By Jackie Kallen
It’s been a long 15 months since Yuriorkis Gamboa last performed in the ring. It’s his longest lay-off since turning pro in 2007. His last fight was a September 2011 stoppage of Daniel Ponce de Leon. An accidental clash of heads opened a big gash on Ponce de Leon’s forehead. It was the 8th round and Gamboa was way ahead on the scorecards at the time. It was a good win and the future looked bright.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
A lot has happened in Gamboa’s career since then. I had a chance to speak to him one-on-one with the help of his interpreter Tony and he was cheerful, calm and ready for Saturday night.
“This lay-off has been very upsetting and aggravating. I didn’t like it at all. I was used to fighting often and it has been difficult not fighting. But I stayed in the gym all the time and never stopped training. I wanted to be ready when this opportunity came along.”
Still undefeated at 21-0, he was set to fight lightweight champ Brandon Rios last April, but problems with his promoter (Top Rank) derailed those plans. After a long dispute, they parted ways. It was not a pretty split.
Along came rapper/entrepreneur Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who at the time was about to start up his own promotional company with good friend Floyd Mayweather, jr. To be named TMT Promotions, it never took off. Supposedly, Mayweather, jr. reneged on his end of the deal, so they broke up. Jackson then formed his own SMS Promotions and Gamboa is fighting under that banner.
It is all so exciting for me. I have been a 50 Cent fan since before my pro fight career started. I always loved his music. I used to come out to the ring to his ‘In da Club.’ So I was pretty happy to learn that he was a fan of my boxing.
“To be working with him now is an honor and I want to do everything that I can to make him proud.”
Jackson was clever enough to cut a deal with Bob Arum and Top Rank to put Gamboa on the undercard of this weekend’s Pacquaio/Marquez 4 event. It is ironic that after all the battles and lawsuits, Gambia will be once again be fighting on a Top Rank card. But that’s boxing. It’s all about the money. Today’s enemies are tomorrow’s best friends.
This kind of large-scale exposure is just what Jackson wants. Gamboa has not been a huge ticket-seller to this point. The hip-hop mogul hopes to change that. And Gamboa feels the same way.
“Of course I am thrilled to be fighting at the MGM on such a big card,” said Gamboa. “This is a great chance for me to showcase my skills in front of a large audience. I cannot waste this opportunity. I know I have to fight a great fight and show people what I can do. I asked God for a chance like this and I won’t let myself–or anyone else–down.”
Competing in a higher weight class is also a good thing for Gamboa.
“I am very happy not to have to work so hard to make weight. I still have to stick to certain restrictions, of course, but it makes life easier for me. I am not nervous or scared to fight bigger guys and I feel comfortable in the Super Featherweight division. I am happy about it.”
Gamboa was originally set to fight Miguel Beltran, jr. but his tough September 15 fight against Roman Martinez pushed Beltran out of the running. It was a grueling fight that resulted in a split decision win for Matinez, although one judge clearly felt that Beltran had won. He was not ready to face a guy like Gamboa so soon after.
Enter Michael Farenas, who is signed to Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions and was going to be fighting on the undercard anyway. This made things simple and obviously pleased everyone involved. With a record of 34-3-4, and based on the fact that he is a 28-year old southpaw from the Philippines who can punch a bit, this match-up became very appealing.
Farenas has already lost three times, which doesn’t look too good on paper. But he hasn’t lost a fight in over two years and he is undefeated in his last eight bouts. His last fight was a technical draw against Takashi Uchiyama. An accidental head-butt left the Japanese fighter unable to continue. Since it was only the third round, it was deemed a TD.
“I have seen Farenas fight on video,” explained Gamboa, “and I know what to expect from him. I have been trained to fight against all different styles–southpaws, taller fighters, heavier men, etc. I will adjust to whatever opponent I am facing. No one intimidates me. I believe in myself and I know what I can do.”
Gamboa says that he agrees with the old adage: To be the best–you must beat the best.
“The most important thing for me right now is to get back into the ring. I have missed it very much. My prayers have been answered. Now I just need to give the fans a good show.”
Note: This story was updated from an earlier version.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen