think of one more difficult to promote."

In a sport stocked with bloodthirsty fans, Rigondeaux (12-0) has become a pariah. His skills are unquestioned. Slick, with fluid technique, Rigondeaux possesses pinpoint accuracy and flawless footwork. He has boxed circles around all of his opponents since turning pro, which he did after a decorated amateur career highlighted by a pair of Olympic gold medals.

Against Donaire -- a popular 122-pound titleholder who ranked high on most credible pound-for-pound lists -- Rigondeaux was brilliant. He worked behind his jab, landed thudding power shots and frustrated the aggressive Donaire by refusing to stand and trade. Yet in the aftermath of the bout, the narrative became that the entertaining Donaire wanted a fight but that the defensive-minded Rigondeaux was content to win without engaging in one.

"It was a clear win," Rigondeaux said through a translator. "I beat the hell out of him. The public doesn't understand that the art of boxing is to hit without being hit. They want to see a bar fight or a brawl; go to the local pub."

If there was a consistent message from Rigondeaux during a 15-minute interview with SI.com, it was this: I don't care. I don't care if the public thinks I'm boring. I don't care if HBO needed to be persuaded to bring me back. I don't care about jumping up in weight classes.

"If fighters want a piece of me, they can come to 122 pounds and get it," Rigondeaux said.

"I take everything easy," he added. "I don't let [criticism] get to me. I can't let it get the best of me. I just don't listen to people. I don't let anyone affect my style. Whoever wants to step in the ring with me, I'll fight. Anyone at 122. Let them come to 122, and I'll fight anybody."

To some, Rigondeaux's attitude is refreshing. Purists argue that the art of boxing isn't appreciated, that tacticians like Rigondeaux or Bernard Hopkins are overlooked in favor of brawlers willing to engage in a street fight. But boxing is a bottom-line business, and there are two kinds of fighters who attract networks: The kind that mix it up in the ring and the kind that have big personalities out of it.

Rigondeaux is neither, which is what has made him so difficult to get behind.

"Let's be honest, if you look at the fighters today, he belongs at the top of the pound-for-pound list," Arum said. "He's so skilled. If you look at his style, it's not the most scintillating. One thing, he appears like all Cuban athletes to be very arrogant. And there's a language barrier. It's one thing to be arrogant in English. If someone has to translate, it doesn't play as well."

The key to building Rigondeaux, Arum said, is putting him in with opponents who can force him to fight. On Saturday, Rigondeaux will defend his super bantamweight titles against former bantamweight titleholder Joseph Agbeko at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City (HBO, 9:45 p.m.)

"Putting him on an HBO card is not easy," Arum said. "I have to make fights that are very difficult for him. And hopefully he comes through."

While Rigondeaux has expressed indifference towards future opponents, one obviously interests him: Donaire. When asked about Donaire, Rigondeaux becomes animated. He smirks when addressing the shoulder injury Donaire cited after the loss and laughs at the suggestion that it had anything to do with it.

"When he was winning, he wasn't complaining," Rigondeaux said. "When I beat him, he started complaining about all the issues he has. If he will stop crying like a baby and make the weight, I'm happy to fight him again."

For now it's about Agbeko (29-4), a middling contender whom Rigondeaux should walk through. Top Rank and HBO executives will pray he does it with style, with flair, that he submits a performance that will make fans want to see him again.

And Rigondeaux?

"I'm going out there and I will have fun," he said. "It's another day at the office."

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