Yup, Yuriorkis Gamboa finally got tested. My favorite prospect completely dominated Darling Jimenez at junior lightweight (130 lbs.), flashing all his uncanny natural ability and skill in a unanimous decision win, but got legitimately knocked down for the first time in his career and showed holes in his defense that now are definitively cause for worry. Keep. Your. Hands. UP, Gamboa. HBO’s Max Kellerman said it best: This wasn’t a “star is born” performance, but a performance that showed an amazing talent still in the “gestational” period as a prospect who just had his 10th pro fight.
Meanwhile, the two junior middleweight (154 lbs.) prospects both showed why they, too, are can’t-miss TV. James Kirkland blew out Eromosele Albert in one round, battering the bejeebers out of him even though Albert could reasonably have been expected to last the distance. That Kirkland is just a mean, mean man in the ring. Alfredo Angulo, meanwhile, got a real rough time from Richar-not-Richard Guitierrez — and his creepy chest hair shaved into the shape of a cross — in what was the fight of the night, with Angulo nearly getting knocked down in the 5th round before storming back to hurt Gutierrez and forcing the referee to halt the battle. Read on for more extensive breakdowns:
GAMBOA – JIMENEZ
Let’s start with my boy Gamboa. Obviously I was eager to see him do well, since I practically deemed him He-Man, Master of the Universe and declared this week “Yuriorikis Gamboa Week!” with a tiny bit of tongue-in-cheek hyperbole.
He did not do as well as I’d hoped, and some of that had to do with Jimenez. Jimenez knocked out a former title-holder in his last fight, and a pretty well-regarded one, albeit a man on the comeback trail — Mike Anchondo. Jimenez timed Gamboa’s homicidal rushes well, and even when Gamboa was puffing up his face something awful, Jimenez was landing clean shots that made me think: “Gamboa may go down in the fight because his hands are so low. If he doesn’t, though, somebody, sooner or later, who catches Gamboa with punches that clean but who has more power is going to give Gamboa some serious trouble. I now know this beyond a shadow of a doubt.” The problem is not with Gamboa walking around with his hands down at a distance. The problem is, he does it after throwing combinations on the inside, and while he dodged a majority of Jimenez’ counters by ducking back or flitting sideways, he got caught enough that it was maddening. Maddening, I tell you. This has become a bad habit for Gamboa, because he kept doing it throughout the fight, even after he got dropped in the 4th round. No, he was never seriously hurt; the knockdown was an off-balance one more than anything. But Gamboa just isn’t going to get away with this habit when he steps up in class again.
Now, I’m focusing on the negative. I’m still really, tremendously high on this kid. He’s got athleticism for days. Speed and power in abundance. Technical nuances that make someone like me, who admires that kind of thing, pleased as punch. Jimenez showed big heart by managing to stay up when he was hurt several times. Gamboa had never gone more than six rounds, and he looked good well into the 10th, a great sign because sometimes, his opponents aren’t going to crumble, even when he has eight knockouts in 10 fights. And yeah, prospects get tested. So what? That’s what their early fights are SUPPOSED to do. Let’s not forget that Gamboa’s been moved at close to Mach speed, with opponents that had a combined record, after you include Jimenez, of about 160 wins and 30 losses. That’s unbelievable competition for a guy with 10 fights. And, despite the questions this fight raised, he won, and he won extremely convincingly.
It’s a great pleasure to watch a special prospect grow. I was really high on Miguel Cotto coming up. After he fought Ricardo Torres less than three years ago and won a life-and-death struggle, people really questioned him: No longer was he the next Felix Trinidad, a potential all-time great, but maybe he was more like Arturo Gatti, a great TV fighter and fan favorite. Now, at welterweight (147 lbs.), Cotto’s one of the five best fighters today and infinitely more mature than that day, when he ran into his stiffest test, went back to the gym and added wrinkles (and yes, changing weight classes solved some of Cotto’s problems, but no way he beats Shane Mosley last year without adding those wrinkles). I still think I’ll be watching Gamboa grow, but he needs to spend his next several entire camps with some kind of harness strapped to him that forces him to keep his gloves around his head. Gamboa already can throw scintillating combos, move around the ring with unbelievable grace, etc. Maybe his punches are a little wide and they can work on that, too. Really, though, he just. Needs. To keep. His hands. UP. Until he does, he’s not ready for the likes of Manny Pacquiao, the star he called out before fighting Jimenez.
ANGULO – GUTIERREZ
How much fun was this one? From the very first round, you could tell it was going to be something. I doubted Gutierrez, coming up in weight and with not much of a knockout record anyhow, could hurt Angulo. Instead, by the end of the first round, he had Angulo backing up. I’d not seen that before. Angulo is, if nothing else, a boxer who stalks his opponent. Instead, he was the hunted. So, all a sudden, we had a fight on our hands. It pitted Gutierrez’ chest hair against Angulo’s farmer tan, too.
The difference here was that, even though Angulo fights like a brawler, he has an offensive polish that makes his power all the more formidable. He throws straight, accurate punches. Usually, he doesn’t even waste any motion. But it was clear he felt like Gutierrez was going to force him into a shootout, so he had to outwork Gutierrez, too. And he did, throwing 100 or more in at least a few of the rounds; HBO only spotlighted punch stats for some of them. He adjusted well. After the first, I thought Angulo won every round. That said, if Gamboa needs to work on defense, it stands to reason Angulo does, too. He got hit by some wild shots. Maybe he got hit by them because they were wild. But he got caught in the 5th, and what ensued should be set aside as a possible Round of the Year candidate. Gutierrez went ballistic, dropping punches that seemed more intent on forcing the ref to stop it than to actually knock Angulo down. Instead, Angulo was able to hold effectively and gather his legs, then rocked Gutierrez. Instead of going nuts like Gutierrez did, Angulo was patient and accurate as always. Gutierrez, ballsy to the end, never even went down. The ref saw enough of those clean, straight shots and halted it. I might have given Gutierrez a little longer. Still, great fight, great win for Angulo, who’s being moved pretty quickly himself.
KIRKLAND – ALBERT
I freaking love Kirkland. I tend to appreciate the fighters who have a heavy helping of “the sweet science” over the knockout artists, but Kirkland’s my current favorite of the KO kings. Sorry, Edwin Valero. Here was an opponent in Albert who, while I never would have predicted anything other than a knockout for Kirkland, certainly was thought to have the boxing skill to potentially render Kirkland’s rabid rhino charges impotent. Not even kinda. Kirkland always looks like he wants to throw punches at the face-off. He always looks like he wants his opponent to get back up so he can knock him down a few more times. That’s what Kirkland looked like tonight, going right at Albert with urgency and ready and eager to knock him down again after dropping him with some pinpoint straight lefts. Which he did, again.
More than just about any fighter out there right now, Kirkland has the air of someone who transforms into a psychopath in the ring. He’s got a hard-scrabble background, but as my esteemed colleague Sean has documented, he’s become a level-headed chap outside the ring. The thing is, Kirkland’s a real fighter with real skills, not just some maniac. He cuts off the ring, fires crisp combos and plain gets it, at least on the offensive end. Nobody yet has successfully used immaculate boxing craft to make pay for his choice of style. Only Allen Conyers, in Kirkland’s last fight, was able to make him pay for that choice of style, and he made Kirkland pay with return power, not craft, knocking him down before getting knocked out in the very first round. Kirkland’s disdain for defense may be trouble for him down the line, but so far, he’s come out on top by virtue of sheer aggressiveness, skilled offense and frightening punching strength.
That’s why I’d just die to see Kirkland-Angulo. No way that one lasts very long. Kirkland has the power to test Angulo’s shaky D and a chin that now has shown vulnerability, and maybe Angulo has a slight edge in offensive polish. Angulo might beat Kirkland to the punch with his straighter shots, but Kirkland would inevitably land something big. Can someone make this one happen, pretty please?
All in all, a highly entertaining night of boxing, with three fights that were enjoyable for entirely different reasons: Kirkland-Alberto for the big ol’ knockout; Angulo-Gutierrez for the all-out action and great final round; Gamboa-Jimenez for the gifts Gamboa put on display but the tension created by his shortcomings.