By Jake Donovan
It’s been 42 years since the last major title fight rolled through Omaha, Nebraska. It feels like it’s been almost as long since Yuriorkis Gamboa stepped into the ring, but the unbeaten Cuban bravely travels to the hometown of Terence Crawford to vie for the lightweight crown.
The two collide Saturday evening at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, with HBO to televise the event – the first time in their 40+ years of covering the sport that they present a fight from the Cornhusker State.
Crawford (23-0, 16KO) came up big in his own road trip, upending Ricky Burns to claim the lightweight title this past March in Glasgow, Scotland. The feat earned him the distinction of becoming the first Nebraskan in 100 years to claim a major title, and the first ever from Omaha to not only claim a championship but now also defend in his hometown.
The feat came after a breakout year in 2013, one that came thanks to a lucky break. At the time a rising prospect, Crawford accepted a last-minute opportunity to appear on HBO, a move that required moving up in weight to face Breidis Prescott. The risk was met with a generous reward, scoring a landslide decision in the first of what became three consecutive appearances on HBO on the year.
Ironically, the biggest win of his career – his dethroning of Burns – came on the other side of the Atlantic while HBO was stateside airing a separate show presented by Top Rank, Crawford’s promoter. It was discussed beforehand that a win would lead to a homecoming, which brings us to present day.
Gamboa (23-0, 16KO) exploded on the boxing scene in 2007, following an incredible amateur career highlighted by his capturing a Gold medal for Cuba in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He was being groomed for a repeat run four years later in Beijing, but instead defected from the Cuban National team in late 2006 along with teammates Odlanier Solis and Yan Barthelemy.
The three were ambitiously matched from the start of their respective careers, but only Gamboa has enjoyed major success in the pro ranks. Impressive runs at 122 and 126 suggested a star on the rise, only for his career to come to a halt following his withdrawal from a showdown with Brandon Rios and eventual split with co-promoter Top Rank.
The move led to his signing with SMS Promotions, run by famed rapper Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, but has fought just twice since Dec. 2012 heading into Saturday’s contest.
Will Crawford prevail in what figures to be his final fight at lightweight, and living up to the expectations of his hometown fans? Can Gamboa’s natural talent overcome a significant size difference and a year-long period of inactivity?
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes the action plays out tonight.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: TERENCE CRAWFORD vs. YURIORKIS GAMBOA
“I was a high as a kite on Gamboa when he came into the professional ranks in 2007. I believed he was a future all-time great. Now I believe he'll be an all-time 'What Might've Been'. What he once had is gone. Two fights in two years, pah! The hopes I had for Gamboa I have for Crawford. He barely got into third gear to beat Ricky Burns last time. This is Crawford's time.”
- Shaun Brown (Crawford by decision)
“I think Crawford's size advantage and Gamboa's lack of activity will be the biggest factors in the fight. Gamboa looks like he should still be fighting at 126 or 130 pounds while Crawford has stated this is his final fight at 135. The pick is Crawford by UD with a chance for a KO if he catches Gamboa when he leaps in.
- Ryan Burton (Crawford by decision)
“If there’s any chance of Gamboa returning to old form/promise, this fight is his to lose. Crawford struggled throughout camp to squeeze into a lightweight frame – inevitable given his size, and evident through his skeletal appearance at Friday’s weigh-in. It’s entirely possible I’m reading too much into this, but I see Gamboa putting it all together, picking off the carcass and taking a decision or a late knockout.”
- Jake Donovan (Gamboa by decision/late TKO)
“I like Crawford. I think he's shown skills on the way to getting where he is. But there's something about Gamboa that won't let me pick against him until he gets beaten. He's new to lightweight and has been inactive, bit I still think he's got enough of the phenom we all saw a few years ago.”
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Gamboa by decision)
“I really do think this is Crawford’s time to shine and while it may be argued that Gamboa overall is the more talented of the two it’s been since his featherweight days since we’ve seen that. Seeing Michael Farenas nearly stop Gamboa, seeing a Darlys Perez stay in the fight with Gamboa all this makes me wonder if we will ever see Gamboa put it all together. Crawford is the wrong guy to try that with.”
- Ernest Gabion (Crawford by decision)
“Terence Crawford has proven himself just about as much at the championship level in the past year as the stagnant Yuriorkis Gamboa has during the past four years. Gamboa won’t be able to get by in this difficult fight on ability alone. Gamboa hasn’t boxed in more than a year and Crawford is bigger, a good enough puncher to check Gamboa's shaky chin and won’t squander an opportunity to take his career to the next level on a big stage in his hometown.
- Keith Idec (Crawford by decision)
“Terence Crawford W12 Yuriorkis Gamboa. I think Terence Crawford's style presents a problem for Yuriorkis Gamboa in that he's a switch-hitter. He can give the slick Gamboa different angles bouncing between orthodox and southpaw, and as Michael Farenas showed in 2012, the Cuban can be hurt with the straight left hand. Add the hometown crowd providing Crawford with some extra adrenaline, and if he can find a way to blunt Gamboa's free-flowing combinations, I think the Omaha man does enough to win on points.”
- Ryan Maquiñana (Crawford by decision)
“I should be picking Terence Crawford here but I think Yuriorkis Gamboa is being slept on. His best nights have been when he fought with something to prove. He has that here with better athleticism and explosiveness.”
- Cliff Rold (Gamboa by TKO)
“Apparently Gamboa will face the toughest opponent of his career in Terence Crawford. He has not had the same success in this division as he was at 126 pounds. However, Gamboa has a lot of experience and against all odds, I think the speed and combination punch, will be the key in the middle of the fight.”
- Reynaldo Sanchez (Gamboa by late TKO)
“As much as I want to pick Gamboa, the deck just seems stacked against him in this fight. His inactivity paired with him not having really faced a fighter with Crawford's style as a pro just makes me think Crawfordwill box his way to a decision. Gamboa has fast hands but time off in between fights has made him look less than impressive in his two recent outings. I think Crawford boxes and uses his reach and height to keep Gamboa on the outside and makes him pay whenever he jumps in. Tags: Yuriorkis Gamboa , Terence Crawford , Crawford-Gamboa , Crawford vs. Gamboa
- Luis Sandoval (Crawford by decision)
“It ain't easy to pick against one of the most talented boxers in the game (once upon a time) but the feeling is that Gamboa has already wasted his almost endless potential. He looked bad against Perez, he wasn't at his top vs. Farenas, and he fights too rarely nowadays. He will struggle to switch it on early, being methodically outboxed by Crawford in the beginning. The Cuban will create some moments in the midst but his momentum will be halted by a couple of knockdowns in the process. Scores in the neighborhood of 116-110 and 115-111 are expected by me.”
- Alexey Sukachev (Crawford by decision)
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox