By Jake Donovan
Brandon Rios versus Yuriorkis Gamboa.
It began as the centerpiece of a spring schedule, a fight that would give the industry a much needed shot in the arm. What’s left of the negotiations that may or may not have been agreed upon by all parties now instead serves as perhaps the year’s biggest court case.
There’s no telling what will ultimately come of the mess that has been created, but the industry is already feeling its effects.
Rather than a potential Fight of the Year candidate that will come “free” for those who currently subscribe to HBO, boxing’s diehard fans – the faction to whom this matchup loudly spoke – are now left with a $45 pay-per-view show pitting two far less desirable co-leads.
Rios (29-0-1, 22KO) gets to keep the April 14 date and still squares off against a Cuban boxer who holds little to no respect for him. Instead of it being against the undefeated and supremely talented Gamboa, it’s now against unheralded fringe contender Richard Abril (17-2-1, 8KO), whose interim title status now makes this sudden grudge match a ‘championship’ fight.
The show’s original co-feature – Mike Alvarado squaring off with Mauiricio Herrera – remains intact, though will now air in supporting capacity. Moving up to the sub-main spot is Juan Manuel Marquez, who – like Rios – saw bigger plans disintegrate into a stay busy fight as he faces Sergey Fedchenko.
While the card itself isn’t what fans had in mind, at the very least the fighters get to stay busy. The same cannot be said of Gamboa (21-0, 16KO), whose next ring appearance is now in the hands of two sets of legal teams – his own lawyer Sekou Gary, as well as the firm hired by Top Rank to represent their company as well as Arena Box Promotions, Gamboa’s co-promoter.
There is no predicting what comes of the immediate future, especially if this case makes its way to a court room. Because of it, what can and can’t be said on the record remains the dividing line between fact and speculation.
All that can be publicly agreed upon is the following: Top Rank and Arena Box announced a month ago that a deal had been struck for Gamboa to move up two weight classes to fight Rios; and Gamboa announced shortly before the press tour that he is currently displeased with his co-promoters and wishes to either work out a new deal or break free from their promotional reins.
It’s not the first time that a fighter has attempted to negotiate his way to better terms with a promoter while still under contract. It’s not the first time that a promoter has responded with a lawsuit.
Yet through it all, those who were responsible for launching Gamboa’s career remain optimistic that a resolution can be found. It is hoped on their part that all parties can move on from the pending lawsuit and just get back to boxing, the sport that brought them all together in the first place.
“If he realizes what he did, he will come back and we can move forward,” stated Ahmet Oner, who heads Arena Box and has been by Gamboa’s side through every step of his pro career. “I believe too many people are whispering in his ear. I think this is something he needs to experience. I hope he learns from his mistakes and comes back.”
The disappearing act began the day of the initial press tour stop in Gamboa’s adopted hometown of Miami. The Cuban defector at no point prior to that Monday morning gave any indication that he had no intention of participating in the fight or any aspect of the press tour.
Gamboa’s team – sans Oner, who was home in Turkey promoting an event – planned to attend the presser until being informed by the fighter that his own chair on the dais would remain empty.
“I found out that morning at 10AM that he was in Vegas,” revealed Jose Perez, the U.S.-based representative for Arena Box. “I only found out because I called his father. I respect his decision, but I don’t agree with him. He told me he wanted to be free. I told him it’s not the way it works and explained to him the consequences.
“At this point, all you can do is go through the legal channels and hopefully get him back on track. It’s just a shame to put a great career on hold. He could’ve been a great fighter after this fight.”
Gamboa was on the verge of becoming a great fighter, but lacked a significant following to match his in-ring talents. The same can be said of Rios, as neither fighter has ever boasted ticket sales to suggest anything more than cult status.
This fight was supposed to change all of that. According to statements made by Top Rank during what turned into a one-fighter press tour, ticket sales and demands for the proposed April 14 HBO-televised showdown at the Mandalay Bay were already off the charts. They were already planning to open up the floor plan from a sectioned arena to putting tickets on sale for every seat in the house.
Needless to stay, two star-talent fighters were helping each other becoming actual stars by agreeing to face one another. The winner would’ve been a bonafide boxing attraction. The same could’ve possibly been said of the loser, depending on what took place from bell to bell.
Instead, Rios is now being built up as a fighter who “gets it.” Rios is the fighter doing it for the fans, willing to take on all comers, even if it doesn’t take much will to jump in the ring with a fringe titlist such as Abril.
Gamboa is now painted as an unreliable prima donna by Top Rank, the American company that began building him up when first getting involved in his career in late 2009. The story being told was that $1.1 million – plus an extra $100,000 win bonus being offered to both fighters by Top Rank – wasn’t enough to keep him content with his current deal.
Those who have been with him all along refuse to take it to that limit – whether for legal reasons or otherwise – but are no doubt hurt by what has taken place. It’s always business, but doesn’t mean that it’s never personal.
“For me, the problem now is that I need to believe him.” Oner states, though still leaving the door open for a hoped-for eventual reconciliation. “People have wrong expectations and find out life isn’t like that. Sometimes there’s a point where you don’t understand the economics in life. Mistakes happen, I understand that. He’s like a little brother to me. My heart is big.”
Right now, the promoter’s heart is heavy, while is state of mind is that of frustration. The same can be said of the rest of the Arena Box team that was directly involved in the day-to-day action with Gamboa. Perhaps the most frustrating part is that something as casual as a phone call in hopes of talking things out is no longer an option since it is now a legal issue.
“Until the lawyers were brought in, I’d speak with Carlos (Gamboa, Yuriorkis’ father),” states Perez. “I won’t call (Yuriorkis) now, though. It’s now in the hands of the lawyers. The day he decided not to fight, it became a legal matter. Prior to that, everything was fine.”
Oner believes that everything will once again be fine, hopefully one day soon. In order for that day to come, though, both sides have to find a way to communicate with one another without being charged by the hour.
“I think Brandon Rios-Yuriorkis Gamboa is a big fight. I still believe after time this fight can still happen. It’s hard for people to trust him at this point, though. In the history of boxing, many fighters did things – wanting to leave their promoter – but eventually come around to do the right thing. (Gamboa) needs to come to us.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .