Gamboa Could Be The One Suffering “Untold Damage”
by Charles Jay
The next time you hear a sob story about how a fighter wound up down and out because he was “exploited” by greedy promoters and managers, consider the case of one Yuriorkis Gamboa.
A fight manager once described a fighter to me as “three-smart.” I asked him what in the world that meant. He said, “Well, sometimes you can be too (two) smart for your own good. Then there are the guys who are ‘three-smart’, and that’s even worse.”
That appears to be the situation here, or even worse. If this guy is holding a cup in his hand one day, it won’t be because he got ripped off left and right, it’s because he was not just dumb; he was dumber.
A tremendous amateur boxer, Gamboa’s shining moment came in 2004 when he won the Olympic gold medal in the flyweight division. Generally someone would be expected to cash in on an accomplishment like that and turn pro. But Gamboa couldn’t, because he was from Cuba.
So with a little help (and we’re making a long story short) he defected from a training camp in Venezuela, crossed over into Colombia and eventually wound up in the hands of Ahmet Oner, who runs Arena-Box, a large German promotional company. Because he and fellow defectors Yan Barthelemy and Odlanier Solis had visa problems, they had to go to Germany to turn pro, instead of the U.S., which was the original intention.
Because he was already 25 years old, he had to work faster than most, but because of his vast amateur background, he could afford to. Within ten months and nine fights, he was the NABF super featherweight champion. Fourteen months after that, he was the WBA featherweight champion, beating Jose Rojas for the interim belt.
Gamboa is one of those fighters who was positioned to become a potential star, and he very methodically went through three WBA title defenses, then beat Orlando Salido to unify with the IBF title, and beat Jorge Solis for his WBA title only, having skipped the re-weighing procedure of the IBF and therefore getting stripped.
Last September he fought an over-the-weight match with Daniel Ponce de Leon and won on an eighth-round technical decision in a fight where he was pitching a virtual shutout, and another decision was made – to move to the lightweight class. That’s an ambitious leap, to go two weight divisions higher, but with depth being what it is in boxing’s divisions, it didn’t seem insurmountable.
Which brings us to the fight he WON’T be having on April 14.
This was going to be like one of those reality shows, where the winner went on to instant stardom. The opponent was Brandon Rios, a former WBA lightweight champ who was stripped when he couldn’t make weight for his December fight against John Murray, but is, like Gamboa, an undefeated fighter at 29-0-1.
Rios has style and personality, and the intrigue was that Gamboa was trying to make the jump to 135 pounds, with the question as to whether he could handle it against one of the world’s best in that division.
It’s not often that you have a fight between two undefeated champions or even ex-champions, so understandably HBO was excited about the possibilities, as was the Mandalay Bay, which would host the event in Las Vegas.
Then a funny thing happened. Gamboa never showed up for the press tour. When he was supposed to be Miami, he was in Las Vegas – no, not showing up early for the fight, but in Floyd Mayweather’s gym.
It wasn’t a big secret that Gamboa was not happy with the current state of affairs with his contract and that he wanted to re-arrange things. This isn’t so uncommon for a fighter who is ready to make a big payday; Gamboa was going to receive a $1.1 million purse for the fight. He just didn’t want to pay people when the time came. There is a partnership for his promotional deal, between Top Rank, headed by Bob Arum, and Arena-Box, headed by the aforementioned Oner, who was instrumental in getting Gamboa started in the punch-for-pay ranks.
But Oner is at once Gamboa’s co-promoter and his de facto manager, as such as thing is perfectly legal in Germany. So in a sense, he is “double-dipping,” although as mentioned, it is permitted on his part and isn’t something that has come as a surprise all of a sudden to Gamboa. After Oner is taken care of, plus the trainer, plus the taxes, that $1.1 million shrinks quite a bit.
Boxing is the kind of sport where it’s very hard to manage a guy over here from over there. So there is a tendency to “whisper” a lot to fighters, who are by nature susceptible to listening to any story that sounds good. In this case, reportedly the story was coming from, among others, a man named Tommy Small, who operates within the Floyd Mayweather camp. Whatever words were being used, they were good enough for Gamboa to, in effect, defect yet again, this time from one boxing camp to another.
What Gamboa probably didn’t realize is that “Mayweather Promotions” doesn’t really promote anything. They don’t put anything at risk, and they look for guarantees from promoters, then attach themselves to the revenues, and generally only when Mayweather himself is fighting. So while it is an entity that assures Floyd of more revenues, it is not set up to promote regularly in such a way as to move the career of any fighter except that which is on the shingle.
Bob Arum found nothing amusing about any of this. He is suing Gamboa and the “John Does” that were involved in his defection for a minimum of $1 million in damages. One area of dispute is a term renewal clause in the promotional contract that Arum claims has kicked in, but Gamboa claims hasn’t.
Furthermore, apparently Gamboa’s contention is that only a text message was sent agreeing to the Rios fight, but that no contract was ever signed.
If there was a better career move, Gamboa hasn’t surfaced with one yet.
Top Rank, in its lawsuit, claims that if Gamboa was left unpunished here, it “would do untold damage to Top Rank and its relationships with other fighters, promoters and the boxing public.”
As for “untold damage,” we’re not so sure. That’s legal talk, and yes, it’s there for dramatic effect. But this fight card has gone from being one that was to be on HBO’s premium channel to one that will be distributed by the network, without rights fees, on pay-per-view. Instead of Gamboa, it’s Richard Abril, who picked up the WBA title when Rios vacated it. And Juan Manuel Marquez became the co-feature as he dumped Carlos Rene Cuenca,. with ONE big knockout in 42 fights, in favor of Sergey Fedchenko (30-1), who might be a little better.
Actually, the party who was probably suffered “untold damage” here, whether he wins or loses a lawsuit, is Gamboa, but he has done it largely to himself, because at this moment, unless he gets this situation resolved in a hurry, he doesn’t have many places to go. The understanding here is that when Arum took his action, Mayweather Promotions backed off. One has to wonder whether this might have anything to do with the recent “zero tolerance” verdict by the Nevada commission, which has allowed Mayweather, who is set to go to jail, to fight in May against Miguel Cotto. After something like that, it’s generally not wise, to steal (or “poach,” in Arum’s words) a fighter from another Nevada-based promoter, under the nose of the commission.
As for HBO, well, fighters come and go, but the network sticks around forever, know what I mean? HBO has been known to hold grudges, and when you are in a position of power as they are, as the chief delivery system for pro boxing and a quasi-promoter to boot, you can afford it. Let’s put it this way – Gamboa needs them a lot more than they need him.
So whoever was giving Gamboa his advice, or advising him to take advice from somewhere, wasn’t doing him any favors. In fact, they might have even pushed him into a whole new category altogether: that of being “four-smart” for his own good.