By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Jason Sosa was plenty thankful Thursday, even though the weight-conscious contender couldn’t consume nearly as much food as he wanted while eating Thanksgiving dinner.
Sosa is most appreciative of the opportunity he’ll have Saturday night to come back from the worst fight of his career. Seven months after Vasyl Lomachenko dominated him, Sosa will step into the ring with another Olympic gold medalist.
This time, however, Sosa is favored to win and put himself back in position to fight for another 130-pound world title. If the Camden, New Jersey, native defeats Yuriorkis Gamboa in a 10-round fight HBO will broadcast from The Theater at Madison Square Garden, it’ll help restore his confidence following a one-sided, technical-knockout defeat to Ukraine’s Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs) on April 8 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
“He’s a great fighter,” Sosa told BoxingScene.com. “We’ve gotta come prepared. We’ve gotta come smarter than him. We’ve gotta come two steps ahead of him. We have to be prepared and ready to go, because he does have more experience than I do. He’s a gold medalist, a [three-time] world champion. So we’re focused. We’re mentally prepared for Saturday night.”
Though the 29-year-old Sosa is listed as a 3-1 favorite, Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez admitted recently that Gamboa’s “back is against the wall” in their 10-round super featherweight fight. The former three-division champion got stopped by Mexico’s Robinson Castellanos on May 5 in Las Vegas and the 35-year-old Cuban cannot lose another fight if he expects to get back into the championship mix.
Raul Rivas, Sosa’s trainer, views Gamboa’s vulnerability as one of several advantages his fighter has over an aging veteran who was once considered an elite talent.
“Actually, I think that benefits us, because he has the pressure, not us,” Rivas said. “And I know that when you hit Gamboa, and it’s been proven throughout his professional career – when you hit him one time, he reacts. And I think that any fighter that tries to react with Jason, and tries to bang with Jason, is not gonna win that battle. We’ve proven that with [Javier] Fortuna, a very aggressive fighter. When he felt Sosa’s power, he ran. [Stephen] Smith, he ran. And if you look at the Loma fight, compared to his last fight with [Miguel] Marriaga, he fought Marriaga as the aggressor and just exchanged with him. He never did that with Jason.
“So there’s obviously a respect there because of the power he carries. So I like the fact that [Gamboa] needs to initiate the pressure for us. Another thing I like, he’s not a volume puncher. He’s a fighter who if he throws 40 punches per round, it’s too much for him. He doesn’t use a jab and his hands are always down. He relies on his footwork to place himself in position to counter you with a hook and a right, which is something that we worked on. Other than that, does he bring any other threat to us? Not at all.”
Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs) was supposed to face Castellanos (24-13, 14 KOs) on Saturday night, but Gamboa (27-2, 17 KOs) replaced him once Castellanos withdrew from the fight due to a back injury. The Sosa-Gamboa bout will open HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader at 10 p.m. ET.
The main event will feature former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in his first fight since Andre Ward stopped him in the eighth round of their rematch June 17 in Las Vegas. Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) will encounter Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) in a 12-round fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title.
The 34-year-old Kovalev isn’t the only former champion with something to prove on Saturday night, though. Sosa, who gave up his WBA world super featherweight championship for a chance to challenge Lomachenko, appreciated what Kovalev said during a press conference Wednesday about being able to show how important it is to learn and grow from defeats.
“Like Kovalev said, a loss is not always a bad loss,” Sosa said. “You know, for us, if we wanna continue to be great in this sport, we’ve gotta accept wins and we’ve gotta accept losses. So I think after that loss, me and my team, we really look forward for the next chapter, like Kovalev would say. We’re excited, we learned a couple things and I’ve only got three amateur fights. So at the end of the day, I’m excited to fight another top fighter like Gamboa. To be honest, I feel like I belong here, with these guys. I keep saying I wanna fight the best, I wanna fight elite fighters, because they do bring the best out of me.”
In the three fights before he lost to the highly skilled Lomachenko, the rugged Sosa overcame comparative inexperience to fight to a 10-round majority draw with former WBA featherweight champ Nicholas Walters (26-1-1, 21 KOs), stopped Fortuna (33-1-1, 23 KOs, 1 NC) in the 11th round to win the WBA world super featherweight title and dropped Smith (25-3, 15 KOs) in the second round on his way to winning a 12-round unanimous decision in his first title defense.
Sosa’s loss to Lomachenko was his first defeat since Tre’Sean Wiggins stopped him in the first round of Sosa’s fifth professional fight, seven years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“He knows another loss would set us back,” Rivas said. “I’m not saying that’s the end of his career, but it would set us back. But I don’t want that taste again that Loma gave us. It’s a really, really, really hard pill to swallow.”
Unlike Lomachenko, Gamboa isn’t an effective defensive fighter. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist does possess tremendous footwork, which Sosa must neutralize if he is to avoid losing back-to-back bouts.
“He has incredible footwork,” Rivas said. “He’s Cuban and they’ve all got amazing footwork. So my main concern is us making sure that when he’s placing his footwork, the minute he sets, we’ve either gotta counter or we have to step out of position, so he can’t counter over that. That’s our game plan, and if he executes that we’re gonna be fine because it’s not if, it’s just a matter of time before we start touching him.
“And once he slows down and he’s there for us, because he has no choice, because now he’s gonna go with the macho thing, ‘All right, let’s bang because I’m done. I can’t move around,’ that’s when I like my chances. Why? Because Sosa stays with his hands tight and we know Sosa can take a hell of a shot. We know Gamboa can’t take a shot. And in my opinion, who’s the stronger fighter? Sosa has one-punch counter power. Gamboa doesn’t have that.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.