PHILIPPINE pro boxing has had its share of Cinderella men; boxers who defied great odds and went straight from the gutter to the throne.
The original bad boy of Philippine boxing, Rolando Navarrete, was a last-minute substitute and a huge underdog when he took on Cornelius Boza-Edwards in 1981 for the World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight (130 lbs.) championship. Navarrete ended up pulverizing Boza-Edwards in five rounds to collar the title.
Rolando Pascua was supposed to act out the role of a sacrificial lamb when he was fed to undefeated Mexican mauler Humberto 'La Chiquita' Gonzalez for the WBC light flyweight (108 lbs.) diadem in 1990. Pascua, who was dismissed as feather-fisted by scouts, punched with authority and battered Gonzalez in six rounds. To this day, historians consider Pascua's victory over Gonzalez as the biggest upset in the division's history.
Fast forward to the present day: From out of nowhere, Drian Francisco's name was inserted in one of the undercard bouts for the Latino war this weekend between middleweights Miguel Angel Cotto and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez in Las Vegas, Nevada. Francisco was plucked from virtual obscurity to challenge in a 10-round bout former unified junior featherweight (122 lbs.) king Guillermo 'The Jackal' Rigondeaux of Cuba.
No official world title is at stake, but only because Rigondeaux has been unjustly stripped of his World Boxing Organization (WBO) title and declared a "champion in recess" by the World Boxing Association (WBA). Nonito Donaire Jr., whom Rigondeaux handily beat in 2013, will fight Mexican Cesar Juarez on December 11 in a fight that will likely be for the vacant WBO junior featherweight belt. Briton Scott Quigg will preside over the WBA throne.
Regardless of the turn of events, Rigondeaux is recognized in the boxing community as the best junior featherweight in the world. The fact remains that Rigondeaux is undefeated (15-0, 10 knockouts) and has handily defeated some of the biggest names in the 122-pound division. "He is the best counterpuncher I have ever seen," top trainer Freddie Roach once told ESPN. "When I hit the pads with him, I simply could not get through his defense."
Rigondeaux is considered one of the greatest amateur boxers to emerge from Cuba. He won two Olympic gold medals (2000 and 2004 Olympics) and was a seven-time Cuban national champion at bantamweight. He claims to have compiled an amateur record of nearly 400 fights with only 12 losses. In 2009, he left his wife and children in Cuba in search of a better life for them in the United States.
Despite turning pro late, Rigondeaux was crowned interim WBA interim junior featherweight champion in only his seventh pro fight in 2010. In April 2013, he unified the WBA and WBO junior featherweight titles with a unanimous decision over Donaire Jr. Rigondeaux kissed the canvas in the 10th stanza but outboxed Donaire Jr. the rest of the way.
In stark contrast, Francisco (28-3, 22 knockouts) seemed ripe for retirement six months ago when he was floored three times and knocked out in one round by countryman Jason Canoy. Some two years before the fight, Francisco tried his luck in the United States but was decisively beaten by former world-title challenger Chris 'Hitman' Avalos in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Francisco, 33, was scheduled to figure in another nondescript fight when his camp was notified of the Rigondeaux fight. You can say that Drian didn't think twice in accepting the offer. "I am elated to fight in Las Vegas once more and against a great champion like Rigo," he told the American media. "I want to make a statement and steal the show."
Of course, stealing the show will not be that easy. The popular opinion is that Rigondeaux chose Francisco because the Filipino's style is tailor-made for him. Francisco offers aggressiveness and punching power, but he moves like a robot in the ring and this makes him susceptible to Rigondeaux's smooth counterpunching style. Rigondeaux is fast with his fists and feet and Francisco will undoubtedly encounter enormous difficulty trying to nail the Cuban.
Then again, Rigondeaux's armor is not without defects. He is already 35 years old and has not fought in 11 months. Rigondeaux's jaw, in the few times that a haymaker was able to find it, also showed traces of vulnerability. He was floored once by Donaire Jr., kissed the canvas twice against Hisashi Amagasa in his last fight and was briefly stunned by American Roberto Marroquin in 2012.
Rigondeaux is also trying to shake off the unsavory reputation of being the most boring fighter in the planet and this bodes well for Francisco. If the Cuban elects to stand up and trade, it will be interesting to see what will happen if he gets a taste of Francisco's power.
In sum, Francisco will have to come out aggressive and throw punches in bunches because once Rigondeaux gets in a counterpunching groove, the Filipino will be on the receiving end of second-hand smoke from a world-class Cuban cigar.