By Jake Donovan
While never boasting an overwhelming fan base, the most appealing factor to American promotional company Top Rank regarding Yuriorkis Gamboa was his willingness to take on all comers.
The plan he has in store for 2012 and beyond only further justifies such claims.
Having already won two separate belts at featherweight in making his mark as one of the best fighters in the world, the former amateur standout is ready to raise his game – and weight – considerably. Rather than building momentum towards an eventual showdown with lightweight Brandon Rios, Gamboa and his handlers are ready to take the challenge head-on.
“Top Rank approached said that HBO is not interested in separate tune-up fights and want them to fight each other,” Ahmet Oner, Gamboa’s co-promoter, informed Boxingscene.com of the ongoing discussion for their next fight.
Gamboa (21-0, 16KO) was being groomed for a March return – on HBO – that was to feature his rise to the super featherweight division. Efforts were made to secure former titlist Rocky Martinez as the opponent, only for the fight to fall through over – what else – money.
Similarly, plans for a catchweight fight between California-based contenders Rios and John Molina – also slated for March – fell through when Molina’s side couldn’t agree to terms for what would’ve been by far the biggest payday of his career as well as his HBO debut.
It has been theorized that as a result, the plan is no longer for a March show in Southern California, but instead an April 14 show in Las Vegas and presumably against each other. Representatives for HBO declined comment altogether. Top Rank – who promotes both fighters (or co-promotes, in Gamboa’s case) – was cryptic in its response, other than to say that it makes more sense to just fast forward to a big fight.
Gamboa and his handlers are in full agreement.
“Our goal for Yuri is a bigger fight,” Oner insists. “It’s a real fight so why not take it. That is my opinion. I don’t believe for Yuri to beat the Daniel Ponce de Leons and Whyber Garcias and Rogers Mtagaws of the world does anything to improve his standing. He’s proven that he is ready.
“He’s a special kid. If he wants to go, he has to make the jump to the next level. He needs to so show that he’s something special. I think Brandon Rios is a step in the right direction.”
The biggest question surrounding such a fight is at what weight it would take place.
Gamboa, who is coming off of a technical decision win over Ponce de Leon last September, has spent the past three years at featherweight after having previously campaigned at super featherweight.
Meanwhile, Rios (29-0-1, 22KO) is coming off of an 11th round stoppage of John Murray in which he lost his title on the scales due to missing the lightweight limit. Immediately afterward, his handlers sought the services of nutritional guru Victor Conte to help improve his training habits and conditioning in order to properly make weight.
Still, his planned bout with Molina was scheduled to take place at a catchweight of 137 lb, and it has yet to be determined if he can get down any lower without risking his health.
Assuming that Rios can make lightweight, the question then becomes whether Gamboa can be effective two divisions above his optimal prime weight. His handlers believe he can, but that they don’t plan to give away too many advantages to Rios.
“It will be 135,” Oner insists. “He is coming from two divisions – it is already a high jump, so it can’t be any more than the lightweight limit. It’s not an issue to move up and face bigger guys. When I fought at 168 lb (in the late 1990’s) I sparred at cruiserweight. People think it’s big.
“I think Rios is a tough kid, but that’s part of it being a big fight. I want to prove Yuri is something special. He has the wins but people don’t really recognize him. That makes him angry.”
Even more upsetting is the oft-discussed superfight that never materialized between Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez. Top Rank’s plan was to build up the fight until it reached blockbuster levels, but Lopez was knocked out by Orlando Salido long before that could happen.
“If you wait too long, you lose the opportunities. We need to learn from our mistakes, which is why we need to take this test now. We need to finish Brandon Rios.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]