Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gamboa wins boxing debut

In watching Yuriorkis Gamboa’s HBO debut Saturday night, one word continually came to mind. Audacity. The kid had the audacity to blitz Darling Jimenez at the opening bell as if he were a ham-and-egger. The kid had the audacity to twice throw Jimenez to the ground in round seven. The kid had the audacity to drop his hands all night. The kid had the audacity to fight Jimenez in the first place. In this case, audacity is a good thing. Boxing needs more fighters like Gamboa. The junior lightweight fights with a complete disdain for his opponents, the way Mike Tyson once did. He throws more punches in more bunches than any fighter since Meldrick Taylor. Gamboa is so driven, such a competitor, that he acts is if he should win every second, of every round in which he competes. When a fighter falls before him, he shrugs, acting as if that's precisely what was supposed to happen.

Gamboa, who defected from the Cuban national team in December 2006, won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. He hocked that medal on the black market in Havana just so he could throw his daughter, Brenda, a birthday party. Gamboa, 26, trains in Miami and fights for Ahmet Oner’s ArenaBox promotions out of Germany. He is now 10-0 with eight knockouts. The Jimenez fight marked the first time he has gone 10 rounds.

If you are a boxing fan, there’s a lot to love about Gamboa. The Jimenez fight was exactly what he needed at the moment. Which is to say, he needed some competition. Jimenez, a four-time New York Golden Gloves champion, was 23-2-2 coming into the fight. He was a sturdy pro who didn’t cave under the first volley of Gamboa punches. He pushed the Cuban to places he hadn’t been as a professional fighter. Oner’s team has intentionally matched Gamboa aggressively. There were moments in Saturday’s fight when it looked like they took on more than the kid could handle. Gamboa was dropped for the second time in his young career and defense remains an element of his game that needs improvement. He clearly slowed down in the second half of the fight, but he never relented in the sense that he came out trying to knock Jimenez out in every round.

Gamboa won some rounds on instinct alone. When the two fighters were tangled up in the seventh round, Gamboa physically threw Jimenez to the ground. Twice. Whether he did it because he needed a rest, or because he could, he was sending the right message, “This is my fight, I’m in control.” Gamboa fought with a confidence that was reminiscent of a young Sugar Ray Leonard. That’s a lofty to comparison to make after just 10 pro fights, but this kid has lofty goals. And he may just have the audacity to follow through on them.

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