Sometimes a fight can be totally worthy on a whole host of levels yet still figure to go all one way. Terence Crawford and Yuriorkis Gamboa, facing one another Saturday on HBO, are both top 10 lightweights. Crawford is one of the most promising talents in the sport, a designation from which Gamboa is only recently removed. Neither have fought anyone nearly as able as the other. The fight makes a world of sense.
I can’t figure for the life of me how Gamboa wins. The match-up is all wrong for him.
Gamboa was once a darling in these parts, with his spellbinding speed and power, but then he went off the rails: bailing on the Brandon Rios fight, running afoul of the law on domestic violence charges, turning up in the notebook of drug cheats Biogenesis. Since being compared favorably by Jorge Solis to Manny Pacquiao to start 2011 and casually defeating Daniel Ponce De Leon in the fall of 2011, he has fought a total of two times. He was scintillating in neither encounter.
Let’s chalk the Michael Farenas performance to rust — he won that fight more easily on the scorecards than the bout against Darleys Perez, but he was less steady of foot. Overall, he is now like that shiny new computer that ran super-fast and powerfully when you first bought it but has subsequently picked up a computer virus or two, and is now prone to bugs and hitches. His speed remains uncanny. His combination punching is a huge asset, and he’s accurate with it, happy to mix things up downstairs and upstairs, and with feints.
But he has so many flaws. His balance is shaky. His footwork, which he can use to great effect because he’s so nimble, is deeply problematic — he gets caught out of position a lot, and often squares up. He is more than capable defensively, actively good when that’s all he’s doing; it’s just that he is so vulnerable when he’s on the attack because the notion of defense goes totally out of his mind, and he’s so cocky sometimes that he preens around with his hands down. He gets bored when he’s winning, then tends to coast and allow his opponents to get back into the fight a little. His tendency to get knocked down probably is more about balance than a shaky chin, but it’s not rock solid, anyway. He has no jab and can be caught with jabs in return from range.
Many of those flaws existed when Gamboa was at his peak, too. He just got away with them because his explosiveness was so outrageous. At 126 pounds, he was a killing machine, dropping or hurting everyone; he had little trouble with Orlando Salido, the previous best win of his career. As a lightweight, his only knockdown against Perez was phony. Hell, he hasn’t even been as effective at 130. Above 126, all his flaws are magnified, compounded by his lack of height (5’5″) and reach (65″).
Here is the worst thing you can say about Crawford, based on what we’ve seen so far: He’s too conservative on offense. That’s it. Not to minimize that — it can be a fatal flaw. It hasn’t been that yet. Maybe, as perhaps he showed late in his clear win over Ricky Burns, he gets winded and his lack of stamina affects his pace, pointing to a deeper flaw. Maybe his chin is untested, since the biggest puncher he has faced, Breidis Prescott, couldn’t really touch him.
Otherwise, he does just about everything right. He probably isn’t as fast as Gamboa, but he’s very quick. He doesn’t have Gamboa-level explosiveness but his speed and power are authentic and blend well into one another. He is hard to hit cleanly, and when someone does catch him with some hard stuff, he gets fired up and comes back nasty. He is ice cold; his demeanor never changes. While he’s a natural counterpuncher who would rather wait on his opponent, he was more than happy to bury Burns along the ropes and fire mean shots up close, and can really work the body. He has a sturdy jab and good punch variety. He wastes little motion.
So how does Gamboa win? Maybe he can land cleanly on Crawford where others could not, and expose a bad chin. Perhaps he could outwork Crawford. The first option doesn’t seem likely, given Gamboa’s diminished power above 126, and the second option opens up Gamboa to counters — something that’s been a problem for Gamboa in the past, and a place where Crawford excels. A more outlandish option is that somehow Gamboa is better than ever before, like, the lackadaisical guy we’ve seen for stretches goes away at the moment of his biggest challenge, or else he gets some really good ‘roids in his system (anybody know what kind of drug testing they have in Nebraska?).
Otherwise, Crawford is bigger, nearly as fast, harder hitting at this weight, better technically and his main strength is made for Gamboa’s main weakness. To top it all off, Crawford is fighting in his home state against a Cuban import. Gamboa probably won’t be stopped. But Crawford ought to win almost every round by at least a narrow margin and sometimes by a lot, such as in rounds when he could score a knockdown.
We’ll see if that gets HBO fully back on the Crawford team. It appeared to be building him up as one of its future foundations, then left the Burns fight off U.S. television. Crawford, by virtue of his style, has a cap on his appeal; a scalp like Gamboa would get him closer to reaching it.