By Lem Satterfield
It was back in October of 2009 at the WaMu Theatre at New York's Madison Square Garden that Top Rank Promotions' CEO, Bob Arum, first floated the idea of a mega bout between Puerto Rico's southpaw Juan Manuel Lopez and Cuban-born, former Olympic gold medalist, Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is now a resident of Miami.
At the time, Lopez was about to face Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa in the main event of his fifth and final defense of the WBO super bantamweight crown he had earned by dethroning Daniel Ponce de Leon by sensational first-round knockout in June of 2008.
On the undercard, Gamboa was set to make the first defense of his WBA featherweight belt against Panama's Whyber Garcia.
Lopez was seemingly one punch away from being dethroned by Mtagwa, yet courageously survived a long stretch ending the 11th round and throughout the 12th to retain his belt by unanimous decision.
Gamboa already had had a much easier time dispatching of Garcia with a fourth-round knockout, dropping Garcia with a left-right combination that deposited him face down early in the round.
Garcia beat the count, but took about 20 or so unanswered punches before referee Steve Smoger stepped in to wave an end to their fight 58 seconds into the fourth.
Four months later in January of 2010, Arum teased the boxing community, yet again, pairing Lopez and Gamboa once more at the WaMu Theatre.
Gamboa easily dispatched of Mtagwa, whom he dropped once in the first round and twice in the second before Smoger referee waved an end to the fight at 2:35 of the second round.
Gamboa-Mtagwa took place on the undercard of Lopez's seventh-round knockout in his 126-pound debut, a performance that dethroned WBO featherweight king Steven Luevano and further highlighted his potential to be involved in a lower weight match up for the ages.
"Fight after fight, I want to improve my performances, maintain my undefeated status and, in the meantime, continue to collect all of the belts that I am. Eventually, I think that I will get into that pound-for-pound status," said Gamboa.
"I will just continue to showcase my talents and my abilities as I've always tried to do and come out with the victories," said Gamboa. "I do push myself to try to win by knockout. It's obviously something that people like to see. It's something that I try to shoot for, but it's not something I'm going to risk losing a fight over."
But as the 29-year-old Gamboa (19-0, 15 knockouts) enters Saturday night's defense of his WBA and IBF titles against 31-year-old, WBA interim belt-holder Jorge Solis (40-2-2, 29 KOs) -- five fights since their initial pairing at the WaMu Theatre -- Gamboa still is unsure of whether or not a bout with Lopez will materialize.
"In reality, I don’t feel rushed to make that fight. By the same token, there has been so much talk about me facing Juan Manuel Lopez and it hasn’t come to fruition. I don’t feel there is a need for so much talk if the fight isn’t going to happen," said Gamboa.
"I want it to happen and I hope it happens, but I don’t want to talk about something that won’t come through. I just think that JuanMa’s one of the champions in my division among others," said Gamboa. "But they have created this expectation about a fight that has not happened after a year of talking about it. What I want to do is tend to my business and keep collecting belts, hope that it happens, and if it doesn’t, I just move on."
At times, Gamboa's manager, Tony Gonzalez, has expressed frustration that his fighter has not received what he considers to be equal support from his promoters as has Lopez.
"Yuri still thinks that he's not getting the respect that he deserves, and he wants to be big," said Gonzalez, in February of 2010. "He wants to go into a fight with JuanMa having the same stature as JuanMa has at this point."
Gamboa is coming off of decisions in March, and, September, respectively, over Jonathan Victor Barrios (32-1-1, 18 KOs), and, Orlando Salido (34-11-2, 22 KOs), the latter, for the IBF crown.
The 27-year-old Lopez (30-0, 27 KOs), meanwhile, has scored consecutive stoppages of Bernabe Concepcion (28-4-1, 15 KOs), and, aging former world champion Rafael Marquez (39-6, 35 KOs), respectively, in the second, and, eighth rounds in July and November.
Against Concepcion, Lopez scored a first-round knockdown before himself being floored just before the bell ending the same round, then, twice dropped Concepcion in the second round, with the second knockdown ending the fight.
Lopez is next slated to defend his belt against Salido on April 16 in Puerto Rico.
"I wouldn’t say that it’s [Gamboa vs. Lopez] not on the radar," said Top Rank Promotions President, Todd duBoef, during a recent conference call.
"I would say that the business models around the two of them are separate. I think there is time to build the fight into a really big fight," said duBoef. "And the time both fighters will benefit from how the fight happens so that we maximize the interest."
The nearly 5-foot-6 Gamboa will look to do that against the nearly 5-foot-9 Solis, who once held his own prior to being stopped in the eighth-round of an April, 2007 loss to present WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs).
"I don’t think it is a marker or any point of comparison. The fight [between Pacquiao and Solis] happened a while back, and obviously Manny is a different fighter now than he was then," said Gamboa. "My fight with Solis, I don’t think is an indicator of anything compared to his fight with Pacquiao."
Still, there are many who consider Gamboa to be among the sport's premiere fighters, pound-for-pound, as they do Lopez -- a fact duBoef knows full well.
"I think that, without a doubt, that when you see Gamboa fight, you see this incredible natural ability. A give that is very Roy Jones-esque. He has speed and power in both hands that are not seen too often in this sport. I think that one of the things that you have to calculate with him is the ring experience," said duBoef.
"I think that our job, in working with his camp, is getting him tha experience and then working primarily on his marketability. You can't deny that he has those natural gifts," said duBoef. "People need to see him fight more often and they need to see him out there more often. They need to see his performances that are legendary performances and the great gifts that you have in great fights. Those performances are what will captivate the consumers, fight fans and the media."
Tags: Juan Manuel Lopez , Top Rank , Yuriorkis Gamboa