Yuriorkis Gamboa's career hasn't been what was once hoped, but the Cuban veteran has still had a career that inspires a lot of talk when his name is brought up in boxing circles. Only now, it's partially about what a mess he's made the last few years, leaving Top Rank and searching for bigger money, a move that has backfired tremendously and left him something of an afterthought in the sport.
Gamboa still has skills, but will he get many more opportunities? Let's take a look at his career, which has been a maddening mix of electric displays of talent, inconsistent scheduling, and promotional catastrophes.
- Orlando Salido (2010-09-11)
- Daniel Ponce De Leon (2010-09-10)
- Jorge Solis (2011-03-26)
- Rogers Mtagwa (2010-01-23)
- Jonathan Barros (2010-03-27)
In 2010 when Gamboa was matched with and beat Salido, I said before the fight that he'd have his hands full with the Mexican veteran, whose record didn't tell the whole story of his ability, and more specifically, his style of fighting -- relentless, fearless, and impossible to discourage. Though Gamboa beat Salido clearly, he didn't do so easily. More than any other fight to that point, or until this year, even, that was the night that Gamboa had to truly work to earn the victory. His talent level was higher than Salido's, but it wasn't all he needed. He also had to prove he was capable of dealing with that kind of pressure and a fighter that doesn't give up no matter how bleak it may look. He did so. It was his best night as a pro.
Ponce De Leon was a good opponent who was unable to do a damned thing with Gamboa, and sensing that he was in no danger, Gamboa went on cruise control winning all eight rounds of a dull affair before the fight was stopped and went to the cards early due to a cut on Ponce De Leon caused by an accidental headbutt. It was a good win for Gamboa, but not impressive in the sense that it wasn't memorable. It was impressive that he so easily handled an awkward, capable fighter, but for a guy as good at flash as Gamboa, he's often been happy to go to max chill in fights that are easy for him.
The next two fights are about the same. Solis was a decent, tough fighter that Gamboa steamrolled in two rounds, same story as Mtagwa. Mtagwa had just come off of a war where he nearly upset Juan Manuel Lopez, and Gamboa trounced him in 5 minutes, 35 seconds.
Barros simply gets the nod over a similar fight from 2013, where Gamboa beat Darleys Perez in Montreal. You could switch out Barros for Perez and I wouldn't argue. Neither fight showcased Gamboa at his true best, but both were clear wins over solid opponents.
Earlier this year, Gamboa, fighting above his best weight at 135 pounds, was matched with rising star Terence Crawford in a WBO lightweight title fight. Following his defection from Top Rank into what he clearly at first thought was The Money Team and wound up being 50 Cent's Boxing Misadventures, Gamboa had fought just two times, once in December 2012, again in June 2013. So he'd been out a year by the time he got to Crawford.
Looking back, the fight was never good for Gamboa. Top Rank's matchmakers were certainly very familiar with Gamboa -- his strengths, his flaws, and ultimately his limitations. I have no doubt that they understood that Crawford might have some trouble with Yuriorkis' speed and skills, but that ultimately his own speed, skills, superior power, and great size advantage would win the day.
It did. Gamboa, though, showed the sort of fighting heart and spirit we constantly ask to see, and in losing, he may have made his most positive statement since the win over Solis. He wasn't dull, because he couldn't be -- matched against a fighter who was a danger to him in every way (and not just via punching power), Gamboa was on his game. In the end, he was just too small, and Crawford just too good and too sharp. Sadly, we've heard nothing from Gamboa, even though his post-fight interviews were him basically begging to get back in the ring soon. The guy wants to fight. The grass turned out not to be greener. It wasn't even grass. It was a farty dirt patch.
Up Next and Beyond
Is it possible that Gamboa, now just shy of his 33rd birthday, blew a chance to be one of his generation's great pro fighters? Talent-wise, he always had it. But even with some good wins, he never came close to achieving all it was thought he could have when he defected and turned professional in 2007. Gamboa won world titles at 126 and nonsense interim belts at 130 and 135, but he never became a pound-for-pound contender. And it's not as though he fell short with a series of bad nights or losses.
Gamboa came up short because, as is parroted by the apologists and the promoters alike, boxing is a business, and one he miscalculated greatly when he left Top Rank for the promises of a rapper who apparently didn't have the ear of the jailed fighter that he thought he did. Once SMS Promotions had to start up by itself, without backing from Floyd Mayweather, 50 Cent was always up against it. Boxing is not a sport terribly welcoming of outsiders in the promotional game. Either you're a boxing lifer, you know a boxing lifer (and even Richard Schaefer had to hear jabs about his being a "Swiss banker" well after he'd proven himself a fine promoter), or you're someone who comes in with radical ideas that nobody really wants to support. Mike Tyson predicted that 50 Cent would be targeted by the sharks in the fight game, squeezed out until he gave up. We're probably on that path, the way it looks now.
Gamboa also doesn't really belong at lightweight, and if he can, a move back to 130 would probably be best. Even when he was smoking journeymen and club fighters as a featherweight, building up all that hype, I wondered with his frame if he'd really adapt to any higher weights. He's short at 5'5", and has a tiny little 65-inch reach. His speed was always his greatest asset; with it came his power. If he lost speed, he would lose power. And even if he didn't lose speed, would it generate that power at even 130, let alone 135 and beyond?
All of that thinking was pretty much negated, too, by the fact that Gamboa simply lost too much time. That may have changed his career arc more than anything. As much as a series of wars can change a fighter, so, too, can inactivity during what should be prime years in the ring. If you're not fine tuning your skills, you're losing them, bit by bit. Gamboa's 15-month layoff between Ponce De Leon and Farenas, and the additional 12 months between Perez and Crawford, couldn't have done him any favors.
He's getting older, he's too small, and we'll have to see what happens to his confidence if and when he returns to action, too. With a lame duck promoter, can he get a decent fight even if he wants one?