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Crawford vs. Gamboa: A Matchup of Athletic Splendor

By Tyson Bruce

Last weekends match between former amateur stars Vasyl Lomachenko and Garry Russell Jr. was highly intriguing for a number of reasons. The contrast between their career paths and the Golden Boy versus Top Rank matchup was more than enough to have fight freaks salivating.

Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank

What made the fight so interesting to watch, however, was the genuinely high-level of athleticism and skill on display by both combatants. That is also the reason why boxing purists are equally excited about the Gamboa-Crawford matchup this coming weekend on HBO.

Boxing used to be full of athletes like Lomachenko and Russell but in today’s climate it’s a privilege to see such refined talent and skill. Boxing has to compete with UFC—where an unparalleled importance is placed on accessible violence—that technicians like a Pernell Whitaker are becoming a dying breed. It’s the reason why Guillermo Rigondeux, a once in a generation talent, will probably get dumped by Top Rank when his contract expires.

I enjoy a good slugfest just as much as the next guy but boxing is at it’s best when it has an equal balance of entertaining sluggers and highly skilled boxers. Fortunately, this weekends matchup between former Cuban amateur star Yuriorkis Gamboa and lightweight belt holder Terrence Crawford gives us a little bit of both.

Yuriorkis Gamboa’s career could be used as a case study for how to sabotage and waste a fighter’s talent and potential. When he first burst onto the scene he had the boxing community pulsating with excitement. His blazingly fast hands, gold medal amateur pedigree and wild athletic talent reminded many of a young Meldrick Taylor. Unlike most of the previous Cuban imports he was an offensive minded fighter that wanted to knock his opponents out—often doing so in spectacular fashion. The future looked so bright.

Gamboa, 23-0-0-(16), was on a crash course to fight fellow knockout sensation Juan Manuel Lopez but Top Rank promoter Bob Arum infuriatingly refused to make the fight, claiming repeatedly that it needed more time to “marinate”. Fast-forward five years and Lopez is a washed-up accident waiting to happen and Gamboa’s career has slipped into a puzzlingly tailspin of suspected PED use and chronic inactivity.

A lot of the blame has to be placed on Gamboa for backing out of fights, getting arrested for domestic violence and being involved in a Miami steroid scandal. However, Bob Arum also bears a great deal of the blame. Top Rank always seemed to treat Gamboa like the unwanted stepchild. They protected Lopez from him because he was the more lucrative investment and the one interesting fight they got him was against the massively oversized Brandon Rios. They could and should have handled his career better.

In the last couple years Gamboa has fought sporadically and looked like a shell of his former self. Only in boxing could someone as talented as Gamboa be allowed to completely go to waste. The good news for Gamboa is that he has the chance to undo all of the horror of the last several years if he were to defeat Terence Crawford this weekend. The bad news for Gamboa is that Crawford, 23-0-0-(16), is a damn good fighter that will have home field advantage.

Terrence Crawford, like Vasyl Lomachenko but less dramatically, has benefitted from taking chances early in his career. Before he came in as a last minute replacement against the feared Breidis Prescott he was just another prospect in Top Rank’s deep stable of fighters. Crawford announced his presence to the boxing world by routing Prescott in a virtuoso display of boxing skill. He then travelled to enemy territory in Scotland to defeat lightweight belt holder Ricky Burns, who was considered by many at the time to be the division’s premier fighter.

Intelligently, Crawford has made the most of his success by taping into the untouched market of his native Omaha, Nebraska. As Nebraska’s lone boxing champion he’s been issued the keys to the city and been featured on many of the states local news programs. As a result, Omaha will have its first championship fight since Joe Frazier bludgeoned Ron Stander in five rounds way back in 1972. Boxing is what you make it and Crawford, with his cerebral boxing style, knows that he needs a big local following if he wants to become a player on the boxing scene.

The matchup is an intriguing one as it features two highly athletic boxers with vastly different styles and physical makeup’s. Gamboa is a densely compact fighter that employs a wildly unorthodox offensive attack to overwhelm his opponents. Gamboa fights with his hands by his waste and throws flashy multi-punch combinations—a sort of hybrid between Sergio Martinez and Nonito Donaire. Crawford, on the other hand, is a classically skilled southpaw that sticks to the fundamentals. He uses deft head movement, a point scoring jab and consistent body attack to gradually render his opponents useless.

Smart money says that Crawford’s more refined skill and consistent fighting schedule will be too much for Gamboa to handle. It’s the reason why the bookies have him as more than a 2-1 favorite to win the fight. One suspects that Gamboa, with all of his personal problems and inactivity, may already have put his best days behind him. That said, Gamboa has the confidence (some might say arrogance) that is a product of the Cuban amateur system. In his mind he is of a superior pedigree to any American boxer. As often stated, boxing is ninety percent mental and if Gamboa is physically well prepared he’s more than capable of upsetting the applecart.

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