Ronnie Shields: "Guillermo Rigondeaux is a Trainer's Dream" By Gabriel Montoya, from Maxboxing.com (Oct 5, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
On November 13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX, many fans will file in and fill the place close to capacity for the fight (an estimated 60-to-70,000 seats) to see Manny Pacquiao take on Antonio Margarito. What they will get (if they are paying attention) is a treat of treats when two-time Olympic gold medal winner, amateur sensation and late comer to the pro ranks, Guillermo Rigondeaux, 6-0 (5), vies for his first world title against Ricardo Cordoba, 37-2-2 (23), for the interim WBA super bantamweight title. Sure, it’s an interim title but for a fighter with less than ten fights, this is no small feat. Then again, this small fighter, hailing from Cuba and calling himself “El Chacal/The Jackal,” is no ordinary fighter. With an amateur record of 374-12, Guillermo Rigondeaux is one of the most celebrated amateurs ever with a skill set and relaxed style that will make him one of the toughest outs with any amount of pro fights in the game today.
Initially, when he defected in 2009, Rigondeaux’s handlers brought him to the West Coast’s Wild Card Boxing Club to work with veteran trainer Freddie Roach. But the match did not work out well and the southpaw Rigondeaux now finds himself under the tutelage of former Pernell Whitaker trainer, Ronnie Shields, who, at the Savannah Gym in Houston, Texas, trains a stable that has included Juan Diaz, Kermit Cintron, Vanes Martirosyan and Cuban national Erislandy Lara. I spoke to Shields right before Rigondeaux was set to make the trip to Houston before his last fight, a seven-round technical decision over Jose Beranza but Shields had not seen his new charge yet. Now, in full training camp for the Cordoba fight and with a fight together under their belts, Shields was able to give me an accurate take on this special fighter.
“It’s going really great,” Shields told me last week. “He’s a good fighter. He’s a smart fighter. He’s like a trainer’s dream because you don’t have to tell him to come and work because this is what he wants to do. It was funny. I asked him a couple questions through my assistant, who speaks fluent Spanish. I asked him the question ‘Why did he come to America?’ You know everybody have a lot of different answers but his thing is that he wants to live the American dream. And he said, ’I’m here to become champion of the world; the whole world including Cuba. If I was in Cuba, I didn’t have that opportunity to become a world champion professional. I can only become a world championship amateur. I want to prove that just because I won two gold medals in the Olympics, that I know I am one of the best fighters in the world, and that I can be champion of the world in multiple divisions.’"
How fast and how far he can go remains to be seen. Rigondeaux celebrated his 30th birthday on September 30 of this year but, after seeing him fight and watching him work out at the Wild Card, he already appears to be a complete fighter with his own unique style. Many will see him and claim he is a Mayweather clone. But “El Chacal” told me when he was out here that his shoulder roll defensive posture originated in Cuba (talk to a Michigan resident and they’ll say it started there). But Rigondeaux is a whole lot more than just a defensive master. He has pop in both hands to stop a foe in his tracks with one touch, goes to the body like a beast, can counter punch, be on the attack, or simply defend like a dream. At 5’7” and campaigning at 122 pounds to start, he has room to grow.
“I’m going to think about three [divisions],” said Shields when I asked him how many weight classes Rigondeaux can move up in his career. “I can think he could have went four if he had fought at 118. He don’t want to go down. He wants to go up. 122,126, 130, possibly even 135.”
Despite the long amateur background and Olympic medal credentials, it’s hard at this stage to gauge how good or great “El Chacal” is. But Shields will tell you himself, this fighter has the makings of a special one. So how does he compare to Shields’ other southpaw defensive wizard “Sweet Pea” Whitaker?
“Well, I tell you like this, he is on that same elite level.” Said Shields. “He’s just a smaller guy but for his weight division, he is much stronger than ‘Sweet Pea’ at his weight division. And this guy is not only a good boxer, he’s a good puncher, and he has very good defensive skills.”
Shields had very little time to prepare Rigondeaux for his last fight, approximately ten days. That was barely enough time to shake the six months of rust from the Cuban, who had a long layoff as he figured out his trainer situation, much less get to know the ins and outs of each other. It takes time to build a bond between a fighter and his trainer. But so far, so good.
“Absolutely,” said Shields, “You gotta remember the first fight we had together; I only had two weeks to train him. Actually about ten days. It was basically me figuring him out and him figuring me out. And the good thing about it is we arrived that we are good together right off the bat. He trusted my judgment and I definitely trusted his. You gotta remember, he’s fighting guys that have 30-40-50 pro fights already. And right now, he only has six. And now he’s getting ready to fight 12 rounds. He had [374-12] amateur fights; that, to me, he’s been a professional. To me. But not a professional whose gone ten,12 rounds. He’s gone eight rounds three times already. And the big difference for him is that I told him the first time, ‘Man, we’re not here to rush into anything.’ He had hadn’t fought in almost six months and then he came to me for ten days. So I told him in the fight we’re going to take our time, we’re not going to be in a rush and try and go ahead and get a first-round knockout or whatever. And he just boxed the guy and it was a good thing I did tell him that because the guy was headbutting him. And after the first round, he came and told me the guy was trying to headbutt him. So I told him to just sit outside and counterpunch him. And you know what? He beat the guy up. He made the guy quit after six rounds. But you know, he’s a really smart guy. And I think people are going to really going to take a liking to him because he is going to show all his skills. Not just offense skills, he’s going to show you a lot of defensive skills; he’s going to show you moves that a lot of people haven’t ever seen before.”
Much was made of Rigondeaux turning pro last year. Many who see him feel they are looking at greatness. He certainly has the skills, world-class experience and willingness to reach elite status. For Shields, though, there is only one true way to find out.
“Well, you know, I think in order to be one of the best fighters in the world you have to fight the best fighters in the world,” Shields explained. “I think, you know, I don’t want to overhype him either but I think he has a lot to prove. He does. He has a lot to prove. And in my heart of hearts, I really feel that he is one of the best fighters in the world. But until you go out and prove it, it’s easy to say but you have to do it. That’s why we are taking steps right now because we are getting ready to fight a two-time champion already so this will be his first 12-round fight. I think his skills are so good that people are going to realize for themselves that he is. I’d rather for someone else to say it then for it to come from me.”
Even with all that potential and amateur experience, time is of the essence for “El Chacal.” Unlike most blue-chip prospects, Rigondeaux doesn’t have time to waste. Most fighters get to at least 20 fights, even the special ones, before they fight for a world title. But this fighter is a little different and is being treated accordingly and Shields has every confidence this approach will work out for both of them.
“I think he is a very, very special case. I really do.” said Shields. “You know, if he was 19, 20, 21, years old, I’d say, ‘No. Let’s back him up because we have a lot of time to work with.’ But you have to remember, he’s 29 years old with over 400 amateur fights. So how long is his body going to last? Right now, his body is real fresh. He got the body of, I’d say, a 20-year-old. But he’s 29 [30 as of September 30], so you know, it is what it is. So he told everybody, ‘Look, I’m 29 years old. I don’t have time to wait 20 fights for championships. I have to do it now.’ What he feels is that he can fight until he’s 50 years old because of his lifestyle. He doesn’t drink; he doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t do anything like that. The kid trains very, very hard. But in his heart of hearts, he takes one step at a time. He told me, ‘Hey look, Rome wasn’t built in a day but I realize I have to put up buildings fast because I am 29 years old.’ So he is very smart, a very intelligent kid. He knows what to expect out of himself. I don’t think they are overmatching by putting him in with the kid they are putting him in with right now.”
In Cordoba, Rigondeaux is a facing a pretty straight-forward fighter. He isn’t a defensive wizard nor the biggest puncher on the planet. It’s safe to say Rigondeaux is matched just right, in fact. Even with less than ten fights, he appears to be the more diverse fighter with the harder punch and better defensive skill set. Even being a tall for the division (5’8”) and a southpaw doesn’t seem to bother Shields. When you have 400 amateur fights and have seen so much amateur competition, it will be hard to be surprised by any one style.
“I don’t think anyone is going to show him anything that he hasn’t seen because he has fought a bunch of different styles from all over,” said Shields. “And the majority of these guys he has already seen before because he has beaten them in the amateurs or he has seen them in the amateurs. So nobody is going to never put nothing on him that he has not seen before because he has been there and done that.”
The transition to Houston apparently has been an easy one. Lara and Rigondeaux actually know each other from Cuba and defected together years ago before having to head back. When they defected again, it was separate but still that bond is there and it’s been good for Rigondeaux to have someone there to talk to. Still, Shields told me that Houston has a nice Cuban population that has embraced his new fighter, who, in turn, has welcomed the new surroundings and has treated it as a welcome refuge where he can focus in on his goal of becoming a multi-division champion and elite in the sport of boxing.
“He has met a few of the people here,” Shields said. “There are a few Cuban restaurants and we have had a lot of Cuban people that come by and speak to him. He really likes it here because he doesn’t know anybody. All this kid does is train, sleep, train, sleep. That’s him in a nutshell. He is so focused. He is a trainer’s dream. He is.”
When I first spoke to Shields about Rigondeaux, he was impressed by what tape he had seen but was not about to speak on him before seeing the goods up close and personal. Now, he seems thrilled to be working with this special talent, as he should be. Now comes the hard part, though, winning with a fighter with less than ten fights at the elite level. Whatever comes, it will be interesting to watch.
“I’m doing good,” said Shields. “My stable is doing good. In the near future, you are going to see some exciting things coming out of Houston.”