by Cliff Rold
First there was the good news.
April 14, 2012. Featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa was moving up two weight divisions to face hard charging Brandon Rios. Gamboa is one of the game’s most physically gifted athletes; Rios one of its premiere young pressure fighters. Both get hit more than is healthy. Rios gets better as fights progress and can punch all night. Gamboa can struggle after early bursts behind questionable concentration and a just as questionable chin.
Early ticket sales were brisk. Buzz was strong.
The neat thing about it was how quickly it came together. It had a hint of serendipity. This didn’t need years of trash talk or ‘slow cooking.’ A year ago, Brandon Rios was just weeks into a reign as WBA titlist at 135 lbs. and Gamboa was gearing up for Jorge Solis at 126.
When Gamboa issued a challenge to Rios, a light bulb went off. ‘Hey, yeah,’ said the faithful boxing fan. ‘Damn the scales. That fight rocks right now.’ Two fighters with superstar possibilities were putting their 0’s on the line in the sort of match capable of getting them to the next level.
R.I.P Gamboa-Rios, March 14, 2012.
This one is heading to court, or at least eventual binding arbitration. Gamboa’s attorney has issued a statement to the affect that Gamboa’s contract with Top Rank is invalid. Top Rank has sued for breach. Fans are looking for refunds and laments of a potentially great fight evaporating are real and heartfelt. Boxing fans look forward to the red meat and were treating this one like a fine filet.
If they feel like they’re now left with a homemade burger on white bread, who can blame them?
History leaves some room to remain optimistic. No, not right now. The fight is dead for the moment. However, recent legal scraps over Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire saw Top Rank’s claims of valid contracts contested.
Top Rank won.
If they win again on Gamboa, perhaps Rios-Gamboa can be resuscitated in the next year or so. Given Rios’s struggles to make Lightweight, it might have to happen at 140, but it’s still there.
That’s one avenue for optimism.
Another is the evidence that past implosions of hotly anticipated clashes have not always meant the fight never comes together.
Sometimes, we even get something that may have been better in the long run.
Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler were supposed to face off in May 1982, just a year after Hearns epic first loss at Welterweight to Sugar Ray Leonard. A hand injury, and sound management, saw Hearns cancel the fight. It took three years to bring them back together.
Fans got the 1985 Fight of the Year and one of the greatest Middleweight title fights of all time. That’s not all they got. Between May 1982 and April 1985, both going their separate ways, fans were treated to seeing each man defeat Roberto Duran as well as Hearns-Wilfred Benitez. Maybe those fights happen anyways but, had Hearns lost to Hagler in 1982, it changes the trajectory of history.
And history worked out well as was.
What of the implosion of Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson?
In 1990, Tyson looked headed towards a June showdown with the former Cruiserweight king and unanimous sanctioning body mandatory. Buster Douglas busted up the plan. They got back to it in signing for a November 1991 superfight, this time with Holyfield playing the role of defending king.
Tyson suffered a rib injury doing sit-ups, the news announced during a TVKO pay-per-view broadcast of Ray Mercer-Tommy Morrison. It cast a pall, the first of two ugly Heavyweight knockouts on the evening. Tyson was going to trial for rape and it was recognized that, if convicted, there was a chance the fight would never happen.
Fight fans wouldn’t realize it until years later, but hindsight says the boxing world got lucky. Tyson’s replacement, Bert Cooper, almost upset Holyfield in a savage battle still found in ample replay loop on ESPN Classic. With Tyson ultimately incarcerated, Holyfield found a rival in Riddick Bowe and gave the world the best Heavyweight trilogy since Ali-Frazier.
Cooper? He parlayed the Holyfield fight into a minor career rejuvenation that included a five round barnburner with eventual Heavyweight king Michael Moorer. It may have been the best pure action fight in the division since George Foreman-Ron Lyle. And of course Foreman’s upset of Moorer for the crown provided its own memorable rewards both to the victor and the fan.
And then, with some prognosticators openly fearing for his life, Holyfield defeated a paroled Tyson for a share of the Heavyweight crown in 1996.
No matter what, a Holyfield-Tyson clash in 1991 would have precluded some if not a lot of that from happening. Holyfield winning would have changed the landscape at least in terms of Cooper. If Tyson had pulled off the win and taken the crown to prison, it very well could have ruined what ended up being one of the great Heavyweight decades.
Now, of course, one doesn’t want to be too optimistic. Top Rank’s quick trigger was a stark contrast with their failure to put together Yuriorkis Gamboa-Juan Manuel Lopez when it was hot. After two brutal losses to Orlando Salido, and with Gamboa headed up the scale, Gamboa-Lopez may very well be lost for all time. Let’s not even get into that other fight that everyone has wanted to see for going on three years to no avail.
Rios-Gamboa feels different. It still feels vital, and possible. For now, at the least, we wait.
The wait might end up worth it.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Salido Won’t Stay Down: https://www.boxingscene.com/orlando-salido-wont-stay-down-review-ratings-update--50527
Updated Division Ratings: https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--50566
Cliff’s Notes… Thanks to Jake Donovan, the difference is now known between St. Patty’s and St. Paddy’s. Seriously, had no clue…The WBC is going to let two fighters who have been fighting at Bantamweight fight for a belt at the next division up? Really? And we let these morons fine Dereck Chisora for his actions? Some jokes just aren’t funny…Lamont Peterson says he’s doing the Amir Khan rematch for the fans and not for Khan. Here it was assumed it was the solid check swaying events. Two new learning points this week…Jeremy Lin’s turnovers are down and so is Mike D’Antoni…Matt Taibbi came strong again for Rolling Stone.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]