At the legendary Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Yuriorkis Gamboa lived up to his reputation as one of the most exciting fighters in the world, scoring five knockdowns and stopping Jorge Solis in spectacular fashion.
On the undercard, Mikey Garcia struggled at times but came on strong in the later rounds, dropping Matt Remillard three times en route to a strong TKO victory. Baltimore Ravens safety Tommy Zbikowski found a much stiffer challenge than expected from tough Caleb Grummet but survived for his third professional win. And in the most action-packed, thrilling fight of the night (and that’s saying something when Gamboa was as good as he was), Teon Kennedy and Jorge Diaz engaged in a slugfest, teeing off on each other for 36 solid minutes before Kennedy emerged the decision victor.
Let’s take a look at how the night unfolded.
7:35 – I arrive on time (that’s as rare as steak tar tar) for the opening bell of the fight between junior middleweights Glen Tapia and Eberto Medina. Tapia is the showcased fighter and he does his job, landing hard shots, controlling range, and dropping Medina late in the third for a relatively uneventful six round unanimous decision win.
I’ve seen Tapia on a couple of undercards and I’m still not sure how high his ceiling is. He showed good power early in his career but wasn’t able to get rid of Medina, despite landing some thunderous blows. He looks strong, but his head and foot movement aren’t particularly impressive. However, the young fighter still has much time to develop.
8:10 – The first of several real attractions on this card is up next, with pro boxer-turned-Baltimore Ravens safety-turned-pro boxer again Tommy Zbikowski against “MMA Cagefighting Champion” (announcer’s words, not mine) Caleb Grummet in a heavyweight bout. Let’s see if this fight makes it much further than the opening kickoff…
And it does! Tommy Z controlled the opening rounds, showing very solid boxing skills, slipping punches and doing good body work to Grummet. Grummet was warned for low blows in the second round and docked a point in the third, right when he started to work his way back into the fight. Bleeding from the mouth and nose, Grummet showed great heart and took the fight to the crowd favorite in the third and fourth rounds, leading to a number of great exchanges. He seemed to have gotten a read on Zbikowski’s timing as the fight progressed.
Both fighters showed good heart and closed the show with a fury in a very crowd-pleasing fight. Ultimately, Zbikowski’s boxing was the difference as he took a unanimous decision, though it would have been a majority decision if not for the point deduction. Tommy Z might not be a future heavyweight champ, but he’s entertaining and pretty skilled and I hope he continue to pursue boxing.
8:40 – Despite being off television, the most anticipated fight of the night for many in attendance is next, pitting undefeated junior featherweights Teon “The Technician” Kennedy and Jorge “King” Diaz against one another. From the opening bell, it is clear that the fighters will deliver on the promised excitement. Diaz comes out looking to burst Kennedy’s pipes, pressing him relentlessly and ripping shots to the body (while warning him about low blows, referee Steve Smoger gives Diaz a little slap to the cheek, which is beyond awesome). Diaz wins the opening frames with his pressure, though Kennedy effectively counters and demonstrates his boxing skill.
In the 3rd, Diaz continued with his pressure but Kennedy adjusted, finding a home for his counterpunches, particularly the uppercut. He landing a stunning uppercut in the middle of the round, and a hook to the temple in the subsequent exchange dropped Diaz for the first knockdown of the night.
Diaz recovered, the two exchanged fierce combinations over the next few rounds. Kennedy’s punches were sharper and more economical but Diaz never relented, pressing hard and landing quality shots of his own. Either fighter could have honestly been awarded the 4th and 5th rounds. Kennedy took control in the 6th, however, landing sharp jabs and crisp hooks before dropping the charging Diaz with a monster right. Diaz showed great heart to just stand and continue after the onslaught, but the fight clearly pivoted on this second knockdown.
At the start of the 7th round Diaz looked woozy, but he eventually got his legs under him and began to pressure Kennedy again. However, in the rounds the followed Diaz clearly shifted his strategy, fighting with far more caution than he exhibited early in the fight, though two crushing knockdowns can have that effect. He was still effective but this was Kennedy’s game, as he landed sharp jabs and stinging counters.
After a somewhat slow 8th round, the action heated up again in the 9th and 10th with furious exchanges. Diaz landed hard punches but Kennedy seemed to get the better of him slightly in these rounds. Nevertheless, Diaz’s vocal supporters broke into several chants of his name and the crowd hung on the nonstop, back-and-forth action.
In the championship rounds, Kennedy assumed the role of the aggressor, pressuring Diaz the way he was pressured early. He was highly effective with this strategy, landing sharp combinations and wearing down his game foe. Diaz landed some strong right hands in the 11th but Kennedy withstood them and fired back with his own. In the 12th, the fighters exchanged wild punches to thrill the crowd. Kennedy landed a huge combination that staggered Diaz and increased the decibel level even more. By the end, the action managed to surpass the high expectations, and as the final bell rung the crowd roared their approval.
Ultimately, Kennedy emerged the victor by a surprisingly wide margin, but both men impressed and deserve to be featured in big fights in the future. Credit to everyone involved for putting this tremendous fight together.
9:50 – It’s time for the HBO portion of the card, starting with another battle of undefeated fighters, with Mikey Garcia taking on Matt Remillard in featherweight action. A bit of a letdown from the thrill of the last fight was to be expected, but Remillard’s style made it a rather ugly affair for much of the battle. To their credit, the fighters weren’t holding or posing, they were throwing punches and trying to connect, they just weren’t being very effective. Remillard effectively controlled distance in the early going, using his jab and awkward upper body movement to frustrate Garcia.
In the second half of the fight, Remillard began to slow and Garcia started to work his way inside. Garcia rocked Remillard just before the bell to end the 8th round, then picked up where he left off in the 9th, dropping him early in the round and then again later with a huge left hook. After a smattering of boos earlier in the fight, the crowd appreciates the sudden uptick in action.
In the 10th, Garcia continued to pressure and land power shots, dropping Remillard again with a right to the ear. Remillard survived the round, but did unable to come out for the 11th as Garcia celebrated a TKO victory. Not the most crowd-pleasing performance from Garcia, but a quality win and an exciting conclusion salvaged the fight for him, as he can probably expect another HBO date sooner or later.
10:50 – It’s time for the main event of the evening, with undefeated featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa set to earn his exclamation point once again against veteran Jorge Solis. The only thing more glaring than the height advantage for Solis is the speed advantage for Gamboa. The man is, true to his name, a cyclone. Gamboa’s hand speed is so awe-inspiring that I feel each combination should be punctuated by a Ric Flair “WOOOOO!” After flashing his lightning hands in the first, Gamboa dropped Solis early in the 2nd with a big left hook. Solis gets to his feet but Gamboa is relentless, unleashing another combo that drops Solis again, though the punch looked to be to the back of the head.
In the 3rd, Gamboa landed more stinging combinations (along with some rabbit punches, for which he received a warning) before connecting with one of the best punches I have ever seen live, a spectacularly perfect left hook that plants Solis on his backside. All credit to Solis, as I have no idea how he made his feet after that punch. Wow. Fortunately for him it was near the end of the round, though his fortune wouldn’t last long.
Gamboa scored knockdown number four with a stinging straight right hand early in the 4th. Solis, incredibly, rose to his feet yet again. Gamboa, undeterred, pressed relentlessly to follow up, unleashing furious combinations in the corner until a helpless Solis fell for the fifth and final time, as the referee waved a stop to the destruction.
Despite concerns that he may be adopting a more cautious style after his last fight, Gamboa was as dominant and exciting as ever tonight. His hand speed is mesmerizing and his style is undeniable. The man truly earned the all caps and the exclamation point tonight, a thrilling and pulse-pumping victory for YURIORKIS GAMBOA!
Overall, it was a very exciting card, featuring competitive matchups and thrilling conclusions. For all the grief I give Top Rank for their business practices, when they’re at their best they are capable of putting cards together that few in the sport can rival. While this was not necessarily an A-plus card, it certainly earned a spot on the honor roll.