By Jake Donovan
Darley Perez and his team knew the uphill battle awaiting them the moment contracts were signed to face prodigious Yuriorkis Gamboa. Oddsmakers didn’t waste any time in declaring the fight a mismatch; Gamboa is a 16-1 favorite to come out on top Saturday evening in Montreal, Canada.
The perception that Perez is being served up as a sacrificial lamb suits him just fine. In fact, it’s part of the motivation of why he was so eager to get Gamboa in the ring for this weekend’s bout.
“Yuriorkis Gamboa is in for the fight of his life,” Perez (28-0, 19KO) insists of Saturday’s co-feature bout, playing beneath a main event that pits light heavyweight king Chad Dawson against Adonis Stevenson. “The world will be stunned on June 8; so too will Gamboa. I warned him to prepare for me like I’ve prepared for him. I hope he’s ready because I know I am.”
The matchup is a massive leap in competition for Perez, which speaks to the lopsided odds preceding the bout. Despite the fact that Gamboa is once again moving up in weight, his accomplishments and ability are long ago world-renowned.
The same cannot at all be said of Perez, whose resume is littered with the usual suspects, save for a split nod over Uzbekistan southpaw Bahodir Mamadjonov last October. However, his path to potential stardom is hardly unprecedented. In fact, it’s par for the course for several fighters who have been groomed by Thompson Boxing Promotions and eventually Gary Shaw in co-promotional capacity.
Tim Bradley never left his home state of California or faced anyone resembling a threat before traveling across the pond to upset Junior Witter in England. Bradley has since posted wins over several of the best at 140 before moving on to welterweight, where he did enough to convince two of the three judges to give him the nod over Manny Pacquiao a year ago.
An example closer to home for Perez comes in the form of his countryman and stable mate Jhonatan Romero. The two were teammates on the 2008 Colombia Olympic boxing squad and both presently serve as unbeaten fighters in the pro ranks. Romero was lightly regarded by most before defeating Chris Avalos and Efrain Esquivias to earn a title shot.
Romero became a super bantamweight titlist after defeating Alejandro Lopez on the road in Mexico earlier this year.
Perez faces a far more daunting task against Gamboa, but his team recognizes both the parallels between his career and that of Romero as well as the timing of the fight.
“Darley has been ready for a big fight for a while; this is the right time to put his name on the map,” explains Mauricio Gonzalez, who inherited the managerial reins for Perez and Romero following the passing of legendary Colombian manager and promoter Billy Chams. “This fight will make him known; a win puts him among the top lightweights in the world.”
An interim title is at stake for this weekend’s fight, with the winner looking at an eventual shot against current titlist Richard Abril. Perez is anxious to join Romero in the championship circle, but knows better than to look too far down the road, especially when one of the world’s best fighters is currently standing in his way.
Not even Gamboa’s most recent offering of vulnerability – struggling to a points win over Michael Farenas last December in his debut at 130 lb. – has Perez entering with a false sense of security. Hard work and preparation is the key, not assumption that a fighter’s worst will once again surface, especially when that very fighter remains unbeaten.
“Gamboa had a tough fight (against Farenas), but as he’s always done in the past he found a way to win,” points out Perez, whose own last fight saw him twice climb off the deck to get past a local journeyman at home in Colombia earlier this year. “He is a very good fighter; I’m prepared to go the distance and show him what I’m capable of.”
Few in the boxing world are aware of Perez’ full capabilities. That status is due in part to his level of competition and also his minimal exposure to a televised boxing audience.
A win over Gamboa figuratively kills two birds with one stone.
“You have to understand that we've been waiting on an opportunity like this for Perez to make his mark,” reveals co-promoter Gary Shaw. “Some may feel like it is Darley's chance to pull off the shocking upset, but I see it as more of a coming out party.
“We've had him caged in waiting for the chance to unleash the beast and we could've pulled the trigger a couple fights back and then the world would be aware of his chances in this fight. But because we knew that an opportunity like this was only a matter of time we waited and now he will show he's been a top contender all along.”
Shaw’s opinion is an informed one, even if laced with promotional bias. The New Jersey-based promoter briefly assisted in Gamboa’s career while the Cuban star first began regularly fighting on HBO and in the United States.
Perez believes he has an informed opinion on his opponent as well, convinced that everything he’s seen of Gamboa is proof that an upset is imminent on Saturday evening.
“I will prove to everyone that I am a world-class fighter and the rest of the world will figure out what I already know after June 8th,” Perez vows. “I will get the victory however is comes and will be a known name after this victory.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox