By Cliff Rold, photo by Chris Farina
For the second week, we have a pair of well-matched talents who enter the ring with plenty of questions left to answer. Making only his third start since 2011, the challenger Gamboa enters with two questions in particular.
Will he ever live up to the initial excitement generated by his talents?
Have we already seen his best stuff?
Of the two, Gamboa is the more known commodity, for better and worse. Crawford is catching up as regards what is known and there hasn’t been any ‘for worse’ yet. Wins over Breidis Prescott in his development, and Ricky Burns for his first title, are highlights so far of what looks like a career with a high ceiling.
While Gamboa may have an overall edge in experience, Crawford appears the more disciplined and is both taller physically bigger. This is the best opponent of each man’s career.
It’s a coin flip fight.
That’s a good thing.
Let’s go the report cards.
Titles: WBO Lightweight (2014-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 134.8 lbs.
Hails from: Omaha, Nebraska
Record: 23-0, 16 KO
Rankings: #2 (TBRB, ESPN, BoxRec, Ring), #3 (BoxingScene)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Ricky Burns UD12)
Previous Titles: WBA Featherweight (2009-11, 5 Defenses); IBF Featherweight (2010)
Height: 5’5 ½
Weight: 134.4 lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Cuba)
Record: 23-0, 16 KO)
Rankings: #7 (BoxingScene, TBRB, ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 3 KO (8-0, 4 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Jonathan Barros UD12; Orlando Salido UD12; Daniel Ponce De Leon Tech. Dec. 8)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Crawford A-; Gamboa A
Pre-Fight: Power – Crawford B; Gamboa B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Crawford B+; Gamboa B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Crawford B+; Gamboa B+
Gamboa, in his last two fights, hasn’t seemed as nasty fast as he was at Featherweight. Is that a product of added size, age, or a little bit of disinterest? From early on in his career, Gamboa has been a fighter with lapses in attention. He’s been down in several bouts, almost always for defensive breakdowns that seem to grow from a loss of focus in fights he’s otherwise winning easy.
It’s enough to ask if he gets bored in the ring. When he’s shown up dialed in, with something to prove, Gamboa has been a force. When he had rugged guys like Rogers Mtagwa and Jorge Solis in front of him and the chance to measure his performance against Juan Manuel Lopez and Manny Pacquiao, he was breathtaking. No, the opponents weren’t top shelf, but Gamboa showed what he could do to competent pros when he was fully on.
He won’t have a chance to be bored against Crawford. The titlist in this affair will make him work for everything he gets. His jab is educated and he mixes it well from head to body. Crawford is also disciplined on defense.
Disciplined isn’t unhittable. Against Burns, Crawford took his share of single flush shots. He never let Burns get any momentum going but it was enough to wonder what a faster, harder hitting man might get done. Even seemingly reduced in those categories at Lightweight, Gamboa figures to be as big a dual threat in those categories as Crawford is going to see in the current crop at 135.
There is a big question to consider: is Gamboa really a Lightweight at all? The last time he had a serious fight scheduled there (Darleys Perez wouldn’t qualify), against Brandon Rios, he backed out. Later, he was implicated in the still unresolved BioGensis performance enhancing drug scandal and, considering he was making a two-division jump to face Rios initially, it gives pause. One must assume his presence at Lightweight indicates it’s where his body belongs but questions linger.
Boxing, lacking the central apparatus, will, and subsequent funding Major League Baseball employed to resolve the issue, has yet to get full answers.
The more popular pick for this fight appears to be Crawford and for good reason. He’s a talented boxer with edges in size and consistency. Gamboa, given his eye-popping highlights, was overrated to an extent early on. His inactivity, the failure to appear against Rios, and two fairly one-sided but uninspired points wins have seen the pendulum swing.
Entering Saturday, Gamboa may have become underrated. We really don’t know a ton about Crawford yet and it may turn out this is only the beginning of as special career. On paper, his best wins aren’t in Gamboa’s league and the natural talent edge lies with the Cuban.
With his back to the wall and something to prove, Gamboa is a dangerous man to underrate. Considering Crawford is already talking about moving up, one can’t know how tough it was to make weight for this one and the pressure of performing at home (the fight is in his hometown) can be heavy. Add it all up and the pick here, on a coin flip similar to last week, is Gamboa to rejuvenate his career, possibly by a stoppage.
As was the case with Lomachenko-Russell (picked wrongly last week), this is a pick with little conviction.
It’s a fine match.
Report Card Picks 2014: 29-13
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]