Featherweights Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez passed the hardest tests of their careers in style Saturday night on HBO, and in so doing poured a heap of gasoline then threw a match on the idea of these two explosive talents one day fighting one another. Tough journeyman Roger(s) Mtagwa never stood a chance against Gamboa’s preposterous speed and power, going down in two rounds, while Steven Luevano’s excellent technique couldn’t match Lopez’ combination punching.
Both bouts figured as potentially competitive ones, but the cream rose to the top. Mtagwa’s power and chin could have been the foil for the explosive but shaky-jawed Gamboa, and Luevano’s movement, size and experience could have been Lopez’ undoing.
No. Not even close. These were the performances of boxing stars-in-the-making.
YURIORKIS GAMBOA – ROGERS MTAGWA
I was recently coasting through the TQBR archives, and there I fell upon blog entries from long ago where I compared Gamboa to a combination of Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones and Mike Tyson. It felt like a long time ago. Since then, Gamboa has been decked repeatedly, and encountered questions about whether he would ever live up to his physical potential.
It would be easy to get carried away by the kind of blitzkrieg Gamboa put on Mtagwa in knocking him out in two rounds. He put Mtagwa down once in the 1st and twice in the 2nd, ending matters on the final knockdown. All of the combinations Gamboa put together were breathtaking. Mtagwa took Lopez the distance and nearly squashed the momentum he’d put together as the potential pound-for-pound king of boxing. Gamboa diced Mtagwa like he hardly even existed.
Here’s why I’m not going to get too carried away by YURIORKIS GAMBOA! Lopez should have diced Mtagwa like he hardly even existed. Mtagwa has earned my everlasting fandom and respect for what he’s done in his career with limited physical talents and shoddy skills, which includes Fight of the Year nominees in both 2008 and 2009. But Gamboa put him back in his place, which is “unworthy of sharing the ring with boxing’s elite.” And, when he had Mtagwa in trouble, he did get wild, potentially opening himself up to disaster.
Gamboa’s win was impressive in this way: Nobody’d ruined Mtagwa that way, and Gamboa looked every bit the superstar in doing it. Gamboa faced the weaker of the competition Saturday, but he was far and away the most awesome between himself and Lopez even with that taken into account. Were they to fight, would Gamboa not now be the betting favorite? And it would kind of make sense if he did.
Top Rank, the promoter of both men, insists Lopez-Gamboa won’t happen this summer — it’s a 2010 fight, at best. If Gamboa can’t get Lopez next, I’d love to see him in against Chris John, or any top-10 feather, a caliber of opponent he’s never faced.
YURIORKIS GAMBOA! Seriously.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ – STEVEN LUEVANO
Lopez bounced back beautifully from that difficult outing against Mtagwa, taking down the #2 featherweight in the world in the 7th. Luevano was good early, demonstrating the sharp jab and smarts he’d always put on display. But Lueveno never won a round on my scorecard, and Lopez’ combos were far more hurtful. In the 3rd, I made a note, “uppercut,” since I’d watched how much impact it was making early in the fight. And in the 7th, a sweat-spraying uppercut from Lopez was the beginning of the end, forcing Luevano to stumble backwards, and making Luevano vulnerable to another big right hook that put him down after a window dressing left. He was in no condition to continue after that.
I don’t want to short-sell this win for Lopez. Luevano is a boxer that presents a complex puzzle, and Lopez never really struggled with that puzzle. He was in control from the beginning and never relinquished it. I think of Lopez as having good speed, but his speed was superior to Luevano, and I was surprised by the margin. He was making his featherweight debut, Lopez, and while Luevano’s no big puncher, I didn’t see any signs that Lopez wouldn’t be comfortable at the weight. He’ll move up my pound-for-pound list for sure after this.
Nonetheless — Lopez barely UD-12 Mtagawa, Gamboa TKO-2 wipeout Gamboa. Maybe Lopez really was struggling with making weight at 122, but that doesn’t entirely explain the massive difference in their performances against a mutual foe. I love Lopez and he proved his mettle against the better of the two opponents offered to himself and Gamboa, but I don’t think I’d favor Lopez over Gamboa. Gamboa has significantly better speed and a good deal more TNT in his fists, and I think we’d be looking at something of a shoot-out, ‘cuz I don’t see Lopez keeping Gamboa off him.
We might find out in 2010, we might not. Lopez is on board to fight this summer around the date of the Puerto Rican Day parade, but against whom is an open question. There’s been some talk from the Israel Vazquez camp of taking Lopez if he wins his fourth meeting with Rafael Marquez, but that’s in May and far too close to the parade to actually happen. More than likely, we’ll see Lopez in against another boxer who sizes up as a mismatch for him, which is acceptable after the way he took down Lopez but not ideal.
Still: Lopez-Gamboa. Right? That’s gotta go down.
[UPDATE: The window for Lopez-Gamboa keeps getting bigger and bigger. Now Top Rank boss Bob Arum is saying we may not get it until mid-2011. I wonder if the guy realizes that he might be doing himself a disservice by having one of his top stars-in-waiting off the other.]