Yuriorkis Gamboa might have thought he was the one getting the gift when his representatives decided to match him against the little-known Darley Perez for the vacant WBA lightweight title at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday night.
But most surprise gifts don’t pack a punch and very few wind up ruining the party. Gamboa should be wary when he unwraps the 135-pound package from San Pedro de Uraba, Colombia, which ought to be stamped: “Caution: Open With Care.”
“To be honest, when the opportunity to fight Gamboa was presented, I jumped at it,” Perez said by telephone from his hotel room in Montreal on Thursday afternoon. “If you want to be on the big screen and be in the big time then you have to fight the best. I believe Gamboa is the best. As boxers we have a small window to win a championship. I believe this is the right place and the right time.”
That is typical thinking for an undefeated contender like Perez (28-0, 19 KOs). Gamboa (22-0, 16 KOs), who is trying to add another world title in a third weight division, is probably thinking the same thing.
There is no one on Perez’s resume that remotely possesses the type of talent that Gamboa has. The Cuban defector, who now lives in Miami, had over 250 amateur fights and won a gold medal for the Cuban team as a flyweight in the 2004 Olympic Games.
Perez knows it will take a Herculean effort to thwart Gamboa from reaching his goal.
“He is one of the best fighters I’ve ever fought, mainly because of his amateur pedigree and his amateur background with the Cuban team,” said Perez, who represented the Colombian team in the 2008 Olympic Games and lost in the quarterfinals.
“But I think I had appropriate sparring in training and I know that I will rise to the challenge and to the occasion.”
Perez has spent most of his life in the ring meeting challenges. His parents were worried about him being bullied when he was growing up. So they took him to the gym to learn how to box.
“They wanted me to defend myself,” he said. “So because of that I got a late start. I was 14 years old when I first went to the gym. But after a while I realized that I had the skills to do more. I utilized my skills to get better.”
Even though he got a late start, Perez rose quickly through the amateur ranks in Colombia. He made it all the way to the Games in Beijing where he lost to Alexey Tishchenko, who went on to win the lightweight gold medal.
To prepare for the Gamboa fight Perez’s reps had him train in Miami so that he could get Cuban sparring partners who could mimic Gamboa’s style. Perez lost to Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas in the quarterfinals of the Pan American Games in 2007.
“The last two weeks I had a sparring partner who was very similar to Gamboa,” Perez said. “At the beginning the style was very uncomfortable and I couldn’t get my timing down. I quickly got comfortable with him and now I feel like my timing is appropriate.”
Timing is important because Gamboa, who has been knocked down a few times in his career, likes to lunge in with punches. He also throws looping overhand shots that if they find their mark can detonate on a chin or a temple and leave an opponent on the canvas wondering exactly what hit them and where it came from.
Perez said he is aware of that.
“He is a fighter with short arms,” he said of Gamboa, who is 5-foot, 5-inches tall. “He likes to throw a lot of punches early in the fight and he has good power in both hands. But I think it will be important for me to use my jab and to box him through those rounds. As the fight goes on I will adjust to my style as I am sure he will adjust to my style.”
If Perez can weather any early storms, all bets are off for the rest of the fight. It is a very important fight for both Perez and Gamboa, who is moving up from 130 pounds.
While Perez is trying to establish his credentials as a world-class boxer (and champion if he wins), Gamboa is trying to establish the credibility of SMS Promotions and rapper-turned-promoter 50 Cent. Gamboa is the anchor of SMS and will be fighting for the second time under the promotional banner.
Gamboa was out of the ring for a year trying to extricate himself from his promotional contract with Top Rank. After 50 Cent bought him out for $1 million, Gamboa fought on the undercard of the Top Rank-promoted Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez show in Las Vegas last Dec. 9.
Gamboa knocked down Michael Farenas in the second and seventh rounds, but had to survive a knockdown himself in the ninth to take a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision. It was a nerve-wracking performance for Gamboa and his new promoter, who is still seeking to land that mega-match for Gamboa.
They hope that by moving up to 135 pounds, Gamboa can chase down Adrien Broner for such a match. But Broner has moved up to welterweight, chasing his own dreams of another world title, and will fight Paulie Malignaggi for the WBA crown at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 9. Gamboa needs Broner to move back down to 135 pounds after the Malignaggi fight, because Gamboa is too short in stature to compete at 147 pounds.
Standing in the way of all Gamboa and 50 Cent’s hopes and dreams of future mega-matches is Perez, the dangerous package from Colombia.
“Every fight is different,” Perez said. “Every fight that I have won I’ve used different advantages. I don’t really care how I win, whether it is using my movement, my boxing or my power. I will win whatever way I have to.”
Photos: Tom Casino-Showtime; Jacques Demarthon-AFP/Gettyimages; Al Bello-Gettyimages