On “Friday Night Fights” Premiere, Yuriorkis Gamboa And Odlanier Solis Underwhelm

foto-di-odlanier-solis.jpgThe kickoff of the 2009 “Friday Night Fights” season on ESPN2 spotlighted a trio of Cubans, the most prominent of which were heavyweight Odlanier Solis — thought by some as a potential big man who could take the moribund division by storm — and featherweight (126 lbs.) Yuriorkis Gamboa — hailed by some (including yours truly) as potentially the next great talent in the sport period. A third Cuban, junior middleweight (154 lbs.) Erislandy Lara, looked excellent against the weakest competition of the evening. But in this, Solis’ American television debut, I came away distinctly unimpressed, and any hopes I’ve had about Gamboa are dwindling to nearly nothing.

The Solis fight, against Queensberry Rules folk hero Kevin Burnett, at
least was competitive for a couple rounds. Solis, who came in plump at
around 260 pounds, fought about as hard as he trained, which is to say,
not so much. If you’re going to be a 6’1″ heavyweight, you need to
punch a lot more than Solis did, and it’s not as if he doesn’t have the
fast hands to get off when he needs to. Burnett put some pressure on
him and Solis could counter him basically at will because of some
sloppiness in the 6’6″ man’s jab, but Solis only did so in spurts, and
when he had Burnett in trouble, Burnett summoned the heart to survive.
There were some exchanges for the first four rounds where Burnett raged
back when stunned, but Solis probably won all but a round or two until
he finally really badly shook his opponent in the 8th and the referee
wisely stopped the fight. Burnett trainer Pat Burns thought about
stopping it sooner, and probably should have.

Given how thin things are at heavyweight, I can kinda sorta see why
people might have hopes for Solis. He’s very fast even with his round
tummy, and as such he’s not a bad offensive fighter, although I have my
doubts about his power. I guess I’m thinking that if, after 12 or 13
fights, he’s hungrier at the dinner table than he is in the ring, he’s
probably not going to capitalize on what talent he has, which even in
the best case scenario doesn’t look like enough to me to roam among
much larger men. And if you can’t get “up” for your American television
debut, I’m guessing you can’t get “up” much at all.

Gamboa’s constant defensive lapses and questionable punch resistance,
I’m nearly 100 percent convinced now, are going to get him knocked out
savagely the first time he gets in against anyone who can punch. Given
how good he looked in every round other than the one he got decked by
Roger Gonzalez — the 2nd — I could emphasize the positive here that
he’s still a scintillating offensive specimen. The 12th round stoppage
was premature, but as usual I tend not to protest these kinds of
decisions too much unless a guy was really in the fight, and Gonzalez
wasn’t at that point. But in the 2nd? He did what everyone does to
Gamboa these days, which is to time one of his reckless hands-down
charges and put him on his ass.

Felix Trinidad used to have regular flash knockdowns early in fights
only to get back up and knock his man out, but that was against a
higher caliber of opponent than the kind Gamboa is fighting now.
Consider that until recently, Gamboa had been fighting at 130 pounds,
and consider that until recently, Gonzalez had been fighting at 118
pounds and only had a decent knockout percentage at that weight. Like
everyone Gamboa fights, Gonzalez is more experienced than you might
expect for someone with so few professional fights. But Gamboa is just
serially getting decked by everyone he fights, and while he recuperates
quickly, it’s a bad sign for the first time he fights an opponent more
or less his own size who can crack a little. That Gamboa demonstrates
either the inability or unwillingess to hone his defense when he’s got
a weakness like that suggests it’s just a matter of time until someone
makes roadkill out of him.

Lara, as I said, looked good — fast and explosive — but then, doesn’t
Gamboa have the same qualities? I’ll wait to get excited by him until I
see him against stiffer opposition, which I’m not rushing or anything.
I simply don’t want to get eager based on that performance, because the
last Cuban who got my hopes up is breaking my heart.

In another FNF development, Bernard Hopkins was in the studio as an
analyst, and plans to do so throughout the season. I’ve lately taken to
liking the idea of B-Hop joining a broadcast team, thinking he’d be a
huge upgrade over the likes of Lennox Lewis. I thought he did a good
job, but he clearly needs some practice. He doesn’t modulate his voice
much, and had a habit of using the wrong fighter’s name. That’s nothing
that can’t be fixed, and his insights — such as suggesting that Solis
needed to go to Burnett’s body when he had him hurt — were quality
given his big boxing brain. He also predicted Juan Diaz would upset
lightweight (135 lbs.) champion Juan Manuel Marquez — both promoted by
Golden Boy Promotions, where he’s a parnter — and that welterweight
(147 lbs.) and fellow GBP partner Shane Mosley would narrowly outpoint
favorite Antonio Margarito. The Mosley pick is probably company
loyalty, but if there’s something else B-Hop could bring to the
announcing booth, it’s being provocative, and all systems look like
they’re go on that front. On the career front, I was surprised to hear
him say he wouldn’t fight someone like American light heavyweight (175
lbs.) Chad Dawson because he doesn’t want to hurt the future of the
sport and is mainly looking at fellow oldsters like old foe Joe
Calzaghe. If Calzaghe turns him down, I don’t know how many viable cash
options there will be for B-Hop unless he goes after a youngster — old
opponent Glen Johnson, maybe, or young-but-not-too-young Jermain
Taylor? At any rate, I almost kind of hope he doesn’t get what he’s
looking for in the ring, because I think he could be great outside it
with a microphone.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.