Terence Crawford went storm chasing at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, last night, walking down Yuriorkis Gamboa and battering “El Ciclon de Guantánamo” to a ninth round stoppage.
No, Gamboa was never going to toss a cow across state lines, or wind up a row of cars like a garden hose, but the tiny tempest that had travelled from Guantanamo, Cuba, to Miami to, on this night, the Heartland of America, flashed his own destructive potential since turning pro in 2007. A decorated Cuban amateur and gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics, Gamboa, for better and worse, employs little of the rigidity or technical precision associated with Cuban amateurs. Instead, he channels his incredible athleticism into a form of improvisational havoc that drove people wild when he first reached American shores.
But jaws dropped in awe turned to yawns as Gamboa squandered much of his early success. Last year alone, Gamboa was linked to the Biogenesis PED scandal and charged with domestic violence for striking his wife. None of this would have mattered, mind you, had Gamboa delivered between the ropes, but it has been years since Gamboa did much of that. After bailing on a fight with Brandon Rios in 2012—a fight Gamboa specifically asked for—Gamboa fought just twice in the past two years, winning dull decisions against forgettable opposition that did little but raise red flags about his ability to excel above featherweight. Desperate to regain his lost momentum, Gamboa targeted Crawford, the latest protagonist in the Top Rank/HBO narrative. Crawford, a strapping switch-hitter with good speed and power was more than willing to oblige.
For four rounds Gamboa was masterful, exploding into his opponent with lead left hooks and looping right hands, bounding in and out of range, and cracking Crawford, 134 3/4, with counters. This auspicious start fit the pattern that has defined Gamboa for much of his career: he starts ferociously, but resigns himself to pot-shotting if his opponent can take the heat. Unlike lesser foes, however, those limited fighters who have allowed Gamboa to play “keep away” until the dreary dance is over, Crawford, Omaha, Nebraska, was there to unmake him.
Having weathered Gamboa’s early storm, Crawford—who entered the ring weighing a whopping 152 pounds—seemed comfortable paying the price for walking the smaller man down. Moreover, Gamboa, 134 1/2, had to practically leave his feet to reach the much taller Crawford, and in those split seconds when Gamboa was airborne—split seconds that became longer as Gamboa tired—he was vulnerable. Crawford need only work his jab and bide his time.
That vulnerability manifested in the fifth round, when Crawford, having switched almost exclusively to southpaw, dropped Gamboa with a counter right hook. Gamboa had been sent to the canvas before; that perhaps his best opponent to date accomplished such a feat was hardly remarkable. What was remarkable however, was Gamboa’s response. He did not hold, he did not run, he did not even take the full time allowed him to regain his legs—rather, Gamboa, long derisively branded a frontrunner, scrambled to his feet, dug in, and, until he met his chilling end, unloaded.
His end came in the ninth round, after Gamboa, dropped again in the eighth, managed to hurt Crawford with a right hand. Seeing his opponent wobble, Gamboa charged across the ring where he was floored with two left hooks for his efforts. Like a man running up the gallows if only to set a defiant tone to his inevitable end, Gamboa charged drunkenly at Crawford, who delivered the coup de grâce with a right uppercut that left Gamboa in a heap. Recognizing no need to issue a count, referee Genaro Rodriguez waived the fight off at 2:53 of the ninth round.
A cyclone dies when it moves too far from water; there is something poetic then, about Omaha, a city situated almost 2000 miles inland from Guantanamo, serving as the setting for Gamboa’s first loss. However brutal those final two rounds were, there is little shame in losing to Crawford, and in defeat, Gamboa delivered the most memorable performance of his career. That loss also made a compelling case for Gamboa, 23-1 (16), to return junior lightweight if he can, where his power is more formidable, his physical disadvantages less pronounced. He may never be an elite fighter, and the quality of opposition required to get a performance like last night’s out of him may always prove too much for Gamboa. But whomever he fights next, in whatever division, Gamboa’s return should be met with much of the enthusiasm that accompanied him when he first found the Florida coast.
Those looking for poetry can find it in Crawford too. The future of boxing in America, much like the future of the country as a whole, is very much dependant on the Heartland. Following up his trip to Scotland, where he downed titlist Ricky Burns, with a dominant performance against Gamboa, Crawford continues his ascent to stardom. The word “star”—like “writer” or “expert”—has come to mean little in boxing, the only criteria being having your supporters call you one. But Crawford, 27-0 (17), meets two crucial criteria for stardom: he is beating legit competition, and he is drawing big crowds (at least in his hometown). There were over 10,000 fans chanting his name as he tore into Gamboa last night, and the list of American fighters who can accomplish that feat fits on the back of a stamp. That the affably monikered “Bud” finds himself on that list without gross ostentation or grosser litigation only adds to his growing appeal.