Yuriorkis Gamboa has always had otherworldly tools – speed, power and athleticism – to go with his vast experience as an amateur. He just never channeled his powers to produce a special performance.
No one knows whether the featherweight titleholder from Cuba will become a truly great fighter. He was great against Jorge Solis on Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., though.
Solis (40-3-2, 29 knockouts) is a polished, experienced professional who has beaten many other such fighters over the past decade. He’s not the typical pushover promoters like to place in front of their stars.
And Gamboa (20-0, 16 KOs) rendered him virtually helpless from the second round until the fight was stopped at 1:31 of the fourth, with Solis going down five times in less than three rounds and not knowing what hit him.
The Mexican was overwhelmed by a combination of quickness (hands and feet) and punching power that rivals another of Solis’ elite opponents, Manny Pacquiao, who had some trouble with Solis before stopping him in eight rounds in a junior lightweight bout in 2007.
Who was better?
“Pacquiao doesn’t hit that hard,” Solis said through a translator. “He throws a lot of punches but he doesn’t hit that hard. Gamboa hits very hard.”
Now, it’s important to state that no one should compare Gamboa to Pacquiao. That might come in the future; we don’t know.
Solis’ statement gives us pause, though, particularly because he fought Pacquiao at 130 pounds and Gamboa at 126. That Solis deems the smaller man a harder puncher than a natural 140-pounder and the No. 1 fighter in the world is a heady observation.
And it wasn’t just Gamboa’s power that spelled doom for Solis.
The manner in which Gamboa was able to move in (to inflict damage) and out (to avoid it) was positively Pacquiao-like. As was the hand speed, which is one reason Gamboa’s punches were so effective: Solis never saw them coming.
Gamboa might be as quick as Pacquiao … or even quicker.
On top of that Gamboa seemed to mature all at once. We saw no signs of the recklessness that has landed him on his backside a number of times. Same for the over caution that led to less-than-satisfying performances in other fights.
On this night, Gamboa was a true pro, fighting with passion but under control. He took the exact amount of risk necessary to beat the you know what out of Solis and take virtually no shots himself. It was as close to a perfect performance as you’re ever going to see.
Television analyst Max Kellerman used the word “electrifying,” which certainly is apt. I would also use the word “elevating.”
Gamboa turned in the kind of performance that now allows us to suggest that he might become a great fighter, perhaps rivaling such Cuban greats as Kid Gavilan and Jose Napoles one day.
One step at a time, though. For that to happen, he’s going to have to put together a string of such performances – a la Pacquiao or Sergio Martinez – and beat fighters who have more respect than Solis.
The obvious foil would be Juan Manuel Lopez, the unbeaten Puerto Rican with whom Gamboa shares a promoter (Bob Arum).
Gamboa was asked immediately after his knockout whether he believes he’ll get that fight soon or whether Arum will delay it rather than risk losing a big money-generator in Lopez.
“Top rank is going to put that fight very far away and keep it at a distance because they know he doesn’t have what is necessary to beat me,” he said.
Gamboa probably is right, at least on the first count. Arum probably will delay the fight to build more interest in it and generate more money from and for both fighters in the meantime.
The top two featherweights in the world will meet one day, though. Then we’ll know with more certainty whether Gamboa is really as good as he appeared to be against Solis on Saturday night on national television.
The hunch here is that he is.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda