High expectations for a boxer, the kind created by sizzling early-career performances and big talk from one’s promoter, can be a bitch. No one who saw YURIORKIS GAMBOA! destroy Rogers Mtagwa last year like he was straight out of a “Matrix” film had much doubt about his talent or how ready he was for greatneess. Add that up with the talk that turned once more to a fight with Juan Manuel Lopez, and with his team actively saying how willing they were to face the then-widely avoided Celestino Caballero… what you end up with is people being disappointed when Gamboa fight the likes of Orlando Salido last fall and the man he fights this Saturday on HBO, Jorge Solis.
In truth, as much as Gamboa’s flashes of talent and our desire for Gamboa-Lopez and Gamboa-Caballero has us jonesing, fighting Salido and Solis makes a bit more sense from the standpoint of moving Gamboa professionally. Make no mistake, I wanted those Lopez and Caballero fights yesterday. No matter what Top Rank tells us, the Lopez fight is unlikely to get any hotter by being delayed; hell, some have already lost interest by waiting, and Gamboa himself sounds fed up with the delays. But as badass as Gamboa’s speed/power combo is, as extensive as his amateur career was, he’s not a finished product as a pro. His periodic shaky outings are evidence of that, if they’re not evidence of something else. Once you set aside the disappointment of who Gamboa isn’t fighting, aking a bout with someone like Solis is a good move, developmentally speaking.
Unless, of course, Solis wins. It’s not a possibility I discount. Solis is a solid fighter, a seasoned boxer-puncher with size. He’s a top-10 junior lightweight who is moving back to Gamboa’s featherweight division, where he also spent some time as a top-10 boxer in that weight class. Our Scott Kraus will be in Altantic City to cover the fight. I’lll stay right here, previewing it.
(I take no issue with this fight being in Atlantic City, by the way, the same way I took no issue with Sergio Martinez-Serhiy Dzinziruk being in Connecticut. Neither Gamboa nor Martinez are proven U.S. ticketsellers, so no location makes much more sense than any other, although maybe Gamboa would be better placed in Florida to try and build him up with Cuban fans.)
When I say Gamboa’s shaky performances might be an indicator of something besides him not being a fully-developed pro, here’s what I mean: Sometimes, Gamboa is full-on YURIORKIS GAMBOA!, but when he realizes he probably isn’t going to knock out his man, or that his man poses a risk to his dentable chin, he takes his foot off the gas and boxes and is just, you know, Gamboa. He’s not going to look as sensational doing it that way, even if it’s sound strategy. Another alternative theory: He’s just an inconsistent fighter.
Whatever the case, when he’s at the top of his game, he is a beast multiplied by a monster multiplied by a comic book super hero. He might be the fastest man in the sport right now. He’s in the upper crust on power, too. His tendency to get knocked down when he stepped up his competition — and he started off against far better competition than most, keep in mind — led him to smooth out his defense and keep his gloves up more. That makes him a better fighter overall. But he’s always going to look vulnerable against guys with good power.
Solis has decent power. He has decent speed. He’s technically sound on offense and defense. He’s tall and long for a featherweight. That has been good enough for him to beat Cristobal Cruz (at least, the first time — he lost a rematch), Mario Santiago and some other names you might have heard. It wasn’t good enough to get him past Manny Pacquiao, to say the least, and by all accounts he was headed toward a loss to Humberto Soto before it was turned into a no contest. Aside from a brief stop at 130 for the Pacquiao fight, he’s mostly been a feather, but moved up full-time to 130 last year. I’m not sure why; my research on the question has come up empty. It could be to fight for a title or it could be because he has trouble getting his tall body down to 126, since he even had trouble making 130 for the Pacquiao fight. if it’s due to weight trouble, then coming back down to 126 could be an additional disadvantage, besides speed and power. As far as chins go, Solis has also shown his own problems, although nothing that indicates he can’t take a punch at all.
Where I give Solis a chance is that he’s got a rep as a good finisher if he gets his opponent hurt. He showed it in his last fight, getting very aggressive against a damaged Francisco Cordero to force the ref to halt the contest. It’s not that Solis has amazing power — it’s just that you don’t have to own that kind of dynamite to knock down Gamboa, and Solis is skilled enough to hit Gamboa cleanly. While Gamboa’s knockdowns have been flash knockdowns where poor balance appeared to play a role, it’s enough of an opening for me to think a good-finishing Solis could, could, win.
The reason I don’t think he will is because Solis has fared his poorest against ultra-aggressive types: Pacquiao, Soto, and Cruz in the rematch. When he gets pressured, he has trouble. It’s not that he can’t counter, because he can, but the more aggressive his opponent gets the worse he fights, from what I’ve seen. And when Gamboa proves he can hurt an opponent, he chops him up like the Tasmanian Devil.
So Gamboa should win this fight, probably by knockout in the early to middle rounds. And then you have to wonder what comes next, if he does win. You can almost guarantee it isn’t Lopez, because Top Rank hates boxing fans or something. It was supposed to be Chris John, but reportedly that fight is looking like a no-go. Top Rank has talked up a potentially very good option: Hozumi Hasegawa. But whatever comes next, there are no more in-between fights. If Gamboa makes it past Solis in style, it’s time for him to live up to some of the expectations created for him, however prematurely.