Gamboa—The Final Chance
His life is an intriguing story, his talent is indisputable and boxing fans will welcome the return of such a talent…
We finally heard news on Yuriorkis Gamboa. He has signed for Golden Boy. His next fight was also announced, Rene Alvarado on the 11th March. His last fight came at the end of 2015 but it is really 31 months on since his last foray into relevancy. Really he has been making headlines since 2004 with an incredible amateur record prior to being a Cuban defectee. His life is an intriguing story, his talent is indisputable and boxing fans will welcome the return of such a talent.
Gamboa had a reported 245 amateur bouts with only 15 losses. His first Cuban title came in 2000 at light flyweight against Yan Barthélemy, the Olympic champion. He would lose the following two finals to Barthélemy before moving up to flyweight. He won two national titles while also taking the 2003 Pan American Games beating Juan Carlos Payano. The 2004 Olympics saw a dominant Gamboa, adding to a superb Cuban haul. In his last three fights, the closest anyone got was 8 points. In consecutive rounds he beat the World champion Somjit Jongjihor and European champion Georgi Balakshin. In the final you can see the blistering speed that is arguably his primary asset. He is also at his best when aggressive and using little movements to avoid his opponents punches while still being able to land his own work. Gamboa was one of the boxers of the tournament and considered a star with the potential to win multiple Olympic titles. Gamboa would skip the bantamweight weight division due to it being the home of teammate Guillermo Rigondeaux. Losses to Alexey Shaydulin and Alexey Tishchenko came in 2005. His best result as a featherweight came when winning then 2006 World Cup, defeating Albert Selimov.
Gamboa was an exciting name around boxing for years. Unfortunately for those who see amateur boxing merely as a pathway for professional boxing, Gamboa would not be able to turn over. Cuban leader Fidel Castro had banned professional sports in the 1950s. Gamboa had other ideas and in 2006 he escaped with two compatriots from a training camp in Venezuela. Before defecting he had sold his Olympic gold medal in order to support his family. Odlanier Solis and the aforementioned Yan Barthélemy escaped to Colombia before travelling to Miami. Neither Barthélemy or Solis had the career that was expected of them with motivation issues. He would box for Arena Box in Germany whilst sorting out his US visa. Gamboa had it tough from the start, his first two opponents had records of 6-1 and 7-0. He was a marquee name on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights with his best win coming by knockout against Al Seeger. His 15th fight came for the WBA world featherweight title against Elio Rojas. Gamboa dominates the fight, mainly behind a strong jab and stopped Rojas in 10. Mtagwa, Barros, Salido and Solis were dispatched by Gamboa while Bob Arum intended to build the super fight with Juan Manuel Lopez instead of striking while the iron was hot. Lopez subsequently lost to Salido, dashing hopes of a mega fight and big pay day.
Gamboa was beginning to show discontent with Bob Arum and Top Rank. He believed Arum had protected Lopez rather than give him the fight he deserved. He defeated Daniel Ponce De Leon but even that would not settle the issues. Soon a fight with Brandon Rios was made. Gamboa would not turn up to the press conference. Arum sued him for breach of contract and the two were embroiled in a battle. He was out of boxing for a good deal of time, eventually signing with Mayweather Promotions. A second world title came at super featherweight beating Michael Farenas, but Gamboa did not look impressive. Next fight out he took another step up, to fight Darleys Perez. Again he would win by decision without ever being impressive. Another year off would see him take on Terence Crawford. It was a fight of the year candidate where Gamboa impressed early but he was beaten up by the bigger Crawford. He has since won two fights against overmatched opponents.
Gamboa had incredible quick hands when in his prime. Unfortunately it looks like most of that was wasted setting up a super fight that did not happen and then in a legal battle with Arum. His hand speed and the volume of punches meant he was a real buzz saw. He had the technical boxing that so many of the Cuban boxers had. The difference between Gamboa and other Cuban stars in Lara and Rigondeaux, was how aggressively he fought. He always was on the front foot looking for the big shots. It often cost him as he was often knocked down, usually off balance. His punch variety and combination was also impressive. He reminds me at his best of a poor man’s Lomachenko with quicker hands. His best shot was his lead hook, it is an absolute pleasure to watch. The way he varies his jab and uses his lead foot as a southpaw is tricky, it took Crawford half the fight to figure out despite his edge in range. Gamboa is such a visually impressive fighter, he deserves more credit for how spectacular he is.
To succeed as a lightweight, Gamboa probably needed to box at that weight in his prime. At 35 you hope that his diminishing physical gifts means Gamboa boxes smarter. He can longer be quite as reckless but he can still be a superb boxer. Oscar De La Hoya mentioned a round robin with Vargas, Salido and Miura. The division is so strong there is another eight names that would make for interesting names. Lomachenko, Davis, Corrales, Sosa, Walters, Martinez, Uchiyama and Pedraza are all also in that division. For Gamboa who was really unable to maximize his prime, first because of being Cuban and then promotional difficulties, you would expect he wants to fight as many big names as possible. Let’s hope so, because Gamboa is not one for boring fights! Hopefully it will also end with Gamboa getting the respect he deserves!