By Jake Donovan
His looks will remind you of Miguel Cotto. His powerboxing fighting style is shades of Sugar Shane Mosley. The hand-speed, the perfect blend of speed and power, is reminiscent of Roy Jones Jr. at his absolute best. In-fighting skills? Think a young and much trimmer James Toney. His rapid rise through the ranks would make even Floyd Mayweather Jr. jealous. There's even the in-the-ring self-confidence of countryman Joel Casamayor.
I know what you're thinking – sounds too good to be true, right?
Such is the feeling one's often left with after watching red-hot undefeated Cuban super featherweight prospect Yuriorkis Gamboa-Tolednao (7-0, 6KO) in action.
It's easy to get caught up in the hype of an up-and-comer during the early stages of his career. It's usually when the con game is at its best, starting off with a steady diet of no-hopers, most either turning pro or yet to obtain their first win. Not the case with Gamboa, whose first seven opponents have won over 82% of their combined 154 fights. That's over 20 fights per opponent for a kid who's supposed to be in the crawling stages of his pro career.
So ambitious were his handlers, that " El Ciclon de Guantánamo" was originally scheduled to face former featherweight titlist Freddie Norwood this weekend on the non-televised portion of the Showtime card headlined by Paul Malignaggi's grudge match with Herman Ngoudjo. Norwood predictably pulled out of the fight, leaving Gamboa's handlers to scope out a suitable replacement.
They could've taken the easy way out, digging up a complete stiff with the alibi that it was the best they could do on short notice. Instead, they found durable Mexican upstart Gilbert Loque, who in the past six months has gone the distance with highly touted undefeated featherweight prospects Juan Carlos Velazquez and Goyo Torres, holding the latter to a draw just three months after barely falling short against the former.
It's a clear sign that nothing has, or ever will, come easy for the 26-year old Gamboa. A Gold medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Gamboa was pressured by the Cuban government to remain an amateur long enough to represent the nation in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Gamboa and teammates Odlanier Solis and Yan Barthelemy had other ideas, defecting to Colombia in December 2006 while training in bordering Venezuela.
The original plan was to gain entrance into the United States, where they could turn pro (then scheduled for February 2007 in Miami) before traveling to Germany, where they were to establish permanent residence while fighting for German promotional outfit Arena-Box.
Colombian officials had other ideas, overruling US Homeland Security's decision to grant the trio entrance into the US, until they were able to obtain German visas. It took an extra two weeks, but Gamboa and company were finally on their way.
The only thing that didn't go as planned was where they debuted. The trio wanted to turn pro in Miami before permanently relocating to Germany. Instead, it was straight to Deutschland, where Gamboa turned pro last April against Armenian transplant Alexan Manvelyan. Gamboa put Manvelyan on the deck in the third round and battered his foe throughout, but had to settle for a shutout on the scorecards after Manvelyan long ago made the decision to survive rather than attempt to fight back.
To date, it's the only time the Cuban has been extended the distance, having since scored six straight stoppages. Most impressive among the lot have been his last two fights, scoring back-to-back stoppage wins over former featherweight contenders in a span of eleven days.
Samuel Kebede, 25-1 going in, with his lone loss to former featherweight titlist Scott Harrison, was supposed to provide Gamboa with his stiffest test to date. The Swede barely made it out of the opening frame, with overhand rights leading to a pair of early knockdowns. So overwhelming was Gamboa, he decided to flip to southpaw following the second knockdown, seemingly just to carry Kebede beyond the first round.
The second round was an exhibition in brutality, with Gamboa unloading on his suddenly defenseless foe before cracking Kebede with a right uppercut. Kebede remained frozen for at least two seconds before collapsing to the canvas in cartoon-like fashion. The bout was immediately waved off without a count.
Eleven days later, Gamboa was finally able to make his USA debut. Eight months later than expected, though long enough to prove he was ready for Brazilian bomber Adailton De Jesus, who was five months removed from an atrocity of a points loss on ESPN2 against Marcos Ramirez. Like Kebede, De Jesus entered the fight the far more experienced of the two, but couldn't even get out of the first round without feeling Gamboa's devastating power. Once again, the overhand was the weapon of choice, with DeJesus hitting the deck less than 30 seconds into the fight.
As the fight progressed, it was easy to see why Gamboa's handlers are so aggressive in their matchmaking. Gamboa's supreme self-confidence allows for periods of boredom, fighting as if he knows he has the fight in the bag at all times. His one flaw was exposed in the De Jesus fight – the insistence to fight with his hands by his side far too often, relying on his superior speed and reflexes to overwhelm his opponents. De Jesus was able to briefly capitalize, just long enough to score a flash knockdown in the 4 th. It was more of a trip and push, but Gamboa was still legitimately hurt by a right hand before being sent to the canvas for the first and only time in his young pro career.
It was the lone moment of success for De Jesus, who couldn't even do enough to convert the knockdown to a 10-8 round. Gamboa immediately seized control, battering De Jesus throughout the fifth before forcing a stoppage just 35 seconds into the sixth and final round.
While the loose defense is a flaw that should be corrected sooner rather than later (though most likely will never happen), there is plenty of good to outweigh the one flaw. Gamboa possesses the amazing ability of keeping the fight in a phone-booth while nary taking a clean shot in return. While you're missing, Gamboa's coming back with rapid fire combinations. If the right hand doesn't get you, then expect a clean-up left hook to end the sequence, as well as plenty of action to the body, with even a headbutt or a few mixed in for good measure.
All are lessons Gilberto Luque is expected to learn the hard way this weekend in their scheduled eight-rounder. The top super featherweights should begin to start taking notes now as well. Still three months shy of one year in as a pro, Gamboa has already cracked the Top 12 of one alphabet organization. Considering his level of opposition through his first seven fights, it shouldn't be any surprise to see the precocious Cuban in a regional title fight, or better, before years end, with world titles and pound-for-pound accolades soon to follow.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
Perfection often is.
Jake "The Jake-of-All-Trades" Donovan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and presently serves on the Tennessee Boxing Advisory Board. His column runs every Tuesday on BoxingScene.com. Please feel free to submit any comments or questions to Jake at [email protected]