By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Nearly two decades later, it was déjà vu.
Through the first six minutes of Yuriorkis Gamboa’s Saturday night title defense with Jorge Solis at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, all I could think of as I watched him work was Roy Jones Jr.
The rock-hard physique. The virtuoso footwork. The precision punching.
The super-composed manner that made victory seem certain.
I saw Jones exhibit those exact characteristics from the 1988 Olympics through the bulk of a now 21-year pro career – especially during a spectacular eight-year stretch from James Toney to John Ruiz in which he was clearly the best fighter on the planet.
Gamboa displayed his own Olympic chops with a 2004 gold medal, and, through his first 19 fights for pay, had shown sporadic Jones-like qualities en route to joining the belt-holding set with a 12-round defeat of Orlando Salido last September in Las Vegas.
Saturday’s match with Solis was the 20th of his career, and were it not for a six-inch height difference and 50 or so pounds on the scale, I’d have sworn the Cuban export had been cloned directly from the Pensacola legend’s DNA at a similar point in 1992.
Back then, in the 20th fight of his career, Jones KO’d Percy Harris in four rounds to win the WBC’s Continental Americas super middleweight crown a few doors down the holiday season boardwalk at the Trump Taj Mahal.
Two fights later, he won eight of 12 rounds from a 28-year-old Bernard Hopkins… and a star was born.
Having beaten Solis in half the time it took Manny Pacquiao four years ago… Solis’s is clearly on the rise.
And as for what happens two fights from now… well, it seems that’s up to one Bob Arum.
After a pre-Solis run-up that included repeated questions about a showdown with fellow unbeaten featherweight champion – and Top Rank property – Juan Manuel Lopez, the post-fight stance from a defiant Gamboa included a not-subtle shot at the promotional outfit’s matchmaking apparatus.
“Top Rank is going to put that fight very far away or at a far distance because they know I will beat him,” he said, while mentioning WBA champ Chris John or a vault up the scales as viable alternatives to a reticent Lopez or an unwilling Arum. “It was a very good fight. I am completely different from (earlier in my career). The package is complete.”
Here’s hoping the guys in the suits see the progression, too.
While I don’t blame Todd duBoef for concern about serving the match before it reaches main-dish quality, it seems the prospective Lopez-Gamboa fight has already exceeded his recent cautionary tale – January’s Bradley-Alexander dud at 140 – in terms of marketing potential.
Both Gamboa and Lopez are as recognized as Bradley or Alexander at this time last year. Their records at 126 are as impressive as their predecessors’ had been. And they have fan followings presumably far stronger than the hardcore-only backings Timothy and Devon had on their fight night.
Not to mention the mesh of two sluggers with 43 KOs in 50 wins seems certain to be a classic.
Neither of them can make as many headlines – or as much money – with any other opponent within 15 pounds, nor would any truly discerning fan really want to see it. Instead, it seems a pairing much more likely to yield a Gatti-Ward or Bowe-Holyfield series, which, in the end, would be good for everyone.
And if all else fails, Bob… you can always cash out with a rematch in 17 years.
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This week in boxing history:
1 year ago (April 3, 2010)
Bernard Hopkins settled a 17-year-old score with a unanimous 12-round victory over Roy Jones Jr. in the main event of a nine-bout card at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Also winning that night in Nevada were Jason Litzau, Ismayl Sallakh and Sergio Mora. Oddly, every bout but the main event ended inside the distance.
10 years ago (March 31, 2001)
At the Bally’s Park Place Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, future IBF lightweight champion Leavander Johnson scored the 30th win of his pro career with an eighth-round stoppage of Ray Minus for the vacant WBC Continental Americas strap. Also on the card, former heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon, at age 43, defeated Elieser Castillo by majority 10-round decision.
25 years ago (March 29, 1986)
Argentine middleweight Juan Roldan scored a third straight victory since his title loss to Marvin Hagler, stopping Angel Caro in the sixth round of a scheduled 10. Roldan pushed the streak to 13 in a row before a KO loss to Thomas Hearns for Hagler’s old WBC belt 19 months later. He won two more fights before ending his career with a TKO loss to IBF champion Michael Nunn in 1988.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA flyweight title – Arena Roberto Duran, Panama City, Panama
Luis Concepcion (champion) vs. Hernan Marquez (No. 9 contender)
Concepcion (22-1, 17 KO): First title defense; Six-fight KO streak (23 total rounds)
Marquez (29-2, 22 KO): First title fight; Third fight outside Mexico (0-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Streaking champion on too high a level for traveling foe.” Concepcion in 9
WBC cruiserweight title – Hala Luczniczka, ul. Toruńska 59, Bydgoszcz, Poland
Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (champion) vs. Francisco Palacios (No. 1 contender)
Wlodarczyk (44-2-1, 32 KO): Second title defense; Held IBF title in 2006-07 (no defenses)
Palacios (20-0, 13 KO): First title fight; Six-fight KO streak (10 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: “Upset! Unbeaten slugger will find a way in hostile surroundings.” Palacios by decision
WBO junior flyweight title – Auditorio del Estado, Mexicali, Mexico
Giovani Segura (champion) vs. Ivan Calderon (No. 3 contender)
Segura (26-1-1, 22 KO): First title defense; Held WBA title in 2009-10 (four defenses)
Calderon (34-1-1, 6 KO): Twenty-first title fight (18-1-1, 2 KO); Lost to Segura (KO 8) in 2010
Fitzbitz says: “Youth, momentum and hometown advantage add up for champion.” Segura by decision
WBO cruiserweight title – Gerry Weber Stadium, Halle, Germany
Marco Huck (champion) vs. Ran Nakash (No. 10 contender)
Huck (31-1, 23 KO): Sixth title defense; Unbeaten since 2007 (12-0, 9 KO)
Nakash (25-0, 18 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Germany (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Israeli-born challenger in a bit over his head with elite cruiser champion.” Huck in 8
Last week’s picks: 5-1
Overall picks record: 193-61 (75.9 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .