NO. 1 PERFORMANCE BY CUBAN
Yuriorkis Gamboa: Heads up Manny. Watch out Floyd. You too Sergio and Nonito and Andre. Yuriorkis Gamboa is gaining on you. OK, it’s too soon to make a reservation for the Cuban featherweight at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He probably isn’t even in position to crack Top 10 pound-for-pound lists quite yet. Make no mistake, though: We got a little taste of greatness on Saturday. Gamboa put all the formidable elements of his game together to reveal against Jorge Solis an astonishing fighting machine, one that put the respected contender down five times and out in less than four rounds. We must see him do the same again and again and again against opponents more respected than Solis before he can be anointed the next superstar. That’s exactly what he’s going to do, though. Brace yourself.
NO. 2 PERFORMANCE BY CUBAN
Yunier Dorticos: We can’t read too much into the cruiserweight prospect’s second-round knockout of Jose Luis Herrera on the Erislandy Lara-Carlos Molina undercard because Herrera had lost his previous six fights. That said, Lara could’ve learned something from his younger compatriot. Dorticos is skillful, as all top fighters produced in Cuba are, but he also tries to maim his opponents with every punch he throws. And the strategy has worked so far: 12 fights, 12 knockouts. This isn’t to say that Dorticos is guaranteed to succeed as his opposition improves. He is still developing. It is to say that it will be fun to watch him during the process, which is the most-important thing to fans. That can’t be said of many Cuban fighters, who tend to be more tactical than entertaining. And the guess here is that Dorticos will succeed.
NO. 3 PERFORMANCE BY CUBAN
Yudel Jhonson: The unbeaten former Olympic silver medalist did a nice job against Richard Gutierrez on the Lara-Molina card, patiently outboxing and then stopping his opponent in the seventh round. The junior middleweight prospect obviously has the ability succeed as a professional fighter. One thing could hold him back, though: He’s not an entertaining fighter. He’s a very good boxer but takes few risks, which wins fights but not necessarily fans. Compatriot Guillermo Rigondeaux was winning fights that way. Then trainer Ronnie Shields set him straight on what it takes to become an attraction. Rigondeaux responded by annihilating Willie Casey in his next fight. No one is saying Jhonson should be reckless. A little more action would be nice, though.
NO. 4 PERFORMANCE BY CUBAN
Erislandy Lara: Where’s the fire? A fighter one step away from a major title shot sleep walked through a fight on national television. Of course, Carlos Molina deserves some credit. The veteran from Chicago came to win and had the ability to pull it off. Lara clearly is the more-talented fighter, though. He simply wasn’t active enough to win the fight, which fortunately for Lara ended in a majority draw. He spent more time waiting than punching. How do you explain that? "It was an off night. He's an unconventional fighter and he made me miss," Lara told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Lara is now at a significant crossroads. Everyone is allowed an off night, if that’s what it was. His mission: Come out the next time against another credible opponent and take it to him from the opening bell. Otherwise, a wonderful prospect could go bust.
Carlos Molina: The Mexican-born Chicagoan has had his setbacks. He went 0-1-1 against a fighter with more-substantial backing — Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – but some believe he won both fights. He followed that two-fight series with back-to-back close decision losses to unbeaten prospects, Wayland Willingham and Mike Alvarado. And, more recently, he sat out for 21 months because of promotional problems. His fight against Lara on national television was his golden opportunity to demonstrate that he’s more than an “opponent.” He did so even though he had to settle for a majority draw. He fought with confidence and purpose, and had the ability to go with his attitude. A lot of his punches were blocked but he also was difficult to hit. And he clearly was the aggressor, which obviously worked in his favor on the scorecards. He has earned more big fights.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Mikey Garcia: The younger brother of trainer Robert Garcia isn’t a particularly dynamic fighter, the type who dominates his opponent with his speed and athleticism. He’s more methodical, more machine-like. The result is the same, though: An opponent who inevitably leaves the ring in horrible condition. That was the fate of capable but physically overmatched Matt Remillard on the Gamboa-Solis undercard Saturday. The fight was competitive for several rounds but Garcia, controlled but relentless, gradually broke down Remillard, who went down twice in the ninth and once more in the 10th. He was so beaten up at that point that he couldn’t go on. Garcia not only passed the biggest test of his career; he aced it. And, at 23, he’ll only get better.
Antonio Escalante: The Mexican-born Texan was in the mix for a title shot in the featherweight division only two fights ago. He was one of the more-entertaining fighters in the world and had won 10 consecutive fights since he was stopped by Mauricio Pastrana in 2007. Now, after two consecutive brutal knockout losses, the 25-year-old might be finished as a major player. Daniel Ponce de Leon stopped him in three rounds in September. Alejandro Perez, who hadn’t fought in more than year, KO’d him with a single right hand in the first round on Friday. Perhaps Escalante was too exciting for his own good. Perhaps wars against the likes of Jose Hernandez and Miguel Roman took too much out of him. He’ll most likely give it at least another try, which probably makes sense at his age. Let’s hope for his sake that he has more to give than he has in his last two fights.
Nick Charles on HBO: Charles was asked by HBO to be the blow-by-blow commentator for the Garcia-Remillard fight on Saturday night, which was profoundly classy on the part of network. Charles is in a pitched battle with cancer, leaving his future sadly uncertain. One of the most-decent people in boxing has his priorities straight. His two great loves are God and his family. The man also is crazy about boxing and broadcasting, though. He clearly relished the opportunity to call the fight on national television at least one more time, not knowing when or if he’d get another chance. And we relished listening to him. It was a moment everyone who knows him will cherish forever.
Yuriorkis Gamboa, about a possible showdown with Juan Manuel 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.”
Gamboa-Solis and Lara-Molina photos / Ed Mulholland-Fightwireimages; Garcia-Remillard photo / Naoki Fukuda