By Chris Robinson
For the past few weeks there had been a definite buzz in the air inside of the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California. One of Garcia’s prized pupils, former champion Brandon Rios, has been chomping at the bit for a possible showdown with Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa but while the enthusiasm was high from his end, the days went by without the fight becoming signed.
It wasn’t until last Thursday that the fight became a official, and with it the realization came from Garcia’s end that a completely different test will be awaiting the 25-year old Rios.
Rios-Gamboa is set to go down on April 14th at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and for Garcia, the fight’s announcement was a long time coming.
“It’s great. We’ve been waiting for the news for a couple of weeks already,” Garcia stated on Friday night. “Brandon signed his part of it about two weeks ago and all we were waiting for was Gamboa’s signature. It finally happened [on Thursday].”
A native of Guantanamo, Gamboa has carved out a 21-0 record with 16 knockouts during his nearly five-year career and held the WBA featherweight belt for a noticeable stretch before inexplicably being stripped over bizarre circumstances this past July.
Champion or not, there’s no denying Gamboa’s often-mesmerizing blend of speed in both his hands and feet and Garcia admits that the 30-year old is a bit of an enigma.
“Well, we don’t know,” said Garcia when asked what he had to prepare for in Gamboa. “He’s very powerful and very fast. We got to be ready for that. We’ve got to train for that. He’s very skillful and is very fast. Fast and strong, so we’ve got to be ready for somebody with speed and power.”
In September of 2010, Rios and Gamboa shared the same ring when the two prizefighters both scored victories on Showtime’s airwaves at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Rios would bully then-unbeaten Anthony Peterson into near submission before capturing a 7th round disqualification victory after the Washington, D.C. fighter continuously went low while Gamboa would overcome an 8th round knockdown in outlasting the rugged Orlando Salido over twelve rounds.
Rios’ victory over Peterson was an emotional one, as it granted him a crack at the WBA lightweight title, and Garcia admits he was too caught up in the moment to fully pay attention to the Gamboa-Salido scrap later that evening.
“Back then we were never concerned about fighting Gamboa so I didn’t see the fight with that attention,” said Garcia. “Now that the fight is on and I actually have quite a few Gamboa fights, so I’ll start watching them pretty soon.”
When Nonito Donaire, another fighter in Garcia’s stable, blasted out Fernando Montiel at 118 pounds a year ago to stake his claim as a bantamweight champion, there was already anticipation towards the Filipino-American star’s eventual foray into the featherweight class, with a possible Gamboa attraction being a hot topic within boxing circles.
But whenever anyone would talk about such a fight to Garcia, he would be quick to point out that it was his younger brother, unbeaten featherweight bruiser Miguel ‘Mikey’ Garcia, not Donaire, who he felt would be landing such meaningful fights first.
It certainly threw a curveball Garcia’s way to see Gamboa bypass both of those possibilities and any business in the featherweight class, instead opting for the intriguing clash with Rios.
“We never thought he would jump two divisions to fight Brandon at lightweight,” Garcia admitted. “So, it is surprising and I truly believed my brother would have gotten him first, since he was fighting at featherweight. My brother is very close to fighting for a title and being that they both fight for Top Rank, I thought it would be so much easier. But it turned out to be something that we never talked about but it’s something great.”
And while it’s a drastic move for Gamboa to move up two full weight classes in an effort of chopping down Rios, Garcia is quick to point out that Gamboa's venture north will be full of question marks, with some of the answers likely being quite dangerous.
“And a lot of people that know boxing also know that there’s cases where a fighter moves up and is stronger and faster than he was before,” Garcia said respectfully. “So, we don’t know what we’re going to see until we meet inside the ring. Because it’s his first fight. It’s not like he has two or three fights and has already proven to the world what he can do at lightweight. That’s something that nobody knows and nobody is going to know until he steps into the ring with Brandon.”
But there came a point where Garcia’s modest nature had to cease, as he instead showed pride for all of the strengths and abilities that his fighter and friend possesses.
“Brandon’s been in the ring with faster fighters, he’s been in the ring with very hard punchers, and he’s been able to dominate,” Garcia claimed. “He’s been able to beat them at what they are best at. That’s what we’re going to do.”
And in pursuit of this latest victory, the former champion-turned-trainer realizes just how much of the burden will lie on his shoulders.
“I still got to look at the videos and look at the things we’ve got to work on,” Garcia mused. “We might have to work on going to the body a lot or maybe using the jab a lot. It’s my job to study and see what is best for us. But I think, going into the ring, Brandon is going to be the bigger guy so he’s going to be the stronger guy, so we’ve got to take advantage of that.
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