Yuriorkis Gamboa Knows All About the “It” Factor

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The former unified world featherweight champion believes though he and Gervonta Davis share the same skillset, his experience will be the difference when they face off for the vacant world lightweight title Saturday night on SHOWTIME.

Yuriorkis Gamboa is used to being the center of attention, the star attraction, the top banana.

The Cuban stylist walks with the air of someone who’s always going somewhere important.

So, when Gamboa was asked if he stayed to watch Gervonta Davis’ junior lightweight bout with Ricardo Nunez on July 27 after he knocked out his own opponent in the co-feature, he demurred.

Of course not.

He had more pressing matters.

Like getting paid.

Hey, the man has his priorities.

“I went to my dressing room, I waited to get paid, and then I went to my hotel,” he explained through a translator. “I didn’t bother to watch it.”

Gamboa (30-2, 18 KOs) doesn’t stay to watch his opponents. They stay to watch him.

While he probably didn’t mean it, his answer dripped with hubris, disdain and pure indifference to whatever Davis was doing that night.

If anyone was wondering whether Gamboa sees himself as the ‘B’ side in his matchup with Davis, a two-time champion, Saturday night at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the answer is a resounding no.

“Yuriorkis will never see himself as the ‘B’ side,” Gamboa advisor Tony Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “He’s an elite athlete and multiple-division champion. He’s fought the best. How can he see himself as the ‘B’ side?”

In Gamboa’s mind, it’s still 2004 when he won a gold medal in the Olympics in Athens, or 2009 when he stopped Jose Rojas for a 126-pound title and was a budding superstar.

It doesn’t matter that he’s been knocked down by nearly a third of his opponents or that most people believe his best days are behind him.

No, for the supremely gifted but flawed Gamboa, that’s just prologue, details that stand in the way of a good narrative.

The 37-year-old Gamboa still thinks he can achieve the impossible.

“What power does he have that I haven’t faced?” Gamboa said. “I definitely think I’ve faced the better opponents and the better quality of opponents than Gervonta has.”

When the two meet on Saturday for a vacant secondary lightweight world title in the main event on SHOWTIME Championship Boxing (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT),  it will be a clash of rising and straining-to-hold-on stars, two fighters who mirror each other in so many ways and yet in recent years have been headed in different directions. 

Not that Gamboa is conceding anything.

“Gervonta is an excellent fighter,” Gamboa says, “but he has yet to face anyone like me.”

That’s actually not true. If Davis (22-0, 21 KOs) looks hard at Gamboa, really squints, he may see his own reflection.

Once upon a time, there wasn’t a more intriguing prospect than Gamboa. The late-great Hall-of-Fame trainer Emanuel Steward once called him a “superstar in the making” back in 2011 when he made a deal to train him. His kill-or-be-killed style made him a hot commodity among promoters, and he fought for nearly all of them, from Golden Boy to Top Rank to 50 Cent, so tantalizing was his talent. His aggressive style drew comparisons to a pint-sized Mike Tyson.

I definitely think I’ve faced the better opponents... Former Unified World Featherweight Champion - Yuriorkis Gamboa

“He always had that ‘It’ factor,” Gonzalez says. “He had the skill-set, that swagger, the power. He really was the full package, just a lot of fun to watch.” 

The similarities between Davis and Gamboa, past and present, are not lost on those involved in this fight.

“What people love about Gamboa is the same thing people love about Davis and that is their ferocious style inside the ring; the knockout power, the flashiness, the showmanship,” Showtime boxing head Stephen Espinoza said. “What these two young men have overcome in their careers is the stuff of movies.”

Gamboa’s back-story is well-documented: After capturing Olympic gold for Cuba in 2004, he sold it on the black market for $1,500 to support his family, using the money to throw a birthday party for his three-year-old daughter. He and his Cuban national team teammates Yan Barthelemy and Odlanier Solis snuck out of a Pan Am Games training camp in Venezuela in 2007 and defected.

Gamboa ended up in Colombia, Miami, and Germany, eventually settling in Miami with the help of Gonzalez. Gamboa signed with Arena Box Promotions in Germany and turned pro in 2007, jolting the sport like few others with his dazzling blend of power, speed and aggressiveness. 

He unified the featherweight titles against Orlando Salido in 2010 and also won interim belts at junior lightweight and lightweight. Things were going swimmingly until he ran into a mostly unknown lightweight named Terence Crawford in 2014, which proved a bridge too far to cross. Crawford floored Gamboa four times and stopped him in the ninth round in what stands today as one of Crawford’s better wins. Gamboa lost for the first time, and the knockdowns cemented his status as a defensively reckless fighter who took too many chances.

Gamboa has suffered knockdowns against nine of his opponents — Michael Farenas, Jason Sosa, Robinson Castellanos, Rene Alvarado, Terence Crawford, Orlando Solido, Marcos Ramirez, Darling Jimenez and Adailton de Jesus.

But he has touched the canvas just once in his last four fights, all wins, since Castellano stopped him in 2017, and he is coming off a knockout victory over former titleholder Roman Martinez in the co-main event in Davis’ Baltimore homecoming in July.

Regarding Gamboa missing Davis’ performance that night in the main event? It wasn’t meant as a slight.

“Getting his money takes precedent over anything,” Gonzalez said with a laugh. “He’s old school – he doesn’t want to hear anything about wiring the money or it will be in your account on Monday. He wanted his check.”

Now, he wants to show he is back on the elite level.

And rest assured, Gamboa is plenty confident that will happen. 

For a closer look at Yuriorkis Gamboa, check out his fighter page.

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